MISSOULA – Katharine Berkoff has won many state and regional championships. But she put the most impressive trophy on her shelf this weekend. The Missoula Aquatic Club and Hellgate High swimmer won her first title at Junior Nationals.

Berkoff won the 100-yard backstroke at the Winter Junior Nationals at the University of Iowa. Ethan Harder of Billings also won the 200-yard backstroke at the meet, making Berkoff and Harder the first Montanans to claim a Junior National title.

Berkoff has been competing in national events for years. And while the junior said it’s still intimidating at the big races, the previous experience helped her put up her personal best times and set a pool record in the winning race.

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She also took 12th in the 200-yard individual medley, and narrowly missed out on another title, taking second in the 200-yard backstroke, so Berkoff left Iowa wanting even more.

“I was kind of hoping to win both of my events. But it was really awesome to even win one, because I haven’t even gotten second before either,” said Berkoff. “The best I have gotten was fourth. I’ve missed the podium a couple times, so it was nice to finally be there. It was a huge relief because going in first into finals is really stressful. And winning is really awesome.”

Berkoff’s time of 51.95 seconds in the 100 back helped her notch another goal. Her dad Dave won four Olympic medals in his swimming career. Katharine beat Dave’s best time as a 16-year old by one one-hundredth of a second.

The Hellgate junior will help the Knights go for a fifth straight state championship this winter. Then, for her next big individual goal, Berkoff wants to make the Junior National team next summer.

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