Yutan Basketball

BENCH INSTRUCTION: Yutan Coach Justin Petersen talks with his team during the first overtime period against Grand Island Central Catholic in the second round of last year’s state tournament.  The game proved to be the last on the bench for Petersen who stepped down as coach in early April.  Petersen will remain school’s Activities Director next school year and he will also graduate with his master’s degree in administration in December.  (Staff Photo by Suzi Nelson)

YUTAN – Yutan boys basketball coach Justin Petersen will not return to coach the Chieftains in 2020.

Petersen, 36, is attending school to pursue his master’s degree in administration and will graduate in December.

He aspires to be a middle school or high school principal. Until then he will continue to serve as the school’s Activities Director during the 2020-2021 school year.

Petersen has spent the last six season’s growing the Chieftain basketball program into a Class C-2 power.

The Chieftains have qualified for the state tournament each of the last three years finishing fourth in 2018, runner-up in 2019 and third last season. Petersen led the Chieftains to a 72-13 record over the last three years.

He compiled a record of 117-44 over six seasons on the Chieftain sideline.

The decision was not an easy one for Petersen who coached his first high school game on Dec. 6, 2014 against Elmwood-Murdock.

“It wasn’t an easy decision and I will definitely miss coaching. At the same time I am really happy with my decision and I know that it is the right one for me and my family,” said Petersen who lives in Bennington with his wife Brittany who is expecting, and two-year old son Jase.

Petersen said he made the decision to step down in February, but kept it to himself as to not distract his team who appeared poised to challenge for the Class C-2 championship.

“My wife and I talked a lot about it and we decided in February that after the season would be the best time to step down,” Petersen stated.

One of the key factors in his decision was the school’s decision to hire Jesse Gardner as the Chieftains new coach.

“That was important. I have a lot of respect for Jesse and after I talked with him I knew he was ready to be a head coach. I didn’t want to hand off the program to someone I didn’t know,” Petersen added.

Gardner was on the Chieftain bench last season as a volunteer assistant.

Prior to last season Gardner was a varsity assistant at Crete High School for four years and after that coached at Louisville High School for two more.

Petersen is confident that Gardner and next year’s team will pick up where the last three have left off, bidding for a spot in the Class C-2 tournament.

Gardner will build around two-time All-State point guard Brady Timm. Timm, a three-year starter has been a key contributor on three Yutan teams who have combined to win 72 of their last 85 games.

“Brady is a coach’s dream. He just works so hard and asks the same from his teammates,” Gardner said.

Gardner will teach in Elkhorn next year and will coach in Yutan.

“Having Coach Petersen still here as the Activities Director will be a huge help,” added Gardner. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to be a head coach.”

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