PLATTEVILLE, Wis – After five rounds of voting, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association's Best of Brand. As a way to encourage coaches to get creative in the promotion of their program and reward schools for their investments made in marketing initiatives, the NWCA created the award in 2011, and UW-Platteville was selected as one of this year's nation- and division-wide finalists.
A bracket was created with an interactive, online voting poll that fans could go to in support of their respective program. With the help of social media, fans, alumni and friends, UW-Platteville won four rounds of head-to-head voting and defeated South Dakota State in the championship round, claiming the Best of Brand title. This is just one of many promotional tactics implemented by the head wrestling and assistant strength and conditioning coach, Mike DeRoehn.
Since he joined UW-Platteville three years ago, DeRoehn and his staff have worked to reinvigorate the Pioneer wrestling program. Under DeRoehn's leadership and with the help of Lindsay Dietmeier, athletic events and communications coordinator, the Pioneer wrestling team has also been able to host promotional events throughout the season.
In November, the team hosts "Headlocking Hunger," an event that includes the entire athletic department. Each athletics team competes to see who can collect the most non-perishable food items, and "weighs in" during half time of a home wrestling meet to see who gathers the most. Everything is then donated to the Platteville Food Pantry, and each year brings in more than 1,500 pounds of food. This January, the team hosted "Throw Down in the Theatre," complete with spotlights in UW-Platteville's Center for Arts, which gave wrestlers and fans the feeling of being at national finals.
"I understand that wrestling isn't necessarily a mainstream sport that the casual fan on campus is going to just come to," DeRoehn said. "Therefore, I think it's imperative that we try and make our home dual meets 'an event' as opposed to 'just a wrestling match.' Ideally, we conduct these unique promotions, the students and fans enjoy the event and then say, 'Hey, that was pretty fun...when's the next one?' and come back."
With these fresh and innovative ideas on the mat as well, DeRoehn has helped the team compile impressive stats throughout the last three seasons. In his first season as head coach, the Pioneers finished tied for third place as a team at the 2015 NCAA West Region, the highest finish ever for UW-Platteville since the NCAA instituted the Regional Format for wrestling.
In 2016, DeRoehn led eight student-athletes to the top six at the regional, breaking the previous year's record. At the year's WIAC tournament, three Pioneers competed in the championship finals, the most in a season since 2006.
Building upon the success experienced in the two previous seasons, team success continued to grow under DeRoehn's leadership. In 2017, the Pioneers ranked as high as number 11 in NCAA Division III, spent the majority of the season inside the top 20 programs in the country, and finished third at the WIAC Championship, the best performance since 2005.
Despite his long list of undertakings, DeRoehn believes the team's biggest accomplishment isn't a specific title, statistic or award, but instead, the success and growth of the entire program overall.
"We are working to build a holistically successful program, not just a wrestling team," he said. "Of course I'm excited about the improved results on the wrestling mats, but I take a lot of pride in the team's performance in the classroom. We have nearly half our returning roster spread throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois this summer doing internships in their future career fields. They also participate in a number of community service events as well during the school year. We have a ways to go, but it's rewarding to see the overall progress as a whole."
In addition to success on the mat, the team earned a 2017 National Wrestling Coaches Association NCAA Division III team scholar-award, and had two athletes garner individual Scholar All-American honors. As a team, the Pioneers finished 25th overall in the NWCA with a cumulative team GPA of 3.18.
Despite the success he's brought to Pioneer wrestling, DeRoehn has no intentions of settling. With goals set for future seasons, he only wants to see the list of accomplishments grow.
"Our vision is to build a perennial top four program in NCAA Division III, academically and athletically, that produces well-prepared, successful graduates," DeRoehn said. "We are working hard to make that happen, and I remain excited about the process of realizing that vision."
Written by: Amanda Bertolozzi, Writer/Editor, Communications, 608-342-7121, firstname.lastname@example.org