Katharine Berkoff, Sophie Hansson Build on Family Legacies With First NCAA Titles

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Katharine Berkoff and Sophie Hansson have a lot in common. They both swim for NC State, are part of elite Wolfpack relays and now they are both NCAA champions.

But the duo has another layer in common. Both Berkoff and Hansson come from extremely talented swimming families, with their last names bringing a different level of pressure.

While being apart of elite families can cast a shadow and add more pressure, both Berkoff, the 100 backstroke NCAA champion, and Hansson, the 100 breaststroke champion, said they don’t feel the pressure from within the family and use the support of their fast families to strive for bigger goals.

Berkoff’s father, David Berkoff, was an NCAA champion in the 100 backstroke for Harvard in 1987 and 1989, sandwiched around a year in which he was a member of the U.S. Olympic team, winning the silver medal in Seoul.

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Katharine Berkoff. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

“I think it is pretty fun. I think the reason I have always had such high goals in swimming is because of my dad,” Katharine Berkoff said. “I always knew I wanted to do what he did. It has been more motivating than anything. It is so special to win one for myself and for my team. I am so grateful for my support system. It is pretty cool that we won the same event. I know my dad was really excited about it. We would compare his times in college vs. mine, and we were pretty close. He got a lot faster, obviously, but it is so special (to have that bond).”

Katharine was a 2019 World University Games gold medalist for Team USA in the 100 backstroke, but has now taken the next step with her first NCAA title. And she is only a sophomore, actually competing in her first NCAA Championships because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the meet in 2020.

Katharine Berkoff won the 100 backstroke in 49.74, the fourth-fastest performer in history.

“It felt so good. I was waiting to do that for so long. It has been a goal for a really long time now,” Berkoff said. “It is fun to do it, but really fun when you have stiff competition. That makes it even better.”

Hansson, who hails from Sweden, is the younger sister of former USC swimmer Louise Hansson, who was a multi-NCAA champion and set the NCAA record in the 100 butterfly that ended up falling tonight. Both sisters competed in Rio in 2016 for Sweden.

“Being a part of a family like this is a positive thing. My sister and I don’t race the same events and don’t really have to compete against each other. People outside compare us more than we do,” she said. “But it is really cool that I got to win my own individual championship. I am really happy about it.”

Sophie won the 100 breaststroke in 57.23, tied for third fastest of all-time with Breeja Larson, behind Lilly King and Molly Hannis.

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Sophie Hansson. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

“It felt amazing. I felt strong from the start and I just wanted to go out a little faster than this morning, and bring it home.” Hansson said. “I am really competitive and the last turn heading into the last 25, all I am thinking is get those hands to the wall. I am tall and I have long hands and I just have to get them to the wall.”

Both NC State swimmers were able stamp their own legacy on the evening and the Wolfpack performance, later teaming up with Sirena Rowe and Kylee Alons to win the 200 medley relay in 1:33.18, close to an NCAA record.

It was the second relay win for the Wolfpack this meet after winning the 400 medley last night, and fourth win overall. They had only one event title in team history coming into this meet – a platform diving title in 2009.

With very few seniors on the squad, this meet has been a huge statement for NC State, and for Katharine Berkoff and Sophie Hansson, a statement that they are building their own legacy as leaders of the Wolfpack — and they are just getting started.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Tianyu Zhan

    Congratulations! What a great swimming family story!