Sixth-year ASU wrestler brings consistency, experience to lineup

As the only graduate student on the Sun Devils' roster, Christian Pagdilao has proven himself as a team leader

Without an entire offseason to prepare and train, ASU wrestling Pac-12 champion Christian Pagdilao joined the team late this past summer after he was granted his sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. 

As the only graduate student on the roster, Pagdilao’s consistent performance, experience on the mat, level-headed demeanor and leadership toward the younger wrestlers have added a dynamic element to a team with high hopes come March.   

The California native began his collegiate career at Michigan State, where it was a “culture shock” being in a new climate and away from family. Now in his fifth year at ASU, and after making a weight jump from 149 to 157 before last season, he has found his comfort zone.

“Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve just evolved in the way I train and put emphasis into training the right way,” he said. “Just maturing is the biggest part of it all and as a wrestler. I’ve just expanded my horizons.”

In the middle of ASU’s lineup, Pagdilao, along with NCAA champion Zahid Valencia and fellow Pac-12 champion Josh Shields, comprise of one of the strongest combinations in the country. 

Coach Zeke Jones called the group “the mainstay” of the lineup and said that Pagdilao’s experience is key to the team’s overall success.

“He’s seen everything,” Jones said. “He knows to be careful not to get too high with the highs and low with the lows because it’s a grind, and it’s emotional, and if you get sucked up in the emotion, it zaps you of your energy. He just gets it.”

Shields, a 165-pound redshirt junior, said he has had some battles with “Pags” in the wrestling room over the last few years, recalling a time when Pagdilao “put the whooping of a lifetime” on him during his freshman season.

“He’s fast, he fakes a lot, he keeps moving and there’s never a break in the action,” said Shields, who is 24-3 this season. “He always wants to attack. He always want to break guys. It’s easy for me to follow him up (in the lineup).”

Originally a 157-pounder himself, Shields moved up a weight class after he learned Pagdilao would return for his sixth year.

“I told him that, ‘If you come back, I will 100 percent go up to 165 because that’s how much I want you in this lineup,’” Shields said. “‘That’s how valuable you are.’”

"Pags is the definition of lead through example," he said. "He’s one of the hardest workers on the wrestling team. He’s had a great year. I think he’s one of the best wrestlers coming out of ASU right now. Whenever NCAAs come around, he’ll show it by being on the podium.”

Even though Pagdilao has battled injuries during his time in Tempe, a healthy season in 2018-19 has materialized into a 19-8 record. He has also won six out of his last seven matches, dating back to Virginia Duals in January.

His model of consistency and attitude in the wrestling room has drawn the attention of his teammates. The 23-year old does not consider himself a vocal leader but he definitely uses his experiences to offer a helping hand when needed. 

“I think that’s the part of a veteran’s role, is to not necessarily mentor them, but just to show them that everything’s going to be OK,” Pagdilao said. “Show them light at the end of the tunnel.”

Pagdilao’s leadership could prove to be vital component for how ASU fares in the postseason. With two regular season duals remaining, the team is gearing up to improve on its tenth place finish at last year’s NCAAs. 

In his last year with the Sun Devils, Pagdilao is eager to finish his career on a high note and cement his legacy at ASU.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually get through a season and that I was as good as I thought I was,” he said. “There’s some great wrestlers here. Ultimately, I want to be a national champion, so I’m just going to push all the chips in. I have nothing to lose. It’s my last year.”

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