Petra Bernsten: Freshman All-American pins and wins for WSU

Petra Bensten joined WSU women’s wrestling to prove a point



All-American WSU wrestlers Julie Wilson and Petra Bernsten at the national championships, March, 2023 in Puerto Rico

GABRIELLE BOWMAN, Evergreen news co-editor

Her wrestling career started just to prove a point: that her dad was wrong.

Petra Bernsten said she had always been athletic throughout her childhood; she had done sports since she was 5 years old. Then one day when she was in seventh grade, her physical education class offered wrestling, which sparked her interest in the sport.

However, her dad told her wrestling was for boys and that she could not wrestle. So, she decided to join the team the next year and prove him wrong.

Now her dad is her number one supporter and is always there for her, said Phil Burnett, WSU’s head wrestling coach.

Bernsten won her first All-American title at this year’s National Collegiate Wrestling Association Nationals Tournament in Puerto Rico where she only lost one match during the competition.

Burnett and Bernsten first met at the Tacoma Dome during Bernsten’s senior year of high school at the Matt Classic High School state tournament. Burnett started up a conversation with Bernsten and he asked her what she was planning to do for college where she told him she did not have much of a plan.

“I handed her my card and I said, ‘I am Coach Phil, Washington State University, we’re cranking up our women’s wrestling team going into our second year. We’d love to have you come get your education at WSU and help us build the wrestling team,’” Burnett said.

He said after they met he went home and sent her all the information to apply to WSU and about a month later he got a text from her saying she was accepted.

“And the rest was history,” Burnett said.

Bernsten said the reason she chose WSU was that it has the largest club wrestling teams.

Burnett said Bernsten’s record in the single year she has been at WSU is 27-12.

“I think seven of those losses came in her first thirty days of being in college and then from that point on she learned how to move her body, you know. She learned how to manage her matches and she’s an extremely smart wrestler that can throw and that makes her very dangerous,” he said.

Bernsten said wrestling is an outlet to calm down and reflect on the rest of the day. During practices on days she is feeling focused she likes to focus on live wrestling because it puts her in situations that she is not normally comfortable with, which is why it is one of her favorite ways to practice.

Bersten said she also likes wrestling the guys.

“I feel like as a woman, to be a good wrestler, it’s kind of hard to compare just because there is not a lot of opportunities outside of like club wrestling,” she said. “If you want to keep wrestling and improve I feel like you have to target people that are better than you and wrestle with them.”

She said practice to her is a way to just relax and focus on something that’s not school oriented. It helps her forget what is going on in her day-to-day life and lets her hone in on an outlet she loves to do.

Competition days on the other hand are a little different, she said.


“I would say for the first day [of Nationals] I was a little nervous,” she said. “The nerves really didn’t kick in until the last day when I was going third and fourth [place].”

However, she said regardless of her nerves her main focus was to keep a positive mindset and plan out the match she is about to step into.

The wrestling season lasts six months, so motivation is a significant factor when it comes to those on the team, and the community that WSU provides is *a-mF nice distraction which is what helps Bernsten stay motivated, she said.

Another factor for her to stay motivated is her past wrestling coach who recently died, she said.

“He really inspires me to just keep wrestling for him specifically and there’s a lot of younger wrestlers that are at my high school that look up to me and so I think it’s really important to use that and just remind myself that I have people that I’m wrestling for whether they are here or not,” she said.

Burnett said he knows Bernsten will take a National title next year.

“If I had a chance for her to hear this it would be, ‘Thank you for having the guts to come to a new program and allowing us to coach you in the process of, you know, bringing this program to the forefront of college wrestling,” Burnett said.