With one of her divers standing in the top spot on the podium and two others scoring team points at last week’s 3A state meet in Gillette, Powell High School girls’ swimming and diving …
With one of her divers standing in the top spot on the podium and two others scoring team points at last week’s 3A state meet in Gillette, Powell High School girls’ swimming and diving assistant coach Heather Christensen had plenty to smile about.
But Christensen’s smile got even brighter when she was named 3A Assistant Coach of the Year. She shared the award last season, but this season it was hers alone.
A former PHS diver herself, Christensen has been coaching the Lady Panther divers for the last four seasons. Asked what it meant to her to be named 3A Assistant Coach of the Year, she struggled to find the words.
“I’m in shock, really. I’m completely humbled by it,” Christensen said. “I’m very honored by the recognition, but more goes to the girls. Diving is really its own sport and it’s so challenging at so many levels. I would just really like to see diving recognized more for the sport that it is and how hard it is.”
Christensen had high praise for this year’s divers and the work ethic they exhibited throughout the season. The hard work paid off, as four of the seven divers — Emma Karhu, Maddi Hackenberg and Taycee Walker — qualified for state.
“Those girls are hard workers,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize how hard diving is, not only physically but mentally. It can take a toll on you over the course of a long season. The girls kept persevering, and it showed at state.”
Emma Karhu won the state championship while Kami Jensen and Maddi Hackenberg placed fifth and eighth, respectively.
“It’s a very close group, and we have to try and keep it light at our end, try and have fun,” Christensen said of her divers. “The stress is high on trying to learn a new dive, so we try to keep it light, so that the mental aspect of it doesn’t get so hard. They definitely cheer each other on and push each other to do their best.”
That hard work and dedication especially paid off for Karhu, who earned her first state title and now ranks fourth on the PHS Wall of Fame.
“Having Emma win was super-exciting,” Christensen said. “All the divers worked really hard this year, but she was really focused. Each week we were trying to go a little further with her [Karhu], push a little bit harder. It really showed at the end of the year how hard she was working.”
Karhu had equal praise for her coach.
“That was really cool to see her win that award,” Karhu said, adding, “she really deserves it. She puts a lot of work into our team.”
Christensen said PHS head coach Bob Smartt and Assistant Coach Bailey Jackson have been “a big support.”
“Coach Smartt has definitely given me whatever I need to make the girls better and whatever can help them to accomplish their goals,” she said.
For his part, Smartt said Christensen “is constantly improving in the sport and becoming a better coach with each season,” and has embraced the use of technology to help the team succeed.
“Because Heather [Christensen] makes diving fun, she had seven divers on the team this year, the largest 3A dive squad in the state,” Smartt added. “This year she added dive replay software, which gives our athletes the ability to view their practice dives immediately upon completion. Pedagogy emphasizes the recency effect and the importance of visual learning.”
With every one of her divers returning next season, Christensen said she’s excited at what the future will bring.
“A lot of the times at the end of the season, you’re pretty worn out. But this year has just been so good,” she said. “The girls worked so hard, so I’m a little bit more bummed about being done this year. I’m ready to keep working with them.”