MISSOULA — The Missoula Hellgate girls’ and boys’ swim teams will each attempt to win their fifth consecutive Class AA state title.
Hellgate junior Katharine Berkoff and senior Mari Aoki lead a stacked girls’ team. Berkoff won state titles in the 100 backstroke and 200 freestyle last year, and won the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke as a freshman.
Aoki is the three-time defending state champion in the 200 individual medley and has won the 500 freestyle state title the past two seasons.
Junior Gabby Smart, who finished second in both the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke last year, and senior Jesse Ecklund are expected to be big-time contributors.
“All four of them are at junior nationals in Iowa and will be with us next week for our first home meet,” said Helen Houlihan, coach of all three Missoula teams, which together total 120 swimmers this year. “Hellgate has a really dominating team. It’s deep and powerful, even after losing Julian Fee to UC Santa Cruz and Avery Vernon to LIU Brooklyn.”
Others expected to make an impact include seniors Lydia Amon and Ellee Becker, juniors Kelsey Ammons, Claire Becker, Sydney Archibald-Wilson and Aidan Condit, and sophomore Bella Seagrave.
The Hellgate boys return one individual state champion in senior Darragh Mahns. He won the 50 freestyle last year and was second in the 100 freestyle.
Junior Dylan Faust placed second at state in the 200 free and third in the 100 butterfly. Senior Matthew Fritz was second in the 200 individual medley. Junior Sawyer Keyes is expected to be near the top of the state podium in the 200 free and 500 free.
Other anticipated contributors include Finnian Westenfelder, Tanner Baldry, Dane Becker, Lyndon Amon, Mark Herzog and Simon McMahon.
“We lost Cale Berkoff and Brendon Campbell, two important team members,” Houlihan said. “Mahns and Fritz are two of our top swimmers and are team leaders now. All of the boys as a group have gotten better. They’ve all dropped time. Our relays are pretty solid, pretty powerful. We really have a solid group of guys.”
At Missoula Sentinel, the girls are led by junior Caroline McCormick, Brooklyn Leiby, Audrey Fero, Andrea Porch and Keidon Reynolds. Freshmen to watch out for include Sophia Fero, Delaney Carlson, Hannah Powell and Lillian Gyde.
On the boys’ side, the Spartans are paced by Gabe Mazur, Cody Carlson, Jack Wolgamot and sophomore Alex Vatoussis, their relay team’s anchor. Incoming freshman Bremer Deaton is said to have a high potential.
“Sentinel is going to be grand this year,” Houlihan said. “Sentinel has the largest swim team in town this year in terms of numbers and has an amazing group of freshmen. The Sentinel girls look very good this year. So do the Sentinel boys. I anticipate if anybody is going to be sneaking into the top three at state it’s going to be the Sentinel teams.”
At Missoula Big Sky/Loyola Sacred Heart, the boys will have to replace Adam Zimmer, a four-time state champion in the 100 breaststroke and a three-time state champion in the 200 individual medley, who is now swimming at Duke. They’ll be paced by captain Gabe Jourdonnais, Jorgen Midboe and Joey Szekely.
The Big Sky/Loyola girls’ team is led by Hannah Jourdonnais and senior Whitney Anderson, along with Katie Fagg, Grace Cassens and freshman Amy Chilcote.
“We’re going to see good development from each of those teams,” Houlihan said of Big Sky/Loyola. “They have some good underclassmen coming in. This is one of the largest teams we’ve have out for the co-op with 29 of them.”
The three teams will host the city swim meet at 11 a.m. Dec. 16.