MISSOULA — A week after competing on one of the nation's largest stages, four members of the Hellgate Knights' swim team were back in action in Missoula Saturday at the Grizzly Pool.

Katharine Berkoff, Jesse Ecklund, Gabby Smart and Mari Aoki competed in last week's Speedo Winter Junior Championships in Iowa City.

At junior nationals, the quartet all swam together in the 800-yard freestyle relay and placed 32nd. Both Aoki and Berkoff swam in four individual events as well. 

Aoki competed in the 200-yard individual medley, 400 IM, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke. Her highest placing came in the 200 back, where she finished 68th. 

Berkoff won the 100 backstroke and set a new pool record with a time of 51.95. That mark was one-hundredth of a second faster than the time her dad — Olympic gold medalist David Berkoff — swam at the age of 16. 

"I think it was kind of hard on him, but not that bad," Berkoff said with a smile. "He just thinks it's funny."

Berkoff also placed second in the 200 backstroke, 12th in the 200 IM and 58th in the 50 freestyle. 

Berkoff, along with Aoki, Ecklund and Smart, combined for five individual first place finishes on Saturday. 

"They definitely change the complexity of what's going on on the team. We know that they're going to go fast," Helen Houlihan, coach of all three Missoula schools, said. "We know that they've been racing all fall and preparing for this."

Saturday's meet was Berkoff, Ecklund and Smart's first high school meet of the season and they led the Hellgate girls to a large victory. The Knights scored 604 points and Sentinel, the second-place finisher, scored 426 points through 11 events. 

"When you get those four kids with that experience at nationals, they know what it takes to go fast. We love that," Houlihan said. "They're great leaders, they're great role models."

Those four weren't the only female Hellgate swimmers to make big splashes. 

Lydia Amon won the 50 freestyle with a time of 25.50 and Bella Seagrave won the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:11.60. 

The Hellgate girls won all three relays as well on Saturday. 

The 200 freestyle relay squad — Aidan Condit, Ellee Becker, Ecklund, Kelsey Ammons — touched the wall in 1:46.07. That mark is the fastest thus far across the state this season, according to MHSA's log

The 400 freestyle relay team — Aoki, Lydia Ammon, Ammons, Berkoff — finished in 3:39.85. That's also the fastest time so far this season. 

"I think we all did really well," Berkoff said of her team. "I kinda expected us to do well because we usually do. It was good. It was a good day."

Butte's Catherine Russo was the only non-Hellgate winner on the girls' side (200 freestyle — 1:54.96). 


Hellgate paralleled its success in the boys' lanes too. 

For the second straight week, the 200 freestyle relay — Finn Westenfelder, Lyndon Amon, Matthew Fritz, Darragh Mahns — broke the unofficial state record with a time of 1:29.04.

"We're looking forward to breaking that record as state rolls around," Fritz, a senior, said.

Individually, Fritz won the 200 IM and placed second in the 100 breaststroke by just a hair.

"Today, I think I swam pretty well," Fritz said. "Winning the (200) IM and then getting second in the 100 breast. I don't train breaststroke, so being able to keep up with Parker (Keller), who swam really well, was pretty good for me."

Overall, Hellgate scored 538 points, while Helena High finished in second with 416 points. 

A lot of Hellgate's points came from winning all three relays.

The 200 medley relay — Simon McMahon, Tanner Baldry, Amon, Dane Aoki — edged out Helena to win and the 400 freestyle relay — Westenfelder, Sawyer Keyes, Fritz, Mahns — closed out the meet with a statement 14-second victory over second-place Helena.

"Just being able to win those, that's a huge point bonus," Fritz said. 

In the individual races, multiple Knights cruised to the wall in first. 

Keyes out touched Mahns by 0.09 in the 200 freestyle. Keyes won the 500 freestyle too.  Mahns was victorious in the 50 freestyle. Baldry won the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 49.49 — a mark good enough to lead the state thus far this season. 

The non-Hellgate winners on the boys' side on Saturday were: Robert Wagner of Helena High (100 butterfly — 53.42), Bremer Deaton of Sentinel (100 backstroke — 57.53) and Keller of Helena High (100 breaststroke — 1:00.20)

Amie Just covers Griz football for the Missoulian, among other things. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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