MISSOULA — Katharine Berkoff left Missoula as a highly-decorated and recruited swimmer, with expectations through the roof on what she could accomplish.
The Hellgate High School grad just finished up her fourth year at North Carolina State, a season not quite up to her own lofty standards, but one where she showed she's still blowing all of those expectations out of the water.
"I still did pretty well, but I wanted to go a bit faster just because, not this past season but the year before, I had a really good year and so it kind of set the standard," Berkoff told MTN Sports. "I was just setting goals off that and it was just a bit of a tough fall, but I think I turned around pretty well from the fall so I'm pretty happy with this past season."
Despite battling through sickness this season, Berkoff reeled in six more All-America honors, including three runner-up finishes at this year's NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Berkoff took second in the 100 backstroke as well as on the 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay. She was on NC State's fourth place 400 freestyle relay team and took fifth in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle as the Wolfpack women's program took fifth as a team this season.
For her career, Berkoff is now a 25-time All-American for the Wolfpack.
"It's been amazing. I love this team so much," Berkoff said. "I really can't imagine swimming anywhere else. I love all of the coaches, I love all of my teammates. It's really a cool culture, it's a very positive and high energy environment and I really appreciate that the coaches do hold us to such a high standard."
It's not over for Berkoff either, as she will utilize her extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic for one more run with the Wolfpack in 2023-24
And why stop?
Berkoff's success has been abundant, with four national championships in college, and at even higher levels, she's qualified for the Olympic Trials twice, set two American records — one of which still stands in the 50-meter backstroke — and she's competed at the international level at the World Championships. Last summer, she took second in the 50-meter backstroke at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. In December of 2021, Berkoff also competed at the World Championships and won gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay in Abu Dhabi.
"I have always set really high goals and to be able to finally feel like I started achieving what I wanted was a really good feeling," Berkoff said. "I'm definitely really hard on myself and I set these really intense goals so it took me a really long time to get there."
After college, Berkoff will pursue professional swimming, but the biggest goal of the them all right now is the Olympics.
After narrowly missing the cut in 2021, Berkoff has her eyes set on the 2024 games in Paris.
"I think even as a really young kid I've always been a firm believer that if you really want something you can do it, because I always really believed that I would make the Olympic team one day," Berkoff said. "Even when I was like 10 and not nearly fast enough to be even close to making it, that's how I viewed and imagined myself is just making it. So I think just kind of really imagining that's your reality and just like having those goals, like telling yourself it's realistic, it can happen, that's been really helpful for me."
In the immediate, Berkoff will also look to make the World Championships again this summer. She'll spend some time in Colorado Springs in May at the Olympic Training Center to prepare, then she'll set her eye on her final college season this coming fall, and the Olympic Trials next summer.
And as the accolades keep piling up, she doesn't forget where she comes from and what it means to represent the 406 at the highest level.
"I'm definitely pretty proud being from Montana. I think that's pretty cool. I love it. I think Missoula is like the best place in the world," Berkoff said. "So definitely a lot of pride there. It's something that everyone tells me who is supporting me back home, or always telling me that they're glad I'm representing Montana which really means a lot and it's just cool. It would be nice to inspire young kids to just pursue their sports, believe in themselves."