Kathleen Baker to Turn Pro, Will Forgo Final Year of NCAA Eligibility

World record holder Kathleen Baker announced Thursday via Twitter that she will forgo her final year of NCAA eligibility to become a professional athlete.

She will remain enrolled as a student at UC Berkeley while training. Baker, who set the World Record in the 100 back at U.S. Nationals last week, cited the opportunity to better manage her Crohn’s Disease as one of the reasons for her decision. Baker was first diagnosed with Crohn’s as a teenager and struggled with the disease through middle school. Her current treatment regimen includes biweekly injections to her abdomen.

Coach Teri McKeever on Baker’s Decision to go Pro (courtesy of Cal Press Release):

“Kathleen has been an important part of our Cal program these past three years,” McKeever said. “She has helped our team to three consecutive top-3 national finishes and has been a part of numerous individual and relay championships at the NCAA and Pac-12 meets. She has also added to Cal’s legacy internationally having earned medals representing the United States at the Olympic Games and World Championships. I’d like to thank Kathleen for what she means to our program and wish her continued success in swimming and her career. She is a role model for those who have Crohn’s disease, inspiring others with her outlook and high levels of success. I’m also pleased to know that Kathleen plans to continue her studies at Cal to complete her degree requirements studying health and illness through her interdisciplinary studies major.”

Baker was a 3-time champion at last week’s Nationals, tying for the 200 back victory with Regan Smith and winning the 100 back and 200 IM. She was awarded the Phillips 66 Performance Award for her World Record in the 100 back, which she swam in 58.00. In that race, Baker also eclipsed Missy Franklin’s 6-year-old former American Record. Baker will move on to compete at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, where she’ll compete in both backstrokes and the 200 IM. She looks like she has a great shot at extending her Worlds schedule to the 200 IM as well after becoming the 2nd fastest American performer ever in the event. She’s also tied as the 10th fastest performer ever worldwide.

In the NCAA, Baker has been a staple for the Bears over the past few seasons. In 2016, she earned her first All-American status as she placed 2nd in the 200 IM as a freshman. She was named the 2017 CSCAA Female Swimmer of the Year after weeping her individual events at NCAAs (100 back, 200 back, 200 IM). She came very close to the American Records in both the 100 back and 200 IM, missing the 200 IM record by just 4 hundredths. That year, she was also a part of Cal’s winning 200 medley relay that set a new NCAA Record.

In 2018, Baker finished 2nd in the 200 IM and 3rd in the 100 back before capping off her NCAA season with a victory in the 200 back, setting a new American Record in the process. Baker is the Cal school record holder in both backstrokes and the 200 IM. All-in-all, she was a 4-time NCAA champion and 7-time individual All-American.

Baker has also had success internationally over the past few seasons, though she’s spent the school year training at Cal and summers training with Dave Marsh. After her freshman year at Cal, Baker qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in the 100 back. Individually, she brought home the silver in the 100 back. She won gold as a member of the USA’s champion 400 medley relay. At the 2017 World Championships, she set an American Record in the 50 back (which has since been broken by Olympic teammate Olivia Smoliga). She picked up a silver medal in the 100 back, bronze in the 200 back, and gold in the 400 medley relay.

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Jon Nap
2 years ago

A fantastic choice for her. Any news on a suit deal? Anyway, congrats and looking forward to see what she can do at Pan Pacs!

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
Reply to  Jon Nap
2 years ago

32 people think it’s a bad choice, and they don’t want to see her at Pan Pacs.

2 years ago

Perfect timing!! I wish her luck on her pro career!

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
Reply to  USA
2 years ago

I’d imagine perfect timing would have included doing this prior to summer taper meets where world records would be possible, along with whatever bonuses her sponsor contracts would award for it.

That being said, really happy for her and I do think this will end up being a wise move for her. I think it will serve her well to have one more year at Cal and then a full 12-14 months in San Diego to set her up for 2020.

Reply to  PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
2 years ago

worth noting that the decision to go pro and the announcement don’t always happen at the same time. For all we know, she could have decided in march and already signed a deal.

Reply to  Coleman Hodges
2 years ago

She wore both speedo racing and training gear in Irvine, just sayin’.

Reply to  Coleman Hodges
2 years ago

Say she hasn’t signed yet…she can still accept money from FINA or USA swimming for that WR right? Either way, Congrats Kathleen!

Reply to  Ervin
2 years ago

I was wondering the same thing. Wr bonuses are usually a lot

Reply to  Dcrabbe6
2 years ago

Yes she can get WR bonus. Even college swimmers can take lot more money than you think these days! Good news And good luck Kathleen! Hope Coach McKeever doesn’t have a meltdown!

Reply to  Superfan
2 years ago

You clearly didn’t read McKeever’s statement…

Reply to  swimmerTX
2 years ago

Her pub
Ic comments I did read. I also heard of other comments to Kathleen and Missy….did you?

Reply to  Superfan
2 years ago

What has she said about Kathleen? Or Missy?

Reply to  swimmerTX
2 years ago

You clearly don’t know McKeever. Meltdown is already happening.

Reply to  Devin
2 years ago

Cal women’s swim coach will lose the prestige and financial bonuses that might have been earned by having Baker meet certain milestones, as in the past. Coaches have financial incentives. Baker leaving means it may be harder to earn number one PAC 12 title against Stanford, etc. Cal teammates made enormous sacrifices to accommodate Baker’s needs so they likely feel very let down, surprised that Baker did not wait one more year and be a true team player herself. The coach gave most time, attention, and resources to Baker…so it was not smart not to invest more into developing more of the other elite recruits. No swimmer expects to go to Cal only to end up the gopher. Baker likely… Read more »

Reply to  Swammerjammer
2 years ago

This is kind of where i’m at too. Baker’s ascent over the past 2 years has been incredible and if she feels going pro is what’s best for her career and heath its hard to fault her for that. But i imagine her cal teammates might feel abandoned. Stanford has known since at least March that Ledecky and Manual would not be back. I don’t know when Baker made her decision, but its possible her cal teammates didn’t know they’d be losing their superstar until this week. Selfishly, I’m really bummed she won’t have a senior NCAA season- she’s a lot of fun to watch.

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
2 years ago

Longing for the day when the NCAA sees how dumb the rule is and lets pros swim in college.


It’s well known the NCAA loves prostituting their athletes.


It will happen with football and basketball first, then trickle down. IT’ll take awhile, but it’s the one good thing those sports can do for us.

Reply to  wow
2 years ago

And when it does happen in football/basketball, there won’t be nearly the opportunities for swimmers in college, either…

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona (2013-2015) and the University of Florida (2011-2013). While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She's also a high school graduate of The …

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