Reece Whitley Powers Cal Into Pac-12 Championship

October 10, 2018; Spieker Aquatics Complexx, Berkeley, California, USA; Swimming-College: Utah at Cal: Men 100 Yard Breaststroke; Reece Whitley Photo credit: Kelley L Cox- KLC fotos
Photo Courtesy: Kelley L Cox

When Reece Whitley arrived on Cal’s campus, he had every reason to stand tall — and not just because he is 6-foot-9.

Whitley had one of the best high school careers in the history of the sport, winning the Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year award in 2017 and 2018. And he was joining a swimming and diving program that has placed in the top at NCAAs every year this decade.

But the towering freshman knew not to stand too tall, something that was reaffirmed when he began training with a plethora of elite teammates, not to mention the professionals training one lane away.

“It is definitely weird in practice, looking over next to you and Nathan Adrian is over a lane from you and Josh Prenot is your training partner now, and Ryan Murphy is joking around with everyone like one of the guys,” Whitley told Swimming World. “I love it. We have some of the world’s best coaches — and they remind us that when they give us some pretty hard sets. But it is all for the better.

“Everyone in the pool is the best in the world. When you switch things up, it might not seem as impressive. Then you get a little down on yourself, but you have to realize you are at Cal, so the times I am swimming aren’t that bad.”

Especially for a 6-9 breaststroker, a rare combination of stroke and height. Most swimmers that tall are backstrokers or sprint freestylers.

“To be honest, I couldn’t tell you how that came together,” Whitley said. “That is just kind of what happened. I don’t know what makes my stroke good, I just do it and work hard — and listen to what my coaches tell me. I was probably 11 when I thought I could be a decent breaststroker down the line. I was probably 6 feet at that time.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Whitley leads the Golden Bears into the Pac-12 Championships, where he will get his first taste of the collegiate postseason.

“It has definitely been an interesting adjustment, not exactly seamless. The training was definitely as step up,” he said. “I can’t really explain it. I haven’t had the full experience yet, not having gone to Pac-12s or NCAAs yet.”

It has been a full season of preparation for these final two meets. Whitley has turned in some strong times. He clocked a 51.49 in the 100 breast at the Georgia Fall Invitational, an NCAA automatic qualifying time. It was the fifth-fastest time in the country during the season. At the same meet, he went a 1:52.47 in the 200 breast, third-fastest time of the regular season and an NCAA “A” cut.

Whitley also went a 1:44.80 in the 200 IM, 29th-fastest of the season, a “B” cut.

“My in-season times have been solid so far. I can always swim breaststroke pretty well in season, but my IMs will come with a little bit of taper. I was happy with a 1:53 and a 52 against USC. I have never been that fast, so that is always a good thing. We can only control what we do,” he said.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That goes for the mental side of the big events as well. Cal will likely be in a three-team race for the NCAA Championship, something many of Whitley’s teammates experienced last year, finishing just behind Texas and just ahead of Indiana for second with the meet coming down to the final few races. It might be that close again.

“I am going to try to think about NCAAs as any other meet, obviously the stakes are a little higher,” he said. “But I am never going to try harder than I already do. It is a meet. I give my all on a day-to-day basis, and so do the other guys I work with.

“We want a title.”

Check out complete Pac-12 coverage here.

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3 years ago

Heather Steinbacher Repka

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Alejandro M. Barin IV yea!!!!!!

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3 years ago

Can’t wait to see what he and the Bears do this weekend and later in Texas!

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So looking forward to see how he finishes out his freshman year. Great to hear that he has had a successful transition to college swimming. As he honestly mentioned , not always seamless but working through it and loving the experience !

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3 years ago

Steve Thomas still going strong!

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3 years ago
Reply to  Heather Raley

that’s great! He’s a great kid!