Bethany's Two Fergusons
There’s a name to know this year with Bethany College women’s basketball: Ferguson. Of course, at Bethany, Ferguson is always a name to know.
Deep in the heart of Kansas, Bethany is nestled in the town of Lindsborg “aka Little Sweden.” With a population barely over the 3,000-mark, the college making up a third of it, the small town is big on college hoops and bigger on family.
The Ferguson family has deep roots in the town, but what stands out more is the family tree at Bethany College with three members currently attending or working there following 14 relatives before them dating back to the 1960s.
The Next Ferguson
Hannah Ferguson settles into her seat at the Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery as she thinks about what exactly brought her, and many of her relatives, to Bethany.
“For me, the appeal of a liberal arts education in a smaller class setting was attractive,” Ferguson said. “I have always excelled in a smaller environment. There wasn’t any pressure or any kind of legacy I felt I had to live up to.”
Hannah’s father, Greg Ferguson, graduated from Bethany in 1999 and played basketball there as well. Her mother, Angela, played basketball in college as well and grew up in Lindsborg. Both were supportive of Hannah’s decision to keep her options open.
“Almost all of the NAIA schools in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference reached out and some of the jucos in other conferences as well but I decided to only visit Bethany,” Ferguson said.
During her high school years, she played AAU and continuously ran into her first cousin, once-removed, Coach Keith Ferguson. They’d meet at tournaments, locally and abroad. Keith Ferguson coaches AAU with Wheat State Elite and is also the head coach of the Bethany Swedes women’s basketball team.
“I decided I wanted to attend Bethany and play for Ferg (Hannah’s nickname for Coach Ferguson) and my dad kept asking me if I was sure if I could handle it. I went to a lot of the Swedes games and thought ‘I can do that’” Ferguson said.
When Hannah arrived on the basketball scene at Bethany, she realized it was going to be a lot tougher than anticipated. “I had no clue what it takes to play college ball! Once you get into it, it’s just so gritty,” she said.
She knew that being coached by her relative was not going to be easy and appreciated the toughness of the Swedes program.
“A lot of my friends and teammates teased me that Ferg would go easy on me and would play favorites. I knew going in it was not going to be sugar-coated and was not going to go my way all the time,” Ferguson said.
Of coaching a family member, Keith Ferguson said: “I’ve probably failed at that a few times over the four years of having her. But it’s something special getting to coach my cousin and having her around every day and as part of my family’s life.”
Hannah’s father was a head women’s basketball coach when she was born. From the moment she could walk, she spent more time at the basketball court than at home. She grew up around hoops and playing against older girls most of her childhood while also being involved in several other sports: softball, track and even a year of soccer. She took to the court in her first Biddy League game around 6 years old.
“I knew I wanted to recruit Hannah for a very long time, I’ve known her since birth, she practically grew up with a basketball in her hand. It was a no brainer,” Keith Ferguson said.
“I think sports is such a productive way to teach our kids life lessons like how to get along with people, handle conflict or when things don’t go your way,” he said.
Hannah almost pursued softball at the college level before transferring to Clay Center high school, where she joined a strong basketball program with a team that just won a state championship. It was at Clay Center that she realized her 6-foot frame and size-12 feet were built to play basketball.
“My parents always traveled with my birth certificate because my age was always questioned in both softball and basketball due to my height,” Hannah Ferguson said.
As Hannah navigated her first year at Bethany, she began to focus on realizing that there was more to playing at the college level than anticipated. Her body began to feel the multiple practices a day, faced more seasoned players and questioned her role.
“College sports are hard and very demanding, especially mentally,” Hannah Ferguson said.
Finding Her Role
As she found physical relief through yoga and Epsom salt baths, Hannah began to focus more on mentally preparing herself for her teammates and program.
“You have to be okay with being uncomfortable! You have to be willing to be open and learn,” she said.
The next year she was nominated as a team captain: “I realized you work hard, be a good teammate and have a good attitude. Control what you can: energy and effort.”
Attitude is what she admires most about her favorite NBA player, Dennis Rodman. “I appreciated his work ethic, like when he went in and practiced rebounding from different shooters for hours. Like, who does that?”
Bethany and Keith Ferguson have contributed to Hannah finding her true strengths during her transition from high school to college.
“Ferg always says we have to do the dirty work, we have to dive on the floor, we have to be scrappy, go take it from someone,” Hannah Ferguson said. “He empowers us.”
“We get kids like Hannah who have goals, dreams and ideas outside of basketball and are here for an education and they love playing and being part of a team,” Keith Ferguson said.
