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One goal left in college for Iowa State's Paulson twins: Win NCAA championships

Each day before practice, Cael Sanderson gathers his Iowa State wrestling team together and provides them with something to think about.

He offers a motivational quote designed to inspire the Cyclone team through the day's workout and beyond.

"One quote Cael gave us came from Muhammad Ali," ISU's Travis Paulson said. "It was 'Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.' Those are words to live by."

And words Cyclone seniors Travis and Trent Paulson plan on making a reality as they do everything in their power in the practice room to help them achieve their goals this season.

The Paulson twins, both two-time All-Americans, are legitimate contenders to win NCAA titles this March at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. Both are ranked second nationally. Travis competes at 165 pounds with Trent at 157.

"Trent and Travis have really bought into what we're doing and they come into practice every day with the intent to get better," Sanderson said. "They're both very competitive and they've got a ton of experience. They both have so much poise and confidence. Their leadership has been very valuable, especially with a new staff and things being done a little differently. It's a real tribute to them how well they've handled the transition.

"They both know this is their last chance and they're both preparing knowing that."

The 23-year-old Paulsons both reached the finals of the Midlands Championships to lead the Cyclones, a team with three senior and six freshman starters, to the team title on Dec. 30 in Evanston, Ill.

Travis Paulson won the Midlands title at 165 by avenging an early-season loss to Iowa's Mark Perry. Paulson beat Perry, a past NCAA runner-up, 5-2 in the finals.

"He's a real slick wrestler and a real good wrestler," Paulson said of Perry. "You have to stay on him constantly and not let him breathe. I tried to keep the pressure on him and followed the game plan and it worked out."

Travis placed sixth in the nation as a freshman and junior. He wrestled 157 as a freshman before bumping up a class to 165 as a sophomore. Slightly undersized at 165 as a sophomore, Paulson came up short of placing. He moved up to 165 because Trent could no longer make 149.

The burly and powerfully-built Travis Paulson now cuts weight to make 165.

"I am really comfortable at 165 now," he said. "I'm a lot stronger now. And I'm healthy. I feel great."

Travis Paulson's win over Perry came in part because he is attacking more on his feet.

"I am definitely more offensive-minded," Travis said. "I usually score when I shoot, I just need to do it more. If I take 10 shots, I can score seven or eight times."

Sanderson has been preaching the offensive style he was known for as a competitor to the Paulsons and the Cyclone team.

"Travis was really pushing the pace against Perry," Sanderson said. "He's really fun to watch and he's been attacking every second. He's in your face and hustling all the time and competing. Travis and Trent have both made a lot of progress."

Travis is in a tough 165 class that includes two-time NCAA champion and top-ranked Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State.

Trent Paulson entered the 2006 NCAA meet as the No. 1 seed at 157 pounds, but was upset by rival Joe Johnston of Iowa in the quarterfinals. Paulson came back to place fourth. He placed fourth in the nation as a sophomore at 157 after qualifying for nationals at 149 as a freshman.

"I definitely had plans to win a national title last year," Trent said. "It was disappointing. I let the pressure get to me a little bit and didn't perform the way I was capable of. I didn't accomplish my goals and it still eats at me. I haven't really taken a break since then. I wrestled all summer and I want to make sure something like that doesn't happen again."

Trent has been ranked No. 1 most of the season before he suffered a 9-8 setback to Mike Poeta of Illinois in the finals of the Midlands. Poeta is now No. 1 at 157.

As good as they are in folkstyle, the Paulsons may be even better in the international styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman. They both won Junior National titles in Greco-Roman, but also have excelled in freestyle.

Trent Paulson made a huge splash at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials in freestyle when he upset past World Bronze Medalist and 2004 Olympian Joe Williams in the quarterfinal round. He nearly knocked off eventual runner-up Tyrone Lewis in the semifinals at 74 kg/163 pounds before falling in a tough, three-period battle.

The Paulsons will not wrestle each other in competition, so Trent forfeited to his brother in the consolation semifinals and Travis ended up placing fourth at the World Team Trials. Trent represented the U.S. at the World University Games at 74 kg in freestyle this past summer in Mongolia.

"I wrestled a lot over the summer and I think it helped me a lot," Trent said. "Beating an Olympian like (Williams) was a big confidence-booster for me. I know I can wrestle with anybody."

