MISSOULA — The high school competition was no match for Katharine Berkoff, even though she wasn’t at full strength.
Berkoff, coming off a heavy load of competition at the Junior Nationals, was on the winning side of all four races she competed in at the 10-team Missoula Meet at Grizzly Pool on Saturday in her first high school meet of the season.
“I felt different than usual just because I wasn’t tapered,” Berkoff said. “But I was excited to be back because I’ve been missing high school and wanted to start swimming with the team.”
A North Carolina State signee, Berkoff glided to a win in the 50-yard freestyle in 23.67 seconds, finishing 2.85 seconds ahead of her closest competition. She added a win in the 100-yard freestyle, clocking in at 50.49 seconds to win by 2.93 seconds.
“I’m just trying to get stronger and work on my finishing, on my closing speed,” Berkoff said.
Both of her times were slower than her previous high school bests by less than one second, but that wasn’t too much of a surprise for co-head coach Helen Houlihan. Berkoff had tapered for the Junior Nationals last weekend, where she broke two records and won a third race.
“Coming off that taper, she’s getting back on track,” Houlihan said. “Tapering and racing as much as she did, your body’s broken down. She’s got her school work to catch up on, too. We know how good she is.”
Berkoff was part of two relay wins as well. She swam the backstroke in the 200-yard medley relay and the final leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“She looked like she was having fun,” co-head coach Morgan Zimmer said.
It’s been quite the few weeks for Berkoff. In addition to her Junior National wins, she signed to swim at North Carolina State, capping a recruitment that began in September 2017. She chose a full-ride scholarship with the Wolfpack over offers from Stanford, Georgia, Texas A&M, Minnesota and Tennessee.
“It was such a tough decision,” Berkoff said of choosing a school. “The team there is such a family and is supportive. The coaches are funny, have a good sense of humor. Those are my kind of people.”
She added: “NC State was just always on my mind.”
Faust finishes strong
Sentinel senior Dylan Faust came up short in his two individual races, placing second in the 100-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle.
But he and his fellow Spartans closed out the meet on a strong note with an upset win over Hellgate, his previous school, in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“Kind of stabbed them in the back,” Faust joked afterward.
Faust returned to the Missoula high school scene this year after spending his junior season in Germany with his mom, who works in a government job. Over there, he competed with a club team, which he called “the highlight of my time abroad because I got to interact with others who shared the same interest.”
The club team practiced only three days a week, so Faust is still working to get back into his best shape.
“That last race was the tell-tale sign that shows he’s getting better,” Houlihan said.
Faust swam the final leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay, holding off Sentinel’s Sawyer Keyes to win by 0.42 seconds. He downplayed his importance in the win.
“Alex (Vatoussis) won it for us,” Faust said of his teammate who swam the third of the four legs. “He got us the lead. I was just holding onto it.”
Sentinel junior captain Molly Lathrop came up with this year’s theme for the three Missoula high school swimming teams: ‘Stronger together.’
Sentinel, Hellgate and Big Sky/Loyola/Frenchtown are all coached by Houlihan and Zimmer. They share the same pool and practice together.
“My teammates push me and make me better, so we’re all stronger by pushing each other,” Lathrop said of the inspiration for the theme.
Lathrop thought of the winning idea for the theme during a meeting of team captains. She also drew the logo of a person swimming outdoors with a forest and mountains in the background.
“It was a great idea for our unique system of five schools,” Houlihan said. “They’re competing against each other in practice and pushing one another. So whenever one of them wins, they all win because they’re getting better together.”
The Knights won 13 of the 22 races, taking first in seven girls races and six boys races.
In addition to Berkoff’s two individual wins, senior Gabby Smart won the 500-yard freestyle and senior Aidan Condit won the 100-yard backstroke. The Knights won the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard freestyle relay.
On the boys side, Hellgate senior Lyndon Amon won the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly. He was on the winning relay teams for the 200-yard medley and the 200-yard freestyle. Senior Sawyer Keyes picked up wins in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle.
Helena was second with four wins. Franny Redpath won the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly. Rob Wagner was first in the 100-yard backstroke, and Parker Keller topped the 100-yard breaststroke.
Sentinel sophomore Delaney Carlson won the 100-yard backstroke in addition to the Spartan boys winning the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Whitefish’s Preston Ring earned wins in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard freestyle.
Butte’s Catherine Russo won the 200-yard freestyle.