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The line between Division I and Division II can be painfully thin for a wrestler.

Were it not for a single upset late in their senior years of high school, an untimely injury or the inability to make a weight, a number of Division II wrestlers might have received Division I offers.

So when it comes time for the University at Buffalo wrestlers to prove their mettle against Division I competition, the experience is a significant measuring stick or even a chance at redemption.

When UB upset the University of Pittsburgh two weeks ago 22-20, Bulls coach Ed Michael called it "probably the most significant win" for UB since 1978.

UB, in fact, has had more than token success against Division I foes this year, and that is one indication this may be one of its strongest wrestling teams ever.

The Bulls stand 6-2 in dual meets, and are ranked No. 1 in the Northeast and No. 12 in the nation in Division II.

Their success is due, in large part, to a superb cast in the heavier weights, led by Bill Stanbro and Jeff Howard, both of whom have significant wins over Division I foes.

Stanbro, a 177-pound junior, was a star at Binghamton-area Johnson City High. Penn State was recruiting him until he was upset in the sectional tournament in his senior year and failed to make the state meet.

"They had made me a promise and they took back their offer (of a grant)," Stanbro said. "So I've kind of had it in for anybody from Penn State since then."

At the Wilkes (Pa.) Open this month, Stanbro defeated three Division I wrestlers en route to the final, where he met Dave Hart, Penn State's second-string wrestler at 177. Stanbro won by a fall in the first minute of the match.

"I knew the guy was really good, and I have my one upper-body move I can get on anybody if I set it up correctly," said Stanbro, 25-7 at 177. "It was there and I hit it five seconds into the match and pinned him."

Howard, a senior 158-pounder from Ontario, N.Y., earned Division II All-America honors last year by placing second at the NCAA Championships.

He spent the first half of this season at 167, his more natural weight. Since dropping to 158 two weeks ago, Howard is 7-0-1, with a draw against Pitt, a first-place finish at the New York State Championships Saturday and a win over a Syracuse wrestler on Tuesday.

Failure actually has boosted Howard's career. He lost a wrestle-off at 167 to teammate Jim Capone at mid-season last year, and was forced either to drop down in class or sit.

"I wasn't sure I could get down to 158," said Howard, who needs three to four workouts a day to stay at 158. "But once I made it, I felt strong wrestling at that class."

"Jeff's biggest strength is his athleticism," Michael said. "He's very strong and he's explosive."

"My goal is to win the Division IIs," Howard said. "The guy I lost to in the final last year, from North Dakota State, is back and I hope to meet him again."

UB has another NCAA contender in heavyweight Chuck Guptill, a junior college transfer from California. Guptill, a 300-pounder who gets down to the maximum of 277 for his matches, stands 19-5-1. He placed second at the state tournament.

Guptill and the rest of the Bulls will look to improve on last year's 17th-place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships.

"Talent-wise, this is the best team we've had since I've been here," said Howard, the only senior starter. "But I think with the young wrestlers we have, we'll be better the next couple years."

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