Both Paulsons plan to stick with freestyle after college. Trent said he is going to try cutting down to 66 kg/145.5 pounds with Travis staying at 74 kg/163 pounds. If Trent can't make 66 kg, he may try wrestling Greco-Roman at 74 kg.

"My brother and I have always talked about wanting to be on the Olympic Team together," Travis said. "Ever since we won our first state title we've had that goal."

Sanderson, a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, is excited about seeing what the Paulsons can do internationally.

"They both are real good in both styles," Sanderson said. "They're extremely powerful, explosive and technical. They have the ingredients to do real well at the next level."

The Paulsons also excel in the classroom. Travis is a fixture on the ISU Dean's List and carries an overall 3.45 grade-point average in business management. Trent has a 3.2 GPA in business marketing.

"They're both great kids and great students," Sanderson said. "They're the kind of kids you love to have in your program."

The Paulsons still have some epic head-to-head battles in the Cyclone wrestling room and are quick to point out that they wouldn't be where they are now without each other.

"I am definitely closer to Travis than anybody else - I will always be there for him," Trent said. "We don't get into as many fights like we used to when we were younger, but we still get pretty competitive and it can get heated at times when we wrestle. He motivates me a lot. He'll call me out if he doesn't think I'm working hard. We really push each other and make each other better."

Said Travis: "I owe a lot to my brother - he really pushes me and I push him. I will get on him if I don't think he's working hard enough. It's great having his support. We're best friends."

The young Cyclone team finished ahead of Iowa at the Midlands after losing 24-6 to the Hawkeyes in a Dec. 3 dual meet in Iowa City. Both Paulsons lost in that dual. Travis lost to Perry 6-4 in overtime in the dual's first match. Trent fell 3-2 to Iowa freshman Ryan Morningstar in the final match of the meet.

"That dual, it kind of made us mad," Travis said. "We knew we were way better than we showed. We had a meeting afterwards and Cael said we weren't going to dwell on it. We didn't forget about it and it definitely motivated us. We learned from it and moved on."

That progress was evident at the Midlands for an Iowa State team now ranked fourth in the nation entering the National Duals on Jan. 13-14 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

"Winning Midlands was a good win for us," Trent said. "Our young guys are starting to step up. They're going to be pretty tough by the end of the season."

No doubt, they will hear more words of wisdom from Sanderson.

"Cael gave us a quote that said, 'Ships are real safe in the harbor, but they're meant to go to sea,'" Travis said. "What I took from that is you can be safe and not take any risks in wrestling or you can go out there and take your best shot. Cael is great with the mental aspect of the sport. He's a great motivator."

Motivational quotes are just a small part of what Sanderson, who was 159-0 and won four NCAA titles for ISU, brings to the table as a head coach. Sanderson replaced his college coach, Bobby Douglas, this year at ISU. Douglas recruited and coached the Paulsons the past four seasons.

"Douglas was a great coach and great technician - we learned a lot from him," Travis said. "Cael is an excellent coach as well. He has a great staff and he is going to make sure we're in shape. I'm in the best shape of my career right now. Instead of a seven-minute match I wish it was 10 minutes."

Said Trent: "I loved having Bobby as a coach and we learned a lot from him. It's gone real well with Cael. He's attacking being a head coach just like when he was a competitor - he wants to be the best. He has made conditioning a priority and said we're going to outwork everyone else. He will call somebody out if they're not working hard or not making progress. He's a lot more vocal than he was as an assistant."

Adapting to a new coaching staff is a challenge the senior twins from Council Bluffs, Iowa, have embraced.

"It was kind of an adjustment after doing things the same way four years and then it changes your fifth year," Trent said. "But the transition has gone great. Before the season, the new coaching staff came over to our house and talked to me and Travis about leading the team. We had to be positive, set an example, offer good advice and work as hard as we possibly could."

The Paulsons are hoping the influence of Douglas and Sanderson during their ISU careers will pay off in a couple months at the NCAA Championships.

"My goal since I came here was to be a national champion and this is my last chance," Trent said. "I'm working harder than ever and not holding back at all. It would mean the world to me to see both of us go out on top. It would be unbelievable."
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