Trevor Kittleson understands what it takes to build a college wrestling program into a national power. Kittleson spent five seasons on the coaching staff at Loras College, where he helped take the program from a 2-13 dual meet record in 2016 to its best finish in school history when the Duhawks finished runner-up at the 2019 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
In May of 2021, Kittleson was hired to lead the UW-Platteville wrestling program. In his first season as UW-Platteville's head wrestling coach, Kittleson guided the program to a third-place finish at the WIAC Championships and a fourth-place finish at the Upper Midwest Regionals.
UW-Platteville qualified three wrestlers for the 2022 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships and Zach Thompson (133) became Kittleson first All-American at UW-Platteville.
MatBoss caught up with Kittleson and talked to him about building a winning culture at UW-Platteville, his time at Loras College, expectations for this season and more.
You coached at the high school level prior to becoming a college assistant coach, which I'm sure was a transition. Then you transitioned from a college assistant to a college head coach. What was the biggest change -- or eye opener -- going from a college assistant coach to a college head coach?
Kittleson: When I was an assistant coach I got to see and do a lot of things. But probably the biggest change is you're the one keeping track of everything and making sure everything gets done. There's nobody else to necessarily pick up the slack. It's just more of the overarching vision of everything too. Having that vision, creating that vision and getting everybody on board with that vision. I'd say that's probably the biggest difference or change going from an assistant coach to a head coach.
A lot of coaches talk about building a culture for a program. What has that process been like for you at Platteville?
Kittleson: I think culture changes when you have non-negotiables. This is what we do. This is who we are. Then literally preaching that and living that every day. You can't just say it once. It's got to be an all-the-time kind of thing. What standards are you holding yourself to? What are the expectations?
When you competed collegiately at UNI, you had a coaching change toward the end of your career. Doug Schwab replaced Brad Penrith. Now you are coaching wrestlers who have undergone a coaching change. Did going through that as an athlete help you as a coach?
Kittleson: Yeah. No doubt. I went through it as an athlete. I took over as a high school coach, so I had some experience in doing that as a coach too. I remember it as an athlete. Maybe it was less hard for me than it was for other people. But again, it was the coach setting the expectations, telling the team what the expectations are, and then living up to those. Also, telling the athletes what they can expect from the coach as well. I've talked to Doug a lot because he went through it. He dealt with it a lot. He has been a mentor to me and a really good sounding board for me
You were part of the building process at Loras. The program finished 2-13 the season before you joined the staff. Loras became a Division III national power while you were there. What were the keys to building that program into a national power?
Kittleson: Again, part of it was setting expectations. Like anything, there were some underutilized aspects of the program. I think one of the biggest things was recruiting. We started bringing in some pretty high-talented guys and some pretty high-character guys. I think the fact that I was a high school coach and had a lot of connections for five years in the state of Iowa helped things a lot. Then we just kind of went to work, worried about ourselves and came out where we came out. We obviously had some pretty good success there.
You finished third at the WIAC Championships behind UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire. How do you view the WIAC Conference?
Kittleson: The WIAC is one of the toughest conferences in the nation all the way around when you include all the sports. It's one of the toughest conferences in wrestling for sure. There are other very good conferences out there too. But I think last year every team in the conference was ranked in the top 25 in wrestling, and it's like that in a lot of sports. I think it has won the most national championships out of any conference in the nation. So no matter what you're going to have a tough day and a tough opponent. We kind of embrace that and love that. It kind of challenges us and it gets us ready for the end of the year when we are able to compete against high-level opponents all year.
Zach Thompson became an All-American last season with a seventh-place finish at 133 pounds. What does he need to do climb the ladder and contend for a national championship?
Kittleson: Just keep doing everything that he's been doing. He had a great summer of just living the right lifestyle, keeping his training up, keeping his body fit and keeping the rust knocked off. I think he has all the skills in the world. After last year, I think he believes. I think last year coming over here to Platteville was a big thing for his mental stability and the reason why we saw him excel throughout the year. I think he's just building off that. I don't think there's any reason why he won't be contending for that top spot.
Tyler Hannah was a WIAC finalist as a freshman at 197 pounds. He was seeded eighth at the NCAAs but fell short of the podium, with both of his losses coming in overtime. Obviously, he has three seasons remaining. What is he capable of accomplishing? How good can he be?
Kittleson: I would be very surprised if you could show me another wrestler at the DIII level that put in more time than he did this offseason. Obviously, he wrestles a lot of Greco. He trained a lot out of his Greco club this spring and summer. He does not want to let happen what happened again. He's very motivated to not let that happen again. He's a great teammate. He's a great leader, even being as young as he is. I think we have a team of guys that are rallying around each other right now.
You mentioned that he trains Greco, as does your assistant coach Eddie Smith. As a college wrestling coach, how do you view Greco-Roman?
Kittleson: I think it's a great asset to have in your arsenal because not a lot of guys are very comfortable in a lot of positions that some of these Greco guys are. The hand fighting aspect of it is extraordinary. Obviously, that's a lot of what Greco is but just the fact that they can be dangerous from any position. It's a tool that maybe not a lot of people have. We love our Greco guys around here. Our guys trained a lot at Combat with Lucas Steldt, He does a great job with them. He works well with us and when it's Greco season.
Are there any newcomers to your lineup that you expect to make some noise that maybe people don't know about?
Kittleson: I don't know if people know about them, but I'm excited about quite a few of our incoming freshmen. I think a couple Wisconsin guys could maybe make some noise here. Aiden Brosinski and Chase Beckett were both were state champs in Wisconsin this year. A couple of Illinois guys, Justin Warmowski and Maddux Blakely. Maddux Blakely was the 1A Wrestler of the Year in Illinois. Justin was a placer in Illinois' big class. A couple Iowa guys, maybe Kasey Ross and Trace Gephart were both big-class placers in Iowa this year. There's going to be some opportunities for those guys to step up this year.
You have multiple NCAA qualifiers returning, including an All-American. Some talented newcomers. What are your expectations from a team standpoint this season?
Kittleson: We finished third in the WIAC last year. We don't want to go backwards. We have our team goals of winning the WIAC. It's not going to be easy by any means, but I think that's definitely a plausible goal. We ended up fourth at regionals last year. There is no reason we can't make steps forward. I would like to be contending for that regional title. If we do that, we're going to set ourselves up very well for contending for trophies at the national tournament.