For the second year in a row Jacob Cardenas can call himself an NCAA All American

On Saturday, at the 2024 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Kansas City, Cardenas, a Kearny native and Cornell University standout, added another line to his already stellar resume when he took fourth place at 197 pounds.

Cardenas went 6-2 during the three-day event, finishing his senior season with a 22-8 record. Five of those wins came through the consolation bracket as he bounced back from a second round upset at the hands of Missouri’s Rocky Elam on Thursday night.

“I did what I had to do,” Cardenas said. “I think I did good enough to get by and I definitely could’ve done better. But overall, I’m happy with my effort and I think I did a good job of focusing in the wrestlebacks.”

Cardenas’ wrestleback run started on Friday morning with a 4-2 decision over Jaxon Smith of Maryland followed by an 11-2 major decision against Northern Iowa’s Wyatt Voelker.

The winning streak continued into the late session as Cardenas downed Nebraska’s Silas Allred by a 5-2 decision then recorded a pin at 1:11 to defeat Stephen Little of Little Rock.

The consolation semifinals on Saturday morning brought a familiar foe in Elam. But this time, Cardenas came out on top with a 7-3 decision to advance to the consolation final for third place overall.

“It definitely felt good to avenge the loss,” said Cardenas. “I didn’t really do anything different to be honest. I just let go of all nerves or any doubts I had earlier in the tournament and went out there fearless.”

Cardenas’ tournament run ended in defeat, falling to Oklahoma’s Stephen Buchanan, 9-4, in the third place match on Saturday.

Despite the loss, it capped off a banner weekend for Cardenas and Cornell.

Cardenas, who finished eighth at 197 pounds a year ago, became just the 14th wrestler in Cornell history to be a two-time NCAA All-American. As a team, Cornell took second place with 72.5 points, trailing only Penn State. It marked the third time Cornell has ever finished second and the first time since 2011.

“It means the world to me,” Cardenas said. “To say we are one of the best teams in the country makes me so proud to be a Cornellian. We all work extremely hard and it’s great that an Ivy League team is able to get on the map like that.”

After the NCAA Tournament performance, Cardenas, a two-time NJSIAA state champion at Bergen Catholic, improved his overall college mark to 71-22.

While Cardenas has one more season of eligibility due to the NCAA granting an extra “Covid Year” it won’t be at Cornell since the Ivy League decided not to grant their student-athletes the fifth year of eligibility.

According to Cardenas he “has a good idea on what I want for my graduate year,” he’s decided to take some time off to rest before making a final decision on his next destination.

The thought of this past weekend being the last time in a Cornell singlet was not on his mind during the NCAA Tournament, but he knows it will be emotional when he graduates in May with his degree from Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning program.

“It hasn’t kicked in yet, so I can’t tell you what it feels like now, but I’ll most definitely shed a tear or two after graduating this May,” Cardenas said. “All I know now is how grateful I am to be a part of this school and this amazing program. I owe my life to this team!”

Learn more about the writer ...

Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)