New PHS Swim Coach Finding the Right Recipe for Success

Whether it’s coaching the butterfly stroke or cooking butterfly shrimp, Athena Petterson is bringing her best to the table.


When you are as busy as new Peninsula High School girls and boys swim coach Athena Petterson, your day job and night job start to blur together.

When her team isn’t winning meets, she’s cooking meats. She goes from teaching breaststroke to grilling chicken breasts. One minute she’s watching a dive, the next she’s chopping endive. She moves from the starting block to the butcher block.

Petterson moonlights as a personal chef, leaving the pool to exchange her whistle for a whisk.

“With both jobs, there’s a lot of taking charge and a lot of pressure,” Petterson said, whose specialty in the kitchen is small, intimate dinners with multiple courses. “Seeing these athletes excel in the pool and seeing my clients enjoy my dishes — it’s the best of both worlds.”

Her approach to coaching mirrors her approach to cooking: a blend of tradition and innovation.

She joined the PHS team as an assistant before last season and quickly connected with fellow assistant coach Craig Brown. Brown, Petterson’s coach when she swam for the school from 2013 to 2016, took Petterson under his wing. She credits him for helping her “fall back in love with the sport,” which led to her applying for the head gig when Coach Tim Messersmith stepped aside.

“Learning from (Brown) last season was so valuable. If anyone knew how to put together a winning team it was him so I hope I absorbed that.”

Although Petterson is diving into the world of head coaching, she never participated in or coached diving. She relies heavily on long-time dive coach Troy Olson for that end of the pool.

A 2017 PHS graduate now in her mid-20s, Petterson said she knows she’s a young coach, but she thinks that is an advantage. A state-qualifying swimmer herself while at PHS, she feels her age and experience help her better connect with the team, and the team better connect with each other.

The girls season is already halfway over. The team had three meets in September and has another three in October before districts and the state swimming and diving championships take place in November. The only chance left to see the PHS girls team locally is Thursday, Oct. 19 for a dual meet at Gig Harbor High School.

Petterson called senior diver Makenna Post as the one to watch this season. Post had a fourth-place finish at last year’s state swimming and diving championship and a ninth-place spot the year before. Petterson thinks she can climb higher up the charts this season.

Petterson is also looking forward to seeing how junior Kate Henkel performs this season individually and on the relay teams with juniors Annan Ball and Reis Every and freshman Lee Gjertson. The new coach is very excited about the fact that Gjertson has another three years with the program following this season. “She’s a very strong sprinter and is a big asset for our relay teams.”

Petterson will quickly switch gears to the boys swimming and diving season in November. The boys participated in six state events last season, and senior Thomas Cardinal is back after placing 10th last year in diving.

She said she has “one of the most motivated groups of team captains I’ve ever seen” this season with all four — senior Ethan Berard and a trio of juniors: Jonah Bergerson, Aidan Miller and Tyler Givot — having great experience in the high school and club pools.

Bergerson, Miller and Givot all were part of the 12th-place medley relay team last season at the state swimming and diving championships. Bergerson earned the Iron Seahawk award last season by qualifying for the district swim meet in every swimming event.

“(The boys) have a lot of depth and have some hefty goals this year,” Petterson said. “I’m hoping to see it through with them.”