Peterson looking for third title, first as a coach
By TAYLOR GRAFT
Somewhere, tucked away in a chest in her parents’ home, there’s a UIL State Championship ring belonging to Gretchen Petersen.
If there was ever a time to dig it out and shine it up, this would be the weekend as Petersen leads Liberty Hill to the UIL Class 4A State Tournament in Garland.
It’s been 20 years since Petersen made her first appearance at the State Tournament as a sophomore in 1994. It was the first of three straight trips to state at then Class 1A Round Top-Carmine, which included back-to-back state titles in 1995 and 1996.
So, what better way to remember the past than to coach at state with a championship ring on your finger?
“I don’t think so,” Petersen joked at practice Monday. “I think it’s going to stay put.”
The memories are more than enough for Petersen.
“(Those titles) were a long time ago, but it’s cool because I know how (the Liberty Hill players are) feeling right now,” said Peterson. “The emotions, excitement and surreal feeling of it all. It’s cool to watch them go through what my friends and I went through and still talk about to this day.”
Petersen said the individual matches and points aren’t as clear, but the camaraderie and other unique memories still stand out, including the basketball game against Thrall that always followed a volleyball state championship.
“I remember having to play the state tournament on Saturday and then coming back on Monday for basketball practice a few days later,” Peterson said. “Coach (Tanya) Nygrin would always schedule a game for that Tuesday, but would never cancel the game. We would always be upset because we only touched a basketball for one practice. But we always ended up beating our opponents on Tuesday though and that made them really upset.”
Petersen won’t have her team playing basketball Tuesday, but she did take in a wealth of knowledge playing for Nygrin, who won five state championships before retiring in 2013.
Nygrin coached many players in her illustrious career, but Petersen could become the first from her tutelage to win a state championship as a coach.
“When I started coaching I always said I want to go back (to the state tournament) as a coach,” said Peterson. “Here I am 20 years later and it all worked out.”
Petersen’s path to coaching started after she left Round Top-Carmine.
Peterson went to Schreiner University in Kerrville and studied education. She then got a job at nearby Ingram Tom Moore, where she was named the junior varsity volleyball and basketball coach.
While at Ingram, Peterson encountered Liberty Hill for the first time. The Panthers were in Ingram’s district and Peterson says she remembers Liberty Hill’s teams consistently playing at a high level, especially in basketball and volleyball.
“I always remember respecting the coaches and the program and how hard their kids played,” said Peterson.
After a two-year stay at Ingram, Peterson got married and moved to the Austin area. At that time she took a coaching job at Elgin at the junior high. When the head volleyball coach position opened at Liberty Hill it immediately peaked her interest.
Athletic Director Jerry Vance then hired Peterson in 2003 and 11 years later she is making her first state title appearance as a coach.
Of course, the sport has changed since she was on the court.
Teams playing to 15 instead of 25, and playing a best two-out-of-three match without rally scoring.
“You had to earn your points then,” Petersen said. “Couldn’t just benefit from a mistake.”
While the rules are different, Petersen is well aware of what Liberty Hill’s players are going through, and wants them to treat the match like any other.
“It really is the same game (as the regular season),” said Peterson. “It’s just a different venue. The court is the same, the net is the same.”
Winning at this stage, however, is a little bit different. Win, and you’ll never forget it.
“It still means a lot (to win). I look back and think of my friends, who I still talk to today. I think of all the memories,” Petersen said. “That’s what I want for these girls. I want them to have a great experience on the court. They’ll talk about this 40 years down the road.”