A strong California presence fuels No. 9 ASU wrestling

Eight wrestlers on the current roster call California home

California wrestling is approximately a high school battle royale that has produced some of the best talent in the nation. 

At the moment, there are seven California high school teams ranked in the top-25 nationally. No other state owns more than three spots in the rankings. 

Now, California is one of the biggest recruiting grounds for the Sun Devil wrestling team.

Some of the team's top-ranked wrestlers including Zahid and Anthony Valencia are from the Golden State, and five of ASU's starting lineup are Californians.  

Freshman Cade Belshay (197) attended Buchanan High School in Clovis, California and won the state championship his senior year. Buchanan is currently ranked No. 6 in the national rankings and is the reigning state team champion. 

“Being from the West Coast, you have a chip on your shoulder,” Belshay said.

From 1952 to 2016, California had produced 32 NCAA Division I national champions and 32 Olympians

Some of these California wrestlers knew each other before becoming teammates at ASU. Some competed together on national teams, and some even competed against each other. Christian Pagdilao (149) and Anthony Valencia, (165) now teammates, faced each other in the state championship match as high schoolers.  

California is certainly a top wrestling state, but it’s a long way from the powerhouse Midwest universities that recruit from the Golden State. 

“I think for California kids, Arizona State is like a home school,” Head Coach Zeke Jones said.

Redshirt senior Christian Pagdilao (149), a Redlands California native, believes Tempe's weather is something that attracts wrestlers to Arizona. Other powerhouse schools like Penn State or Ohio State face tougher winters than in the Valley. 

"The weather in Tempe is second to none," Pagdilao said. "This could reduce the amount of culture shock that one goes through." 

In previous years, ASU has been overlooked by high school wrestlers getting ready to make a commitment because there was not a winning tradition, but Jones and his staff have changed that mantra in his three years as head coach.

“There needs to be a pipeline for West Coast kids to a West Coast school,” Belshay said.

Now, eight wrestlers on the current roster are from California. Most come from dominant high schools within the state.

Jones mentioned that because ASU is in a neighbor state to California, wrestlers coming out of high school will want to wrestle with those they grew up with.

Only a few teams west of the Mississippi have been able to win a Division I National Championship. 

Credit can be given to the way that California runs its state tournament that has constructed some of the nation’s best wrestlers. 

Unlike most states, California does not have a wrestling division system, only conferences. So, the absolute best are crowned champions. 

A format like California’s forces young kids to dig deeper for a goal that might be easier in another state.

“All of these big states have five state champs,” Belshay said. “Everyone coming up is a four-time state champ, well we (California) only have two of those ever.”

The lack of divisions is similar to the NCAA DI format — only one team can win a national title, and only ten wrestlers can call themselves individual national champions. 

Belshay believes that the format he grew up with in his home state prepared him for the format that the NCAA uses. 

With multiple freshmen and young wrestlers from California on the current roster, if ASU can continue its dominance in the Pac-12, Jones will continue to grow the state’s presence on the team throughout his tenure at ASU.

The Sun Devils are now in preparation for the Pac-12 Tournament, hosted at Oregon State University on Feb. 25.

Reach the reporter at trittenh@asu.edu or follow @trittenhouse34 on Twitter.   

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