Paulson to return for Big Ten tourney

Allison Younge

Gophers 118-pound wrestler Brandon Paulson is sporting the look of a champion as he gears up for this weekend’s Big Ten tournament at Williams Arena. Paulson, who shaved his head before winning a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, has reverted to baldness.
“It’s time to go, time to get mentally ready,” Paulson said. “It worked for me last time; we’ll see how it works for me this time.”
A focused mentality is vital for Paulson, who returns Saturday for his first competitive match in a month and a half. Paulson suffered an ankle injury on Jan. 18 during the Gophers match against Penn State at the National Duals tournament. The extent of the injury turned out to be severe — three torn ligaments. Paulson underwent corrective surgery on Jan. 29 and was sidelined for Minnesota’s seven remaining regular season matches.
The normal recovery period for this type of injury is approximately six months. Paulson admits that his ankle may not be as strong as he’d like for Big Tens, but he’s confident his experience and competitive edge will make up for it.
“Right now some guys are feeling the effects of a long season. I’m just looking forward to getting on the mat and competing again — I’m fresh, and when I feel good like this, I’m at my best.”
Paulson’s confidence is clear and relevant. He confronted a similar situation last year before the Olympic trials. A month prior to competing against America’s top wrestlers, Paulson got injured. He took time off to recover, and returned to the mat just in time to qualify for the Olympics.
This year, that same determination and pursuit of a goal has brought Paulson back to the mat for Big Tens, and he readily awaits his challengers.
“I made a goal to come back and win Big Tens and nationals,” Paulson said. “This is it, this is what counts. Whatever I can do to meet my goal, I’m going to do it.”
Paulson is determined to wrestle through the pain of his injury. As long as he is able to stand the pain, he will take the mat.
“I’ve wrestled with pain before,” Paulson said. “As long as I can walk and press off of it, it shouldn’t bother me too much.”
Minnesota’s coach J Robinson is looking forward to having Paulson’s talent back in the Gophers lineup.
“Paulson’s return will be exciting for the whole team,” Robinson said. “He’s been there before, and he knows what’s at stake. He’ll be ready.”
Besides his own goal of a Big Ten title, Paulson and his teammates long for a Big Ten team title. Minnesota (16-4) will need quality performances at every weight class to contend with Iowa’s wrestling powerhouse. The Hawkeyes have won the Big Ten team championship in each of the last 22 years.
“We’ve had a great season, but the season means nothing if we don’t do well in the next two tournaments,” Paulson said.
Teammate Jason Davids (142 pounds) shares Paulson’s view on the Gophers’ potential. He feels that Iowa’s victory run needs to be broken, and Minnesota is the team to do it. Davids, however, has a generational tie to the matter. His father, Bill Davids, wrestled for the 1974 Michigan team — the last team to beat Iowa and win the Big Ten championship. If Minnesota were to win the Big Tens this year, the Davids wrestlers would share the rare satisfaction of a Big Ten team victory over Iowa.
“My dad sitting on one end, and me sitting on the other end — it would make for a nice change,” Davids said. “We have to get Iowa out of there.”
While the Gophers eagerly await the Big Tens, Robinson is intent on steering the Gophers’ interests inward.
“Our rally point this whole year has been to focus on ourselves and what we need to do to improve — what we can control,” Robinson said.
Robinson has a list of qualities that the Gophers need in this final practice week. The coach plans to keep workouts short, focusing on perfecting skills and technique.
“This week is the get-ready week,” Robinson said. “We want things done sharp, hard, crisp, quick and clean.”
Robinson wants the team to build excitement as the week progresses. “Hopefully, we have some horses, and we’re holding them back,” he said.
There’s no doubt the Gophers’ excitement will be released Saturday at Williams for the opening rounds. But will it be enough to defeat Iowa’s dynasty? Paulson, a veteran to success, thinks so.
“I think the team has a good chance of beating Iowa,” Paulson said. “This gives me more motivation to work through my injury and win my matches to give the team an even better shot at the title.”