Luma Lanes Performance of the Week: NCAA Women’s Championships: Katharine Berkoff Produces First-Ever 48-Second 100 Back; Gretchen Walsh Goes 49.00

Katharine Berkoff -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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NCAA Women’s Championships: Katharine Berkoff Produces First-Ever 48-Second 100 Back; Gretchen Walsh Goes 49.00

Performance of the Week, Sponsored by Luma Lanes

Katharine Berkoff won the NCAA title in the 100 backstroke last season, but this year, she would have to fend off two impressive new additions to the field, American-record holder Regan Smith of Stanford and impressive freshman Gretchen Walsh of Virginia. Berkoff was absolutely up to the challenge.

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In the 100 back final, Walsh showed the most early speed, and she was out in 23.36 at the halfway point, more than three tenths ahead of Berkoff and a half-second ahead of Smith. Berkoff surged to the front on the third 25, and she held off a brilliant underwater dolphin kickout from Walsh on the last turn. Berkoff touched the wall in a jaw-dropping time of 48.74, breaking Smith’s American record of 49.16 by more than four tenths. Berkoff also smashed Beata Nelson’s NCAA record of 49.18.

“It was such a relief. I’ve been really nervous. I love the 100 back, and I put a lot of pressure on it. It was such an awesome feeling to get a goal that I’ve been chasing for a long time now,” Berkoff said. “I couldn’t really see much of what was going on next to me, but I saw on that last underwater we were really close. That was kind of scary. I was doing everything I could to get my hand on the wall.”

Walsh could not hang with Berkoff down the stretch, but she still finished second in 49.00, well under Smith’s old record mark in the 100 back and good enough to make her the second-fastest performer in history. Smith, meanwhile, ended up third in 49,96, well off her season-best time of 49.23 from the Pac-12 Championships last month. Alabama’s Rhyan White, who took fourth in both long course backstroke events at the Tokyo Olympics, ended up fourth here in 50.34.

That mark was the first major barrier broken in the 100-yard backstroke in two decades, since Natalie Coughlin swam a 49.97 at the NCAA Championships in 2002. That record lasted for 15 years before Stanford’s Ally Howe finally broke it at the Pac-12 Championships in 2017, and now, there are 10 swimmers who have been under the 50-second barrier.

After Smith and Nelson pushed the event into the 49-low territory, it became clear that a 48-second swim could be coming in the not-too-distant future, and Berkoff looked like a strong candidate to get under that mark after she led off NC State’s 200 medley relay earlier in the meet in 22.76, the fastest 50 back ever recorded. But the amount in which she crushed the time was simply stunning.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Berkoff said of becoming the first woman ever under 49. “My whole life, I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I’ve envisioned it, and to do it is so awesome.”

As for the runnerup, Walsh arrived at Virginia this year as one of the top young sprinters in the country, but she was mostly known for her freestyle skills in high school. Her backstroke, fueled by sensational underwater dolphin kicking, has been a revelation since she arrived in Charlottesville in August.

“I wasn’t disappointed at all. I was actually really thrilled to see my time. I didn’t think I had a 49-flat in me. Would have been really cool to go a 48, but I didn’t think that was possible. The fact that Katharine went a 48 shows how fast backstroke has gotten these days,” Walsh said. “Backstroke is kind of new to m,. I didn’t really know I was going to be doing backstroke when I got to UVA until I swam a 50 back on a 200 medley relay, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, she’s really good at sprinting backstroke.’”

Walsh added, “The more I grow and learn to do backstroke and focusing on my underwaters and being able to finish that race a little bit better, I think I have a really bright future in backstroke.”

Event 12  Women 100 Yard Backstroke
         NCAA: N 49.18  3/22/2019 Beata Nelson, Wisconsin
         Meet: M 49.18  3/22/2019 Beata Nelson, Wisconsin
     American: A 49.16  3/14/2021 Regan Smith, Riptide
      US Open: O 49.16  3/14/2021 Regan Smith, Riptide
         Pool: P 49.41  2/18/2022 Katharine Berkoff, NCSU
    Name                 Year School            Prelims     Finals Points 
                       === Championship Final ===                        
  1 Berkoff, Katharine     JR NCSU                49.93      48.74A  20  
    r:+0.53  23.72        48.74 (25.02)
  2 Walsh, Gretchen        FR Virginia            49.93      49.00A  17  
    r:+0.55  23.36        49.00 (25.64)
  3 Smith, Regan           FR Stanford            49.66      49.96   16  
    r:+0.54  23.88        49.96 (26.08)
  4 White, Rhyan           SR Alabama             50.65      50.34   15  
    r:+0.63  24.44        50.34 (25.90)
  5 Tiltmann, Reilly       FR Virginia            50.72      50.67   14  
    r:+0.66  24.75        50.67 (25.92)
  6 Countie, Grace         SR UNC                 50.96      50.77   13  
    r:+0.67  24.43        50.77 (26.34)
  7 Stadden, Isabelle      SO California          51.19      50.81   12  
    r:+0.61  24.75        50.81 (26.06)
  8 Bray, Olivia           SO Texas               50.69      51.02   11  
    r:+0.69  24.61        51.02 (26.41)