Nov. 29, 2011
The No. 8-ranked University of Michigan wrestling team will take its annual trip out west this weekend, heading to Las Vegas, Nev., to compete in the 30th annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on Friday and Saturday (Dec. 2-3) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Action will begin at 9 a.m. PST both days of competition, with the championship round slated for 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
This year's field at the Cliff Keen Invitational will feature 34 teams, including 10 teams ranked in the most recent NWCA poll. Headlining the participating teams are No. 5 Cornell, No. 10 Ohio State, No. 14 Pittsburgh, No. 11 Missouri, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 13 Wyoming.
Michigan's Projected Starting Lineup
|Wgt.||Name||Year/Elig.||Hometown (High School)|
|125||Grant Pizzo||Jr./So.||Brighton, Mich. (Brighton)|
|133||Zac Stevens||Sr./Sr.||Monroe, Mich. (Monroe)|
|141||Kellen Russell||5th/Sr.||High Bridge, N.J. (Blair Academy)|
|149||Eric Grajales||Jr./So.||Brandon, Fla. (Brandon)|
|157||Brandon Zeerip||Jr./So.||Fremont, Mich. (Hesperia)|
|165||Dan Yates||Jr./So.||Hesperia, Mich. (Hesperia)|
|174||Justin Zeerip||Sr./Jr.||Fremont, Mich. (Hesperia)|
|184||Hunter Collins||Sr./Jr.||Gilroy, Calif. (Gilroy)|
|197||Max Huntley||So./Fr.||Emerald Isle, N.C. (Blair Academy)|
|Hwt||Ben Apland||Sr./Jr.||Woodridge, Ill. (Downers Grove South)|
MICHIGAN BY THE NUMBERS:
Complete Statistics: Through Nov. 19
LAST TIME OUT: at BUFFALO, at PITTSBURGH
Michigan split its opening-weekend dual meets, earning a 27-13 victory over Buffalo on Nov. 18 before falling at Pittsburgh, 19-13, the following night (Saturday, Nov. 19). The Wolverines dropped three of the opening four matches to fall behind early in both contests. They claimed five of the final six to rally past Buffalo, earning pins at 174 and 197 pounds, but U-M split the final six against the Panthers, winning three straight at the middleweights to take a temporary lead before dropping the last three matches. Four U-M wrestlers -- Zac Stevens (133 pounds), Brandon Zeerip (157), Dan Yates (165) and Justin Zeerip (174) -- posted perfect 2-0 record over the weekend. [ Full Recaps: Buffalo | Pitt ]
HISTORY LESSON: CLIFF KEEN LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL
Michigan has competed in the annual tournament 28 times dating back to 1983, missing only the first year of the tournament in 1982. Formerly known as the Las Vegas Classic, the tournament was renamed the Cliff Keen Invitational in 1993 to honor former Michigan wrestling coach and collegiate wrestling icon Cliff Keen. The tournament is run by a pair of former Michigan wrestlers -- three-time NCAA champion Mark Churella Sr. (1976-79) and Mark Churella Jr. (2001), who serve as executive director and tournament director, respectively.
Michigan has placed fifth or better in 12 of the last 17 seasons at the annual tournament, including first-place showings in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The Wolverines took sixth place at last year's event -- just 4.5 points out of the top five -- behind four placewinners, including 141-pound champion Kellen Russell.
What Happens in Vegas -- Senior/junior Kellen Russell returns to this weekend's Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational as the defending 141-pound champion; he posted a 5-0 record at the 2010 event, earning a 3-2 decision over Cal Poly's Boris Novachkov in the final -- a preview of the NCAA 141-pound final. Russell is one of eight Wolverine wrestlers to win two individual Cliff Keen Invitational titles and is a three-time placewinner. He captured the 141-pound crown as an unranked true freshman in 2008, knocking off the No. 3, No. 5 and No. 9- ranked wrestlers in the process, including a 4-3 decision over Ohio State's J Jaggers in the championship match. A year later, the Wolverine captain rallied from a major decision loss in the semifinals to take third place. He owns a stellar 15-1 career record at the annual Vegas event.
The Hesperia Herd -- Michigan's starting trio from Hesperia (Mich.) High School -- junior/sophomore Brandon Zeerip, junior/sophomore Dan Yates and fifth-year senior Justin Zeerip -- went undefeated in Michigan's opening duals at Buffalo and Pittsburgh (Nov. 18-19). Yates and Justin Zeerip own similar 6-0 records on the season.
