Russell Rohlfing felt like 2020 was his year.
Having already earned three top-five finishes at the Pac-12 Championships — including a runner-up showing at 141 pounds in 2018 — the Cal State Bakersfield senior wrestler finally worked his way to the center podium last weekend, when he captured the conference's 149-pound title.
The win had Rohlfing operating at maximum confidence as he prepared for the NCAA National Tournament, which was scheduled to take place in Minneapolis on March 19-21.
A four-time qualifier who won his first National match last season, Rohlfing had big plans for his final college tournament. At worst, he had his sights on a top-eight finish, which would have made him the Roadrunners' first All-American since 2014.
Those ambitions ended in abrupt fashion Thursday, when all NCAA winter and spring sports were canceled in wake of the spreading Coronavirus. Rohlfing admits he had a difficult time handling the news when it broke.
"I felt like I was robbed," he said. "I was in disbelief. I just couldn't believe it."
Meeting with Rohlfing and fellow National qualifier Josh Loomer following the NCAA's announcement, CSUB coach Manny Rivera admits he was at a loss trying to process the "surreal" moment.
"As a coach, normally I'd like to take pride in that I've been through all the ups and downs," said Rivera, a former All-American who helped Minnesota win a national championship in 2007. "And this just isn't something I've been through. I had no real words or reference for how to handle this moment.
"It's one thing competing and losing, but another just not being able to compete after you've been anticipating this for so long."
Speaking nearly 48 hours after the tournament's cancelation, Rohlfing says he's beginning to come to terms with the incomplete end of his college career.
"Life isn't fair sometimes," he said. "There's nothing I can do about it so from my perspective there's no point in letting it consume me. Life goes on."
Though open to wrestling again, Rohlfing says he isn't sure what avenues are open to him as a competitor. But even if his time as an athlete is over, he isn't ready to be finished with the sport.
In line to graduate from CSUB in May, Rohlfing plans to go to law school. Saying all but one school he's applied to has a wrestling program, Rohlfing hopes his next move can help him make a transition into coaching.
"I could never see myself just walking away from the sport completely," he said. "I always see myself having some hand in it, whether that's as a competitor or as a coach. This sport's just done so much for me I feel compelled to give back in any way I can."
And despite its unceremonious end, Rohlfing says he has a great sense of pride in how his time at CSUB unfolded.
"This last national tournament was going to be my chance to accomplish the goals I set," he said. "I was feeling extremely confident in my ability and how I had progressed as a wrestler. That's disappointing. But I controlled what I could.
"My wrestling career as a Roadrunner is over but I have no regrets. It's unfortunate but I did everything I could. I did the right things."