Reflecting on the early days of her swim career with the Tri-City Channel Cats, Hilary Petersen admits she was not a star pupil in coach Todd Stafek’s club.
“Growing up, like my first four years of Channel Cats, I was the girl Todd was threatening to kick off the swim team,” said Petersen, a sophomore at Southridge High School. “I just would not put any effort into practice. I just thought it comes naturally to everyone and thought no one put any effort into it.
“It wasn’t until I turned 12 that I finally made the connection where if I tried, I could.”
Seeing how much her friends were improving, and realizing that she wanted to keep up with them, Petersen stopped dilly-dallying and started to work in the pool. It all clicked when she won her first medal in the 50-yard freestyle at the Inland Empire Swimming Junior Championships.
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She’s only got speedier — and hungrier — since then.
Cassie Hamilton (2002-05) holds every individual record at Southridge, but Petersen is closing in on some of her marks.
Petersen qualified for state in the 50 and 100 free during the Mukilteo Invitational on Oct. 1 in Federal Way. Those times — 25.23 seconds in the 50 and 55.11 in the 100 — rank her second this season among Mid-Columbia Conference swimmers in both events, behind Walla Walla junior Paige Gardner. Hamilton’s school records are 25.01 in the 50 and 54.30 in the 100.
“First day I saw her swim, I was like, ‘man,’ because she has a real good feel for the water — as good as Cassie,” Southridge coach Jason Hart said of Petersen, who last fall won the Class 3A district title in the 100 free.
Petersen has clocked five lifetime bests this season, according to Hart.
Diet adjustments and extra training helped her get faster from one season to the next. She worked one-on-one with Stafek and Hart, and swam with clubs in Bend, Ore., and Wenatchee.
“They’ve all had different views on how I can improve, like my strokes and my endurance for swimming,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the point where most of it’s coming down to tiny little details, like getting off the block quicker or just making my breaths quicker.”
But Stafek says there’s more to her growth.
“Ever since she came back from high school season back in November, she’s kind of been a different Hilary,” Stafek said. “She raised it to the next level and has been a leader in the lane, and has really pushed herself.”
In August, Petersen got her first senior sectional time in the 50-meter free during the Arena Western Zone Senior Championships in Clovis, Calif. She continues to train with the Channel Cats during the high school season.
“There’s lots of times she’ll swim with them and then she’ll come swim with me,” Hart said. “Obviously, I don’t kill her on that day, but some days I do. She is a sophomore, but everyone looks up to her.”
She also has shown that she is resilient. During last year’s state meet in Federal Way, she was disqualified in the 100 free preliminaries for moving at the wrong time.
“I cried in the warmdown pool for a good hour, trying to compose myself for the (200 free) relay, and it took me a couple days to finally process what had happened,” she said.
Petersen says she still gets a little paranoid on the blocks at the Federal Way pool. But she pushed through that fear at the Mukilteo Invite, where she finished second in the 100 free and third in the 50. She thinks that performance will give her confidence when the state meet rolls around again next month.
“Last year, I was just the little freshman,” Petersen said. “No one really had heard of me, and I was kind of just there to have fun for my freshman year. Now I feel like I know what I’m doing.”