Russell Rohlfing always has it in his head that he can beat any of the best wrestlers he’s bound to face in a given season.

He admitted that when facing some of the top wrestlers in the nation from No. 3 Iowa, who always wrestle with a high-pressure and high-pace style, “it’s easy for a lot of guys to be intimidated by that and to crumple.”

But not Rohlfing, despite facing Pat Lugo, ranked No. 6 by FloWrestling, and getting taken down twice to start the match.

“I wasn’t discouraged by his two takedowns, by his pace, by his strength — he was real strong,” Rohlfing said. “Just got to keep wrestling.”

Rohlfing recovered and took down Lugo with five seconds to go for a one-point win during CSUB’s first road trip of the season. Wrestling for the first time at 149 pounds, Rohlfing proved himself early as one of the top contenders in the class. The win earned the junior a No. 18 ranking from FloWrestling.

“In my head I can compete with these guys and I can beat these guys,” Rohlfing said. “It feels good to prove to the wrestling community that I can, too. I’m just planning on keeping it going beating some high-level guys.”

On the plane ride back from the NCAA Wrestling Championships in March, CSUB head coach Manny Rivera and Rohlfing sat next to each other. It was Rohlfing’s second NCAA championships appearance in his two competing seasons at CSUB, but he didn’t make it past the first day of competition.

There was more disappointment between the two than joy.

Both thought he had performed better as a freshman. Rohlfing felt cutting weight got to him. Rivera thought Rohlfing was a “different person” in the preseason and more athletic than when he was cutting weight during the year. The coach “just couldn’t get over that.”

“It’s obvious for me that you are going to be better suited at a weight class up,” Rivera remembered telling Rohlfing.

So Rohlfing let himself gain weight in the offseason — all muscle, he hopes — in preparation for the switch from the competition weight of 141 pounds to 149 pounds.

Rohlfing felt better. He didn’t look undersized for the weight class, Rivera said. The first big test was Lugo during the second of CSUB’s three duals in Ohio on Friday.

Rohlfing escaped from Lugo’s grasp to tie the score with 15 seconds left, but Lugo had the riding time advantage so Rohlfing was essentially down a point. Rohlfing flipped Lugo around and took him down for the two points with five seconds left, giving Rohlfing the 10-9 win.

“Having the result to show really helps with confidence,” Rivera said. “At this point, he’s really got to be seeing himself as one of the top contenders at the weight class.” 

For Rohlfing, the switch in weight classes means his competition weight is closer to his natural weight. He doesn’t have to focus as much as cutting weight and can worry about technique instead.

He spent much of the offseason working on how to get out of the bottom position.

“Some guys are technically more sound than him, but you see guys in the first minute already starting to get tired when they wrestle him,” teammate Sean Nickell said of Rohlfing. “Maybe they get the first takedown, but it doesn't really matter because he’ll just keep coming at you. He just keeps trying to steamroll over you.”

Like many wrestlers to come through CSUB, Rohlfing’s goal is to become an All-American. He’s hoping the weight adjustment coupled with him growing into his body helps make a potential NCAA trip this season more successful. Early in the year, he’s already off to a strong start.

Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter: @jmettus.

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