Reece Whitley Returns to Cal for His Fifth Year of NCAA Eligibility

Reece Whitley announced via his Instagram on Sunday that he will be taking his 5th year of NCAA eligibility at Cal. The 5th year of eligibility was granted due to athletes who competed during the COVID-19 disrupted 2020-2021 season.

This announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, as he hinted at NCAAs that he was likely done with swimming. He did not race at U.S. International Team Trials in April, then he scratched his only event–the 100 breast–at U.S. Summer Nationals. Regardless, retaining Whitley for his fifth-year is big for the Cal Golden Bears, who are graduating a lot of points thanks to a strong fifth-year group.

Whitley helped the Bears to NCAA Championship titles in 2019 and 2022, as well as four of their five-straight PAC-12 titles. At 2022 NCAAs, Whitley scored 27 individual points, finishing fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke (50.84) and seventh in the 200-yard breaststroke (1:50.83). He also swam the breast leg on Cal’s winning 4×100 medley relay, splitting 50.64 en route to his first NCAA title.

At PAC-12s, he won the men’s 100-yard breaststroke (51.30) and placed third in the 200 breaststroke (1:50.89). He is the three-time consecutive PAC-12 champion in the 100 breaststroke.

Whitley’s Collegiate Season-Bests

Year 100 Breast 200 Breast
High School 51.16 1:51.43
Freshman 51.11 1:50.62
Sophomore 50.85 1:49.85
Junior 51.03 1:48.53 (PB)
Senior 50.84 (PB) 1:49.96

This year, Cal junior Liam Bell and Whitley finished third and fourth in the 100 breaststroke at NCAAs, respectively. With Whitley and Bell both returning, they’ll make a strong breaststroke 1-2 punch for the Bears as they attempt to defend their national title.

The biggest difference between this season’s fifth years and future season’s is the scholarship cap. In the 2021-2022 season, 5th year seniors didn’t count toward that cap unless they transferred. Starting in the 2022-2023 seasons, 5th year seniors will count against the cap, until the waiver expires.

This shift in policy for future seasons means that we will likely see fewer swimmers taking advantage of the opportunity.

Whitley graduated with a degree in Business Administration. He was named the 2022 PAC-12 Men’s Swimming & Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was selected as a CoSIDA Academic All-American as a member of the men’s at-large second team.

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1 month ago

Great to see him return. He’s a very intelligent man and fluent in a few languages plus a degree from Cal. Take full advantage of that’s 5th year and go with another one for the Bears!

Chit Coach
1 month ago

If he learned how to pull water, he’d be 4x time champ

Horri Tuske
1 month ago

He’s 2 syllables away from being Reese Whiterspoon!

1 month ago

thrilled to have Reece back go bears

1 month ago

We all know Reece is going back to get his Master’s in Business Administration with the help of swimming scholarship as it should be. It is not his fault that elite swim coaches at Cal have not bothered to improve his technique which can look atrocious at times. He works hard at swimming and school. After this year if he still wanted the Olympics in the 200 breast, he should move to Indiana, Georgia Tech, U of MN, ASU or even Peter Andrew to get down the breaststroke technique.

Reply to  autonomous
1 month ago

You had me for a minute, there, Tina. Until the Peter Andrew for BR technique. Nice try…

1 month ago

More power to him! Life in the real world is long, and 20 years removed from college you realize it was a very short/quick time in your life. If he still enjoys swimming and competing at the highest level what is one more year?

Old Bruin
1 month ago

The negative comments on this article are highly upsetting. Reece is a class act. He didn’t have the results he wanted at Trials last summer, and we ran into him in the parking lot one night and he still couldn’t have been nicer to the little girls in our party, taking pictures (as you can imagine, he is an absolute GIANT next to them). My favorite part of the photo is his mom is in the background with the biggest smile on her face about it all. If he or his mom read this I’m sure they’ll remember! 🙂 can’t imagine the pressure he was under to perform over the years after the youth sports hype machine had its way… Read more »

Dad in the Stands
Reply to  Old Bruin
1 month ago

I have pictures of Reece towering over my son. It has more to do with where they were on the podium. I timed Reece as an age grouper at GCIT. His foot slipped at the start, and he clipped his ankle on the edge of the pool. How he handled a painful and disappointing swim as a 12 year old has made me a fan ever since. I’m banking on a monster 5th year if he wants it.

1 month ago

If Hugo returns too, they could repeat. Any news on his plans?

Reply to  JeahBrah
1 month ago

He’s been pretty quiet. I’m sure Ben Titley has been working him to come home to Spain, so he’ll have that option as well.

Reply to  JeahBrah
1 month ago

I’d love to see Hugo do it like Bryce Mefford did where he rejoins the team in the winter. If it’s possible and within the rules, I’d also love to see the Magic Man pull a Matt Sates and enroll at Cal for only like 6 weeks in the spring before turning pro again after NCAAs.

Reply to  JeahBrah
1 month ago

Hugo started his undergrad in 2017. I would guess he’s probably ready to move on.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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