2023-24 Cornell Wrestling

Jacob Cardenas Living His Dream With Cornell Wrestling

Jacob Cardenas Living His Dream With Cornell Wrestling

Two-time U23 World medalist Jacob Cardenas is in pursuit of another podium finish before his time runs out with Cornell wrestling.

Feb 8, 2024 by Brian Reinhardt
Jacob Cardenas Living His Dream With Cornell Wrestling

Some people find their dream college in high school. Some might find their dream school even earlier in life thanks to their family's connections to a particular university.

Growing up in Kearny, N.J., Jacob Cardenas knew very early that Cornell was his dream school.

"I think Cornell has been my dream school since about sixth grade," Cardenas said. "I went to a bunch of camps here growing up, and I was a big fan of a bunch of their wrestlers growing up. It was a very easy decision."

The academic draw of an Ivy League school, not to mention its stellar wrestling program, made Cornell a perfect fit for Cardenas coming out of national power Bergen Catholic High School. 

A current Big Red teammate was one of the driving forces to get Cardenas to Bergen Catholic after his previous private school had to closed due to funding.

"I didn't really know him at the time, but (Chris) Foca reached out to me and told me I had to check Bergen out," Cardenas said. "They were really good, and I took a visit. After that one day, it was an easy decision, especially with the great training partners they had in the room."

Cardenas and Foca would not only train and become teammate and friends at Bergen Catholic, but the New Jersey natives both also found their way up to Ithica and committed to Cornell in the same recruiting class.

Cardenas was the #15 overall recruit in the Class of 2019 while Foca was #21.

"We both committed around the same time," Cardenas said. "It's a funny story, and I think he is still kind of mad at me. We were supposed to commit on the same day, but I took a visit to Cornell a week before he did. Once (former head coach Rob) Koll gave me the green light, I was 100 percent in and committed."

Foca was close behind in committing and that signing class, which also included current Cornell starters Julian Ramirez (#10 overall) and Lewis Fernandes (#61), helped to build the foundation for the success that Cornell is enjoying today. The class helped establish one of the best training environments in college wrestling.

"I like to mix it up, training with different guys," Cardenas said. "I still go with Foca and Lewis a lot."

One positive addition to the room over the last couple of years has been former two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski, who joined the Cornell coaching staff ahead of the 2021-22 season. Not only does Gwiazdowski help train Cardenas for college matches, but the two have traveled together the past two summers to both Spain and Albania for the U23 World Championships where Cardenas brought home silver in 2022 and bronze in 2023.

"He really forces me to get my technique down because he is so big and strong," Cardenas said. "We spend a lot of time working on technique, he makes sure I'm focused and smooth with all of my transitions."

Among the recent accolades, Gwiazdowski has helped Cardenas achieve was a 2023 EIWA conference champion and then All-American honors with an eighth-place showing last year.

This year, Cardenas has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, as he will have had 14 matches against wrestlers currently in the top 25 before the calendar even turns to March. Thus far, he sits at 16-3 with a pair of top-10 wins, and is ranked seventh nationally at 197 pounds heading into this weekend.

"Jacob has been diligent and motivated to correct errors he has made, and he has a willingness to learn and implement new techniques in his style," Gwiazdowski said. "He's encountered a lot of opponents who have been working hard to shut down his explosive style, and Jacob has found new ways to score.

"Not to mention, he's a good kid that always brings good energy."

Cardenas expects a lot of family members to watch him in action this weekend as he faces yet another pair of ranked foes in #12 Luke Stout of Princeton followed by #24 Cole Urbas of Penn.

"I want to keep my streak going," Cardenas said. "I took a tough loss against Lehigh (Michael Beard), which sucked. We have some good teams left on the schedule, and I think pretty much everybody that I have left is ranked. It's pretty simple, I'm just looking to win.

"I just need to take one match at a time, and I will have some battles against Princeton and Penn this weekend. I want to close out strong and prepare for nationals."

With the dual season getting close to the end, and Cardenas preparing for March and defending his conference title and looking to reach the podium once again at the NCAAs, he has a major decision to make after the season.

Due to the 2020-21 season being canceled by the Ivy League, Cardenas has one season of eligibility remaining, but it cannot be taken at Cornell. Currently in the transfer portal, Cardenas plans to wrestle his final year of eligibility, but it will have to be at a different school.

"I will be graduating this spring, and then I have to find another school to wrestle at next year," Cardenas said. "I definitely want to wrestle one more year in the NCAA, so I will be using my final year of eligibility at another school."

While his wrestling future and location might be up in the air once March hits, Cardenas sees his degree from Cornell as one of the most valuable assets in helping him get ready for post-wrestling life whenever that may come.

"My degree is urban planning, so pretty much city development, urban policy, just studying the way cities work and the infrastructure around them and how to make them more efficient and sustainable," Cardenas said. "I'm from an urban area, and when I was applying to Cornell, I felt this path would suit me well."

Up Next

This weekend will go a long way in determining the Ivy League regular season dual title. Cornell will be in road action at both Princeton (Friday night) and Penn (Saturday night). All three squads sit a perfect 3-0 in Ivy League conference duals this year.

"This might determine the Ivy championship, but we are acting like these are any other two matches. We look to win every match anyways," Cardenas said. "We have been focusing in, we know they are two good teams."

The Big Red have won the last two Ivy League Championships, 20 of the 23 since the turn of the century (no Ivy League teams competed in 2020-21), and 42 overall dating back to 1957.

The Ivy League schools will break away from the EIWA and host their own conference tournament starting next year.