Back-to-back dual meets — one win, one loss. The No. 6 Michigan wrestling team went east this weekend but found opposite results.

The Wolverines started with a 27-13 win over Buffalo then suffered a 19-13 loss to No. 11 Pittsburgh. But which was the greater indication of the season ahead?

“Pittsburgh was a better team and it’s early in the season,” said senior Zac Stevens. “We have a few starters out. I actually think we wrestled better against Pittsburgh than at Buffalo.”

Entering the meet, Michigan knew Pittsburgh would be a greater challenge, especially with the nation’s top-ranked 141-pound Kellen Russell out due to a minor injury.

Russell would likely have been guaranteed points for Michigan, which it evidently needed in Saturday’s meet.

Also absent from the starting lineup was junior Sean Boyle and redshirt junior Hunter Collins. The three are expected to return Dec. 2 for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

However, Russell is sacrificing his elected spot in the All-Star Classic where he would wrestle against the second-ranked Cal Poly senior Boris Novachkov. They have faced off twice before, both one-point margin finals. Russell took the NCAA championship crown from Novachkov in the 2010-11 season.

Without Russell, Michigan had to make some adjustments. Redshirt senior Justin Zeerip picked up the slack with a pin on Buffalo’s redshirt freshman Matt Dehney in the 174-pound division.

“I took him down in the first period,” Zeerip said. “I got him down on his back and just tried to weigh him out and ended up getting a fall. We needed the team points because we had a couple of starters out, so I tried to do what I could to help.”

Zeerip’s victory allowed Michigan to take the lead after a 10-10 tie. Still, Zeerip said he feels improvement is needed.

“I definitely think I’m giving all I have.” Zeerip said. “I was trying to get a takedown in the first period and I definitely opened it up, but I should try to open it up more and try to get a couple more takedowns in the matches.”

Redshirt junior Ben Apland also contributed to the Wolverine’s victory over Buffalo with a technical fall, redshirt freshman Max Huntley with a pin in 2:25, Dan Yates’ 3-2 decision and Stevens’ 11-2 major decision.

Stevens won the single lowerweights match for Michigan against the Bulls’ redshirt sophomore Justin Farmer. Stevens managed to take down his opponent time and time again, building off of an early lead.

He replicated his major decision in the match against Pittsburgh’s sophomore Shelton Mack. After numerous converted takedowns, Stevens secured his 10-2 win with 1:33 in riding time.

“I did what I was expected to do,” Stevens said.

But it wasn’t enough to produce a two-win weekend.

Throughout Saturday’s meet, the Panthers and Wolverines continued a rallying match of rebuttals. Pittsburgh put the first four points on the board, but Michigan followed to tie the meet, 4-4.

Pittsburgh stole the lead for the next three matches. After several retaliations, Michigan gained the advantage but lost it in the final three matches.

The Wolverines only claimed four individual wins against the Panthers, three of which came from Hesperia High School: Brandon Zeerip, Justin Zeerip, and Yates.

Yates won a close match against Pittsburgh’s 165-pound sophomore Tyler Wilps. He gained a single point escape in the second period, followed by a third period rideout to end the match 2-0.

Michigan coach Joe McFarland was satisfied with this weekend’s conclusion but remains determined in shaping the wrestlers’ tactics throughout the season.

“The guys who are wrestling tough the whole time, riding tough, returning tough, getting after it on their feet, getting back to the center first and just doing the work — those guys are finding success,” McFarland said. “That’s how you win tough matches. That’s how you get to the top of the podium.”

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