Although the summer represents a period of downtime for high school athletics, a handful of Penn Charter swimmers have been hard at work.
Senior Reece Whitley, the nation’s top swim recruit who committed to swim collegiately to the University of California, Berkeley this summer, will have a busy month of August before his final year at Penn Charter officially begins.
First up for Whitley will be U.S. Junior Nationals in Long Island from Aug. 8-12, where he will be swimming in multiple events. Then, later in the month, Whitley will be representing Team USA at the Junior World Championships in Indianapolis from Aug. 23-28, where he will swim in the 50, 100 and 200m breaststroke events. It will be Whitley’s third time wearing the American flag on his cap, as he also participated in the 2015 Junior Worlds in Singapore and the U.S. Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Maui last year.
“To wear that cap with the U.S. flag is pretty amazing, and Reece will have done it three times by the time he was 17 years old,” said Crystal Keelan, the head coach of the Penn Charter Aquatic Club, a USA Swimming-affiliated club where Whitley trains year-round and allows him to qualify for national and international meets. “It’s super exciting.
Whitley was also recently named Male High School Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World for the 2016-17 season. The Penn Charter senior ranked No. 1 in two events: the 100m breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
Whitley will have company at the Junior Nationals in Long Island in the form of former PC teammate Evan McFadden, who graduated in June. McFadden will swim and the 100 and 200m breaststroke events before heading off to his freshman year at Ohio State University, where he will swim at the Division I level.
“I started coaching Evan two years ago and he was not one of the top swimmers at the time,” said Keelan, also an assistant coach for the PC swim team. “He took to my style of coaching and was always asking questions as to how he could get better. He squeaked into qualifying at his first Junior Nationals last December, then became a finalist in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, swimming a 56.1.
“He won Senior Champs out of nowhere to the point where other coaches were like, ‘Who is this kid?’ It’s very exciting because he hasn’t come close to hitting his ceiling yet, and I’m excited to see what the next four years bring for him.”
Elsewhere, Penn Charter sophomore sisters Gabriella and Marissa Lopez-Ona each qualified for the Futures Championships from Aug. 3-6 in Geneva, Ohio. Gabriella will swim the 100 and 200m fly events, while Marissa will compete in both the 100 and 200m breaststroke.
“Both of them did awesome at Eastern Championships and represented PC really well,” Keelan said. “The Futures will be a really big event to attend for both of them. They have a great, healthy competition with each other in practice, and they’re not just really fast for no reason … they’ve worked for everything they have achieved.”
Last but not least is Camille Weiss (on right, with Gabby Lopez-Ona), an incoming PC freshman and one of the youngest swimmers to attend the Senior Championship meet, according to Keelan. There, Weiss was one of PC’s top scorers, making the finals in the 100 & 200m fly, the 50, 100, 200 and 400m freestyle events, as well as the 200m individual medley and 800m freestyle.
“She’s our little bullet, she’s just nonstop in practice to the point where she gives Reece a run for his money sometimes,” Keelan said. “She doesn’t have a specialty yet and we’re not locking her into any one event since she’s both our fastest and longest-distance sprinter. Clearly there’s not much we need to change with her right now.”
Keelan said Weiss also participated in the Junior Olympics, an event for swimmers 14 and under. There, Weiss finished with the fifth-highest score despite the fact that she only swam on two of the event’s four days.
Keelan also had some good news to report herself, as she was named an assistant to the men’s staff for the Junior Worlds in Indianapolis. It will be the second time she represents Team USA as a coach, having done so at the Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii last year.
“It’s such an honor,” Keelan said. “I’m used to being around Reece, so this will be an opportunity to be around a bunch of swimmers of his caliber who have worked so hard to get to this level. To see them be so successful at such a young age is incredible. I look forward to representing both Penn Charter and Team USA!”