He believes there is much more to Hannah than athletic ability.
“Hannah’s always been a kid that has wanted to please and she’s always looking for what she can do for her team, how she can be a better teammate,” he said.
Hannah continued to put her team first above herself. On a trip home, after reading a murder mystery in her hammock with her dogs, Snickers and Molly, she was approached by her dad.
“How do you want these girls to remember you?” he asked. His sports-minded tough love reminded her that she does have what it takes.
Hannah set out to not only improve her rebounding percentages but was motivated to be a steady leader on the court.
“My teammates are the most important people in the world to me. How can I help the freshman learn to excel? There’s no hierarchy here - we’re all at the same level to help each other get better.”
“Hannah has always been focused on how our team can be better all four years she’s been with us,” Keith Ferguson said. “She’s got great ability and is a great teammate.” He attributes players like Hannah to the success of the Swedes. “I think we’ve done a great job at identifying kids like Hannah who want to buy into the program and are not just about themselves.”
Upon returning to his alma mater, Keith Ferguson was determined to rebuild the women’s basketball program to the powerhouse it was while he was growing up. He felt called to Bethany after the women’s basketball program struggled for a few years and, being from the small community, felt driven to give Lindsborg back its pride in the program.
“My heart is here. We’re taking the right steps and getting the right kids in. It’s been a blast,” he said. He believes the Swedes’ recent success can be credited to having the proper staff and players. “We have staff here who know the landscape. A lot of our players have been captains at previous high schools and jucos, having played multiple sports and having learned success and failure,” Keith Ferguson said.
Zach Able (second cousin to both him and Hannah) became part of the Swedes’ coaching staff three seasons ago. Being so close to family ties in Lindsborg is not just full of pressure for both Fergusons. Hannah enjoys being surrounded by people who know her family and share stories with her regularly. The Öl Stuga owner, Mark Lysell, currently employs Hannah and also employed her father, Greg, during his time at Bethany.
“Mark forgave my dad’s bar tab as a wedding gift to my parents. It’s that little kind of stuff that I just love about Lindsborg,” Hannah Ferguson said.
“We’re a small town. There’s not a lot of flashiness with Lindsborg but it’s a place that cares and looks after each other. That’s what makes it such a special place,” Keith Ferguson said.
He’s surrounded by familiar faces while doing what he loves. He often gets to coach against Kansas Wesleyan University Coyotes Coach Ryan Showman, an old friend whose wedding he was in years ago.
“The rivalry between the Swedes and the Coyotes goes back through my family for generations. I’m not sure how it started, I’m not sure they even know how it started,” Ferguson said. It’s those nights when the Ray D. Hahn Gymnasium is sold-out to a roaring local crowd. With both colleges being only 15 minutes apart, the stands are packed with family members of both teams.
“Those games are a lot of fun,” Hannah said.
The Next Chapter
With Hannah and many teammates choosing the NAIA route due to the ability to be closer to home and have family and friends in the stands, the last year was a challenge for the Swedes.
“At times we felt like we were in a practice instead of a game, we didn’t know what kind of energy to bring to an empty gym,” Hannah said.
Covid robbed them of the support of family, host families and friends filling the stands. Bethany was not used to an empty gym and Keith Ferguson realized he had to shift his concentration a bit.
“The team was struggling with finding a purpose to play. We had to get creative with a lot more team-building ideas to help them be there for each other,” he said.
The echoing gym didn’t hold Hannah back as she produced four double-doubles last season, averaging 11 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and was named an All-KCAC Honorable Mention.
Hannah is bittersweet about her upcoming season. She is excited to graduate with her majors in sports management, business, and finance with a minor in psychology. However, she’s going to miss her teammates and playing basketball, something she has done her whole life. Since Bethany doesn’t currently have an MBA program, she hopes to find a school to continue her education where she may be able to take advantage of a fifth year allotted by the NAIA.
Keith Ferguson feels confident about this season.
“I feel we have a chance to compete every night. We’re going to depend heavily on Hannah and a couple of our returning players, then with our young recruits who have bought in, by the time the second semester rolls around, we’re going to be really tough,” he said.
As Hannah enjoys her final year at Bethany surrounded once again by her family cheering her on, she reflects on how much she has grown since her arrival into the college hoops landscape.
“I think if I didn’t have tough athletes for parents, or the people I was around growing up, there’s no way I would’ve learned the lessons I did or be able to mentally and emotionally handle college sports.”
Keith Ferguson is cherishing his final season with Hannah as well.
“She was the perfect fit with family ties and background we needed for the school. There have been some teary-eyed and tough conversations and moments, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.”
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