Paulson gets elusive reward

Allison Younge

CLEVELAND — Beaten up and dripping with blood, sweat and emotion at the national tournament, Gophers senior wrestler Brandon Paulson expressed the release of three years of frustration with one simple phase: “I finally did it.”
A 7-4 victory over Oklahoma’s Shane Valdez awarded Paulson NCAA All-American honors for the first time in his celebrated wrestling career.
“I finally did what I needed to do,” the former Olympian said. “This is the third time I was one match away from becoming an All-American, and I finally did it this year.”
The national tournament proved successful for the Gophers’ Comeback Kid, who spent nine months away from the official mat prior to coming back before the Big Ten meet.
Fully aware of the pressure that surrounded him, Paulson reveled in the excitement, bringing Minnesota fans to their feet with his attitude. Paulson’s three-day NCAA tournament performance produced a 5-2 mark to place him seventh overall — one of eight 118-pound All-Americans.
“You figure the kid has only been out six weeks since he came back. He wanted to help the team wherever he could, and I think he’s done that,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “He’s been a great addition. He gets our guys motivated when he wrestles; he goes out there with a lot of confidence. He’s had a great tournament and helped us a lot.”
Even though Paulson’s transition back onto the mat was quick, it was far from painless. After the time off, Paulson lacked the conditioning, training and competitive matches the regular season provided. While the preparation process would not be easy, the three-year veteran was sure the time off would prove to be one of his greatest advantages.
“The college season is a really long season. Some people can handle it better than others,” Paulson said. “I’m one of those people that can peak in a short amount of time. I was talking to J, and he said, Well, this is the kind of season you’ve wanted for the last five years — you’ll be wrestling your best.’ I knew that when I was out there.”
Jumping into the lineup with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments remaining, Paulson was determined to help his former teammates and coaches take home Minnesota’s first national team title. The Coon Rapids native also considered the positive impact that a high finish would have on the state wrestling scene.
“I felt that I could help the team win the national title,” Paulson said. “It would be something that would stick in the University of Minnesota wrestling archives forever. It’s a chance to do something really special for Minnesota wrestling.”
Even though Iowa eventually assumed the position at No. 1, Paulson’s tournament points helped lift the Gophers over top-ranked Oklahoma State to capture national runner-up honors for the first time in team history. While Minnesota and Paulson were hoping for gold, this year’s silver will suffice. After earning All-American honors, Paulson can finally leave the college mat satisfied with his closing performance.
“I have been happy with the decision to return ever since I made it,” Paulson said. “I was disappointed in some of my wrestling at the Big Tens and earlier in this tournament, but I always knew what my final goal was and why I came back. I hadn’t lost the chance to achieve what I wanted to do.”