Five Michigan wrestlers said their goodbyes to Cliff Keen Arena on Sunday in their Senior Day match, escorted by their families onto the mat branded with the block ‘M’ for the last time.

They’ve all had unique journeys, but one thing they had in common was their desire to win. More than 1,300 spectators witnessed that shared purpose in an in-state rivalry meet against Michigan State on Sunday.

“It was awesome to see every seat filled here in the arena,” said fifth-year senior Justin Zeerip.

A testament to the legacy of the five seniors — Dave Johnson, Kellen Russell, Zac Stevens, Mark Weber and Zeerip — the Michigan wrestling team pulled away from an early tie, en route to a 26-9 win.

It was a crucial win for the 11th-ranked Wolverines, who were coming off a Friday-night loss to No. 3 Minnesota.

“Friday was very disappointing for our program,” said Michigan assistant coach Donny Pritzlaff.

After two lightweight losses, Michigan rallied with four consecutive wins to start an upset bid against the Golden Gophers.

Russell headlined the bid with a pin on Minnesota redshirt freshman Seth Lange in 2:28. Following his lead, redshirt sophomores Eric Grajales, Brandon Zeerip and Dan Yates each contributed to Michigan’s 15-7 advantage.

But that wasn’t enough to stop the Golden Gophers from having a rally of their own. Michigan’s streak ended with losses in the final four bouts. With three Big Ten duals remaining, the Wolverines returned home, thirsty for a win.

Justin Zeerip was especially anxious for a victory. Two days earlier, he fell to Minnesota freshman Logan Storely in overtime for his second loss of the season.

“It was one of the toughest losses of my career,” Zeerip said. “I hurt the team, too.”

Though he’s ranked fifth nationally, Zeerip felt he had something to prove. He started the meet against Spartan senior Curran Jacobs with a vengeance, though his opponent was also looking for payback. It was a rematch from the early-season Michigan State Open semifinals, where Zeerip was crowned as the 174-pound champion.

Zeerip scored a takedown in the first 30 seconds of the match, and at the end of the first period, he had already accumulated 2:37 in riding time. Leaving Jacobs almost scoreless, Zeerip recorded a 7-1 win.

After the next four matches, 133-pound senior Zac Stevens took the mat. Stevens pummeled Michigan State freshman Terry Turner in the first period. With six converted takedowns, Stevens ended the match with a 17-7 major decision.

Fifth-year senior and reigning national champion Kellen Russell followed Stevens in the 141-pound bout.

As top-ranked Russell wrestled, there was a respectful silence in the arena. Everyone was in awe as they watched Russell complete his Cliff Keen career.

“It’s just really special to be able to share today with them,” Russell said.

Russell got on top of Michigan State freshman Brian Gibbs. With that advantage, Gibbs was left helpless. An excited spectator broke the silence and humorously embarrassed Gibbs, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

With two near-falls and 4:16 in riding time, Russell out his opponent and advanced to 22-1 on the season.

After back-to-back major decisions, Eric Grajales forced a rapid fall on Spartan junior Dan Osterman in 1:50, bringing most Michigan fans to their feet.

By that point, Michigan held a big lead. Even after splitting the final two matches, the Wolverines claimed the last home-meet win of the season.

“I think they’re heading in the right direction,” said program alum Ryan Churella. “It’s good to see those guys having success.”

But can the Wolverines feed off of this win? In the upcoming week, Michigan will go on the road against No. 5 Ohio State and No. 2 Penn State.

“Hopefully, they use today’s performance and really exhaust everything they have left in their tank,” Pritzlaff said. “We have to be consistent and wrestle the whole seven minutes, not six minutes and 56 seconds.”

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