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Hellgate’s Katharine Berkoff makes a pass in Splash Montana’s pool. 

MISSOULA — Katharine Berkoff made her first national championship final last summer at the U.S. National Championships in Irvine, California, at the age of 16.

Berkoff, 17, turned her performances up a notch at this year's championships, making the A final in all three — the 50-, 100- and 200-meter — backstroke events. 

In fields full of Olympic gold medalists, world record holders and NCAA champions, Berkoff tied for fifth in the 50 backstroke and placed fifth in the 100 backstroke and seventh in the 200 backstroke. Berkoff also competed in the 100 freestyle, tying for 74th. 

Berkoff, a rising senior at Missoula Hellgate, crushed her personal best time in the 50 backstroke by 0.53 seconds — a time which was believed last summer to be the fastest recorded race for a 16-year old girl. Her time of 28.13 is the eighth fastest in the world for junior swimmers this year.

Berkoff broke a minute for the first time in the 100 backstroke, clocking in with a time of 59.77. That time, according to USA Swimming, is the seventh fastest by an American woman this year. Only two junior swimmers, Regan Smith — the junior world record holder — and Phoebe Bacon — a member of last year's junior national team — have faster times. 

Berkoff's seventh place finish in the 200 backstroke shaved 0.43 off her entry time but was a hair slower than her preliminary mark of 2:09.84. She touched the wall in third place among junior swimmers and it placed her 10th in the world junior rankings

Berkoff's performances in the 100 and 200 backstroke could land her on the U.S. National Junior Team. Four junior swimmers made the national squad last year in each of those events.

Female swimmers ranked within the top 75 — and male swimmers ranked within the top 100 — in the world make the cut. Berkoff is currently ranked 17th in the 100 backstroke and 29th in the 200 backstroke.

The junior national team rosters for the 2018-19 season will be selected on Sept. 3, 2018.

Katharine's older brother Cale Berkoff competed over the weekend as well. The Minnesota Golden Gopher competed in the 200 backstroke, placing 58th.

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Billings' Ethan Harder also swam well over the weekend, making the D final in his three events — the 100 and 200 backstroke and the 200 butterfly. 

Harder, a future Texas Longhorn, won the D final in the 200 backstroke, placing 25th overall, and recording a time of 2:00.66. The mark wasn't a personal best, but it was the second-fastest time by a junior swimmer at the meet, making Harder a candidate for the 2018-19 junior national team in the event. Harder was one of six swimmers around the country on the junior national team for the 200 backstroke last year. 

Harder could make the squad again, as he's currently ranked 95th in the world in the event regardless of age. 

Harder placed sixth in the D final in the 100 backstroke, placing 30th overall, with a time of 56.81, just shy of his personal best mark he set in prelims of 56.53. 

Harder touched the wall fourth in the D final in the 200 butterfly, placing 28th overall, crushing his old personal best time by nearly four seconds. 

Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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