The Wolfpacker

March-April 2024

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 46 of 51

MARCH/APRIL 2024 ■ 47 " B u t I 've s ta r te d to u n d e rs ta n d how to handle the pressure in a much healthier way, and just approach those situations without being so hard on myself." The camaraderie she's found in Raleigh has been a part of her self-discovery pro- cess. When she finished a disappointing second in the 100-yard backstroke final at last year's NCAA meet, her team was there to lift her spirits. "I think the moments I've learned the most from have been the hardest mo- ments," she said. "Last year, I felt a lot of pressure to win the 100 back, and I didn't. It was really hard on me. I took it pretty bad. "But I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me career-wise moving forward. It kind of put things in perspective and changed the way I'm viewing competition. "My coaches helped me," she contin- ued. "Honestly, it really motivated me for the long-course season. My coaches and teammates were helpful in distracting me and not letting me think about it too much. The best thing that my teammates and coaches have done for me is distract me, just having fun and being silly around me, keeping my mind in a lighter space." Team Oriented Whatever the roadblocks, they haven't prevented her from becoming one of the most decorated swimmers in NC State history. The Wolfpack graduate student has won five ACC titles and four national championships, and she is a 25-time All- American. She claimed the NCAA title in the 100-yard backstroke in 2021 and '22 before placing second to Virginia's Gretchen Walsh last March, and she also was part of 400- and 200-yard medley- relay teams that won NCAA crowns three years ago. Berkoff has vivid memories of the first of those titles, the 400-medley relay in 2021. It was the first-ever national cham- pionship for the Wolfpack women's pro- gram, and reaching that milestone in a relay event made it even more satisfying. "It was just really special that our first national championship title on the wom- en's side was on a relay, so that the four of us could experience it together," Berkoff said. "It was a really strange year [because of the COVID restrictions], but we were able to come together in that moment." One of the main reasons Berkoff came back to NC State for her bonus year of eligibility was to continue being part of a team. "I love college swimming," she said, "and I wanted to make it last as long as possible." With the Wolfpack women ranked 10th nationally, there's plenty of high-stakes collegiate competition ahead. The ACC Championships are set for Feb. 20-24 in Greensboro, N.C., while the NCAA meet will take place March 20-23 in Athens, Ga. Beyond that, the Olympic Trials beckon. They're set to take place in In- dianapolis from June 15-23, with a trip to Paris in the offing for the 2024 Sum- mer Games. Last summer, Berkoff earned the bronze medal in the 100-meter back- stroke at the World Championships and was the second-place American finisher with a time of 58.25 seconds. An Elite Mindset The Montana native has been thinking about the Olympics ever since she first took up the sport. She was inspired by her father's career, during which he won four Olympic medals, including two golds as a member of the 4x100-meter medley relay teams in 1988 and '92. The elder Berkoff was careful to avoid steering his daughter into a preordained athletic career, preferring that she choose her own path. Said Katharine, "He's tried to be there for me the best way he can be without making me feel like I have to be like he was." No matter what the future holds, Berkoff is grateful for her time at NC State. She's already picked up her bach- elor's degree in microbiology and is working toward a master's in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, with an eye toward eventually settling down in her home state. Athletically, her ex- periences as part of coach Braden Hol- loway's program have been everything she had hoped for coming out of high school. "I'm so comfortable here. I've defi- nitely found my people," she said. "The family aspect more than anything is what brought me here. "And there's just a very elite mindset. Everyone is on a similar page with what they want to get done. Braden has al- ways been very supportive of my goals. He wants them just as much as I do. Just knowing that I have someone like him to support me through this process has been really important. It's been exactly what I needed." ■ " I'm so comfortable here. I've definitely found my people. The family aspect more than anything is what brought me here. " Berkoff Berkoff is approaching the end of a decorated college career that includes four national championships and five ACC titles. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE ATHLETICS

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