(Red Oak) -- The Red Oak wrestling program has continued to take steps in each of Tiegen Podliska’s nine years as head coach. This year, behind a district championship, four state qualifiers, two medalists and countless other unprecedented achievements, Coach Podliska is the KMAland Wrestling Coach of the Year.
“We did a lot of really good things (this year),” Podliska told KMA Sports. “We had some expectations going into the state tournament, and maybe we didn’t accomplish some of those. But if you look back at the history of Red Oak wrestling, when we’re frustrated with a couple placewinners and four state qualifiers then we’re in a pretty good place.”
Podliska’s complete rebuild of the program began early on in the process. In his first season as head coach, the team was not quite in good shape. However, Seth Esais captured a state championship to set the build in motion.
“Seth was a pretty crucial part,” Podliska said of the rebuild. “When you have a state champion, that can make you feel pretty good as a coach and in the community. You can have those younger wrestlers looking up and believing maybe they can be a state champion, too.”
More and more throughout the years, Coach Podliska saw the interest in his program rise. And more and more he found athletes willing to sacrifice some offseason hours to spend it in the wrestling room.
“We would have 10 or 12 guys in the room (during the offseason),” Podliska said. “In years past, maybe we didn’t even have that many guys on the team.”
And that’s culture. Even while senior classes moved on, Coach Podliska continued to see the lower classes take over the responsibility of continuing this growth. That, too, is culture.
“We’ve been fortunate to find some really good leaders,” he said. “And they bring some kids along with them. Success is (key), too. We’ve had some kids come back out for wrestling late in their careers, and the success in the program allowed them to do that.
“If you’re a junior in high school, you probably aren’t very interested in coming out for wrestling for the first time if we’re not having success.”
More than anything, Podliska believes the key to building a program the way he has is creating interest and excitement.
“You’ve got to try to get kids excited,” he said. “It’s probably beneficial for me coming into this job at 22 or 23 years old out of college. I could kind of relate to the high school kid maybe a little bit more (than others). I could come in and lead by example.”
The results of that excitement, that build and that culture has been evident over the years, and it came to a head this season with the Tigers grabbing a district championship just four years after not scoring a single point at their district meet.
All four of Red Oak’s state qualifiers are seniors, leaving the open-ended question: What’s next for Red Oak wrestling?
“I leave it up to the next group,” Podliska said. “I think some of these underclassmen and some of the juniors had a trajectory at the end of the season that was really good. They started maybe seeing the writing on the wall a little bit and working a little harder.
“I talked to some of them specifically before the end of the season and said, ‘We’ve got to keep this up.’ If we keep this up in the offseason, then you can be that story or that guy on the poster next year.
“That’s unwritten. We’re going to continue to reload and accomplish a lot of really good things as we’ve done for the last however many years. The challenge is out there.”
Listen to the complete interview with Coach Podliska linked below.
PREVIOUS KMALAND WRESTLING COACH OF THE YEAR WINNERS
2018-19: Tim Duff, Atlantic-CAM
2017-18: Keefer Jensen, Missouri Valley