Cardenas, Mullen earn state gold at NJ state youth wrestling championships

Kearny Recreation sends 5 wrestlers to medal round

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Kearny Recreation wrestling program is certainly on the rise once again.

Need proof? Well, how about the fact that two products of the program, namely Jacob Cardenas and Jimmy Mullen, went to the Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton last weekend and came away with state championships in their respective weight classes at the New Jersey Youth Wrestling State Championships.

Mullen won his third state title in the last four years, capturing the 10-and-under championship at 125 pounds. The 10-year-old Mullen is a star waiting to happen.

Cardenas won his firstever state title, bringing home the gold in the 14-and-under 152-pound weight class. That classification is called intermediate because of the age.

“It’s great,” said Kearny Recreation head wrestling coach Tony Carratura Jr., the son of the veteran Kearny High School coach. “They’re all dedicated kids. The coaches and parents are also very dedicated. We had a good year last year, but this year, we exceeded expectations.”

Mullen was the second seed in his class. He took third last year and was anxious to get a chance to avenge that setback.

“After losing and taking third, I thought that was terrible,” Mullen said. “I just wanted to get back and do better. I also did a good job of staying under weight. I think that helped me a lot in all the different sports I play.”

Mullen is an accomplished basketball, baseball and football player, as well as a state champion in wrestling.

“It’s not easy,” said the fifth-grader. “But this was awesome. It’s so rewarding to win again after getting third last year.”

Cardenas lost to the No. 1 seed last year, but was determined to get another crack at state gold.

“I’ve been wrestling for seven years and this is the first time I won a state championship,” Cardenas said. “I’ve been training every day and practicing to reach this goal and I finally did it. Losing last year was a huge point of motivation for me. It’s what I wanted, to get another chance to win and I finally did it.”

Cardenas also plays baseball in the spring, but his focus is on wrestling.

“I really love it,” said Cardenas, who trains on the side with Kearny’s lone high school state champion David Cordoba at the Extreme Fight Club gym in Woodland Park. Cordoba won the 1999 state championship for Kearny and was a two-time state runner-up.

“Coach Cordoba pushes me a lot,” said Cardenas, who wasn’t even alive when Cordoba won the NJSIAA state crown for Kearny. “I have seen his name on the banner in the gym, so I knew what he did. He’s helped me a lot since I started going there.”

“Dave is a big supporter of our program,” Carratura said. “It definitely helps Jacob that he gets a chance to roll around with Dave, another Kearny state champ. Jacob now moves on to high school and we would love it if he sticks with us (meaning Kearny High). Jimmy has a great future ahead of him.”

Carratura said that he had a good feeling about his two wrestlers before they went to Trenton.

“We knew that Jimmy had a good shot,” Carratura said. “He has been wrestling at another level. He’s been wrestling seventh and eighth graders to get ready. So now when he’s wrestling kids his own size and age, he dominates. Jacob was down 5-0 in the finals and came back to win after bringing the match to overtime. It was great to watch.”

Besides the championships won by Cardenas and Mullen, Kearny Rec had several other wrestlers fare well at Trenton.

Third grader Joshua Baeza finished sixth in the 60-pound bantam class and had a fine tournament. Travis Witt was seventh in the Intermediate 160-pound class for eighth graders. Adam Chew, a seventh grader, was seventh in the 120-pound junior class and Artie Smith, a Kearny High School freshman, took seventh place as well.

“All of the kids wrestled very hard and we’re extremely proud of them,” Carratura said.

More than 140 teams with 100 different qualifiers participated in the weekend-long tourney in Trenton, so the achievements of the Kearny wrestlers were certainly noteworthy.

“These kids had to wrestle eight matches just to get to Trenton and some, like Jacob, had to win four there to win,” Carratura said. “That’s impressive.”

Carratura knows that these youngsters represent the future of Kearny wrestling. “No question, this is where it all starts,” Carratura said, as he was preparing his group for another tournament last weekend in Keansburg. “We have a great group of coaches who travel all over. We have great parents who do what we need them to do. The parents are willing to take their kids all over the state. We’re getting Kearny wrestling back to when I was a kid, what I remember. We’re all working hard together and it’s really great to see.”

Cardenas doesn’t know what school he will attend in the fall.

“I just know I want to keep this going, to keep working so I can win another state championship in high school,” Cardenas said. “I want to keep it going into college. It’s such a great feeling.”

Winning a state title is always so rewarding.

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