Junior Lucas Gerotto and his sister, sophomore Julia Gerotto, have been two bright spots early on for the Kentucky squad this season. Lucas has been on a hot streak all season, winning the 100-butterfly event in all three swim meets UK has participated in this season, while Julia has come on strong as of late, winning her first event in the 200-butterfly.
The Brazilian siblings are showing that even though they are a long ways away from home, they are more than comfortable finding success in the United States. And even better, for the University of Kentucky.
It almost didn't turn out that way.
Lucas's first choice wasn't Kentucky. He actually spent one season at Clemson University before transferring to UK. But the decision to transfer wasn't ultimately his.
"I first went to Clemson and then we had our program cut," said Lucas. "I started looking for new places and (UK head coach) Gary (Conelly) contacted me."
It was a frustrating time for Lucas. Clemson had just completed one of the greatest seasons in program history. They finished No. 25 in the nation and Lucas had excelled in his freshman season. As he dealt with the feelings of losing his team, he had to begin looking for a new one.
Current Kentucky assistant and former Clemson assistant Derek Perkins played a major role in the recruitment of the Gerottos to Kentucky. He knew Lucas from their time at Clemson and had already developed a relationship with the Gerotto family.
While Lucas weighed his options, a newly-hired Perkins and the Kentucky staff were already looking at Julia to possibly add to their roster. Unable to make a visit of her own, Julia had to rely on Lucas's opinion when he took his recruiting trip to the Bluegrass.
"I came for a recruiting trip, loved it, and my sister was back in Brazil looking for a university here," said Lucas. "She asked me to pay attention to stuff and tell her later what I thought about it. I just told her that I loved it and thought it was a great place."
Each of them had other options and places they were looking at, but based on her older brother's impressions, Julia put her trust in Lucas's observations during his trip.
"It kind of just worked out that way," said Julia. "We were looking at all different places, and I just trusted my brother's opinion and thought, 'OK, I can go to the same school as you.' "
With the decision made to come to Kentucky, Julia finished up her high school education in December of 2010 so that she could enroll early at UK in 2011. Though she would have to sit out of competition in the spring semester, she was able to spend some time with the team and get used to the college life.
Meanwhile, Lucas was finishing up his final semester at Clemson before he could head to his new university.
It was a difficult adjustment for Julia initially, coming to a brand-new country and having to assimilate into a completely different culture. Times were tough.
"It was like a big change for me," said Julia. "I didn't have time to get used to it. I just got here and had to learn everything. My brother was at Clemson, so he had a year to adjust to the American lifestyle."
But when Lucas finally made it to Lexington, the Gerottos relied on one another to settle in. Julia looked to her older brother on how to get used to America and the college lifestyle, while Lucas relied on Julia to get used to his new school and team.
"I'm the oldest one so I'm kind of responsible for her," said Lucas. "But she got here six months before me, so she had the responsibility to tell me where things were and how things work here, so it was funny because I was looking out for her and taking care of her, and she was doing the same thing for me."
Each of them, after spending most of their lives swimming together back in their club at Brazil, were reunited and once again swimming for the same team. Life became easier.
"He taught me some things about classes and how it worked," said Julia. "He taught me some things about practice and how different the coaching style is from Brazil. It was just really helpful to have him go through the adjustments first."
For Lucas, after spending a year by himself in Clemson, it was nice to be able to have his family back.
"I think here it's special because we're away from family, so we have each other's support and someone to speak Portuguese to," said Lucas. "I think that's one of the things I wish I had in my first year as a freshman. She wasn't there with me. I feel like it's easier here for me."
Lucas has had a great start to the season, winning the 100-buttefly event in each of the first three meets he's competed in this season. And in each meet he's improved his time. Standing at 5-foot-9, Lucas doesn't have the typical make-up of a sprinter. But one thing that he was able to do that he didn't have the chance to do in Brazil was to hit the weight room.
After spending a summer in Lexington after his first season, Lucas hit the weights and added some strength. A distance swimmer for the majority of his life with the 200-butterfly his specialty, his additional strength helped him become one of the top sprinters in the Southeastern Conference.
"That's his favorite because it's the perfect distance for him," said Conelly. "He takes a lot of pride in that race. I don't think he's going to let anyone beat him in it. They're going to have to outperform him to do that, and that's going to take a pretty special swim."
On the women's side this season, Julia has helped pick up the slack. On a team that's hurting due to a few injuries, Julia's filled in for other areas that may not be her strong suits. And she's getting better every week.
Conelly says her swims have been critical.
"On Julia's side," said Conelly, "her performances are enormous because we actually are swimming her out of her best events and she's taking up slack where we're not as strong like the 1000 and 500 and stuff like that."
Julia's best events are shorter races like the 200-butterfly or the 200-individual medley, but she's been able to hold her own in the other events that her team needs her. Last weekend against Auburn, she picked up her first win of the season in one of her specialty races, finishing first in the 200-butterfly while also claiming second place finishes in the 1000-freestyle and 400-individual medley.
The Gerottos are not long, tall athletes. They don't have prototypical builds of top swimmers. They are getting results. But how?
"I personally hate, hate to lose," said Julia. "I'm really competitive in everything I do in life."
Julia and Lucas each have that killer instinct which has seen them find success during meets each weekend this season. It's something that Conelly believes makes a good swimmer great.
"They are both really talented swimmers, but I think more importantly they're real hard workers," said Conelly. "They're very competitive. They want to do real well. They push themselves real hard in practices. So when they get up to race, they give 100 percent every time they race."
That competitiveness may be the key to each of Lucas and Julia's success the rest of their swimming careers as their bright spots become brighter. Conelly feels that there is potential for each of them to succeed in the NCAA championships and eventually compete for the Brazilian national team in the Olympics. With the physical skills that each of them already have, the future is very bright as long as they continue to "hate to lose."
"They can go pretty far," said Conelly. "They've got a really good combination. They've got the most important piece of the combination which is the drive to win. They're both physically really talented and then they have that killer instinct to compete. You can't teach that."