The Attack of the 14-Year-Olds At Junior Nationals

Reece Whitley Summer Juniors 2014

Photo by Kristin Karkoska

Editorial coverage for U.S. Junior Nationals proudly sponsored by Q Swimwear!

Commentary by Jeff Commings

IRVINE, California, August 2. APPARENTLY Taylor Ruck, Emma Cain, Reece Whitley and other 14-year-olds at the USA Swimming junior nationals didn’t get the memo that the championship final is reserved for high school juniors and seniors – as well as a few college freshmen.

It’s quite a rare and exciting thing to see 14-year-olds racing for wins at junior nationals. Most swimmers at that age have been used to doing well at the local and regional level, but to be able to put any trepidation aside at juniors and nearly win gold medals shows confidence beyond their years.

Today, Cain (200 breast) and Ruck (200 free) placed second in their respective events, while Whitley was third from lane one in the 200 breast. If they decide to race at juniors next year instead of graduating to the senior level, they’ll know what it’s like to be called national champion.

It’s not unusual for a 14-year-old female to do so well at juniors, especially since we’ve seen so many 15-year-old girls (Amanda Beard, Anita Nall, Janet Evans) win senior national titles. But for Whitley to beat five other swimmers in the 200 breast who were 17 or 18 years old says a lot about Whitley’s future.

And much was made of the possibility for Taylor Ruck to chase after the longstanding national age group record of 1:58.53 by Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead back in 1978. As much as I would have loved to see Ruck break Sippy’s 13-14 NAG record, I wonder if it would have been too much of a burden to bear. After all, Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky and a host of others couldn’t beat the record when they were in that age group. The person who breaks that record will be instantly have Olympic expectations and bigger records heaped on her. I’m sure lots of girls have their eyes on that record. Put your focus on the future as well, and be ready for what would come after that.

For Future Reference

I’ve been covering Maxime Rooney in this sport since his days of collecting records and gold medals at the Far Westerns as a 12-year-old. He’s not the only kid who got his start at Far Westerns to do so well at junior nationals (and set a national high school record in May), but he’s had a great year to transform from a possible contender to an actual contender.

Rooney will be a junior this fall at Granada High School with amazing promise. With a couple of swims under 1:50 in the 200 free now in his arsenal, I expect him to graduate to the big leagues next year and work toward major goals before his college career begins.