Reversal of Fortune -- Fifth-year senior Justin Zeerip (Fremont, Mich./Hesperia HS) is 6-0 on the season, and among his victories are two decisions over opponents who previously beat him a year ago. Zeerip used a pair of reversals to edge Pittsburgh's Ethan Headlee in his most recent match (Nov. 19), avenging a 3-1 sudden-victory loss to the Panther wrestler in last season's dual opener. In his season debut at the Michigan State Open on Nov. 12, Zeerip earned a decisive 9-4 victory over Michigan State's Curran Jacobs in the semifinal round. Jacobs had previously defeated the Wolverine, 6-5 in the tiebreaker, at the 2011 Big Ten Championships.
In the Bonus -- Senior Zac Stevens (Monroe, Mich./Monroe HS) earned back-to-back major decisions against Buffalo's Justin Farmer (11-2) and Pittsburgh's Shelton Mack (10-2) in dual-opening weekend (Nov. 18-19). Stevens has claimed four major decisions in his six matches this season. Junior/sophomore Dan Yates (Hesperia, Mich./Hesperia HS) claimed bonus wins in all four of his matches at the Michigan State Open, going 4-0 at 165 pounds with two falls and two major decisions.
We're Going Streaking -- Fifth-year senior Kellen Russell posted a perfect 5-0 record en route to the 141-pound title in his season debut at the Michigan State Open, extending his winning streak to 44 consecutive matches. The streak stands as the second longest in Michigan program history, trailing only John Fisher (1985-86, '88-89), who recorded 47 straight wins between his junior and senior seasons. Russell's win streak extends back to the 2009 NCAA seventh-place match; he posted an undefeated 38-0 season last year. Russell previously compiled win streaks of 18 matches as a freshman and 23 matches as a sophomore and has lost back-to-back matches on just two occasions his collegiate career -- at the 2008 National Duals and the 2008 NCAA Championships.
Calling the Shots -- Head coach Joe McFarland is in his 13th season as head coach of the Michigan wrestling team. Since taking over the reins in 1999, McFarland has helped mold Michigan into a highly-touted national contender, guiding the U-M wrestling squad to three Big Ten dual-meet championships (2004, '05, '06) and eight consecutive top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships (2001-08), including an NCAA runner-up performance in 2005. He is the third winningest coach in program history with a 148-70-5 record at the helm and has led 18 different student-athletes to four NCAA individual titles, 40 All-America citations and 18 Big Ten individual crowns.
Welcome Aboard -- Michigan added three new coaches to its staff this offseason -- assistants Sean Bormet and Donny Pritzlaff and volunteer coach Kyle Massey. Bormet rejoined the Wolverine program after molding the Overtime School of Wrestling into the nation's premiere wrestling club over the last 10 years. Bormet, a two-time All-American and Big Ten champion as a Wolverine wrestler (1991-94), previously spent one season as a Wolverine assistant coach (1999-2000). Pritzlaff served five seasons as an assistant coach at Wisconsin (2007-11) -- the last two as associate head coach -- where he guided the Badgers to three straight top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including a fourth-place finish in 2010. Massey spent the two seasons on the coaching staff at Wisconsin, serving one year as volunteer assistant coach (2009-10) and another as the Badgers' volunteer strength coach (2010-11).
THE WOLVERINE WRESTLING WRAP PODCAST
Every week, members of the Michigan coaching staff will offer insider access to his program in the rapid-fire Wolverine Wrestling Wrap audio podcast. The Wolverine coaches will touch on topics ranging from his wrestlers, Michigan's opponents, strategy and the other events of the season in each weekly feature. [ Wolverine Wrestling Wrap - Episode 4 (11/29/2011) ]
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IN THE POLLS
Michigan dropped to the No. 8 position in the latest NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, released Tuesday (Nov. 29). [ Full Rankings ]
The Wolverines also boast eight individuals ranked among the top 20 wrestlers in their respective weight classes in the InterMat, Amateur Wrestling News, WIN Magazine or D1 College Wrestling polls:
Sunday, Dec. 11 -- vs. Wisconsin (Cliff Keen Arena), 2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 29 -- at Mat Town Invitational (Lock Haven, Pa.), 9 a.m.
Contact: Leah Howard (734) 763-4423