Monache’s top wrestler signs with CSU Bakersfield

Since he was a kid, Mark Cardwell Jr.’s plan was to one day wrestle in college. 

And on Monday at Monache High School, the Valley and state’s No. 2 wrestler made his goal official by signing his National Letter of Intent to wrestle at California State University, Bakersfield on a full-ride scholarship with his family and friends there for support.

“I checked the other schools and it’s where I feel most comfortable,” Cardwell Jr. said about choosing Bakersfield. “I like the wrestlers, being around them. They made me feel comfortable down there. The coach made me feel comfortable. And the coach told me that if I go there he’ll make me a champion and I really thought about it. Made me feel like I’d really be able to achieve my goals there, both wrestling and academics.”

The Roadrunners are an NCAA Division I program competing in the Western Athletic Conference. Last season, Bakersfield sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Wrestling Championships for the third straight year. The team is coached by Manny Rivera.

“It’s an honor,” MHS head coach Arthur Demerath said. “Very proud of him. It’s always going to be an honor. We always try to push kids towards college. Not only just wrestling in college but go to college even if you’re not going to wrestle. But the caveat that he gets a ride, a scholarship that helps him out financially to get his degree — that’s huge.”

A two-time Orange Belt Boys Wrestler of the Year for the Recorder, Cardwell Jr. is one of the best wrestlers to come out of Monache and is likely to become the first Marauder to win the East Yosemite League title and qualify for the CIF State Championship all four years. At the state meet last season, Cardwell Jr. placed fourth. 

His goal this season? State champion, as well as national champion.

“Hard work, dedication with him,” Demerath said. “He’s really a hard worker. Always there. I mean we go year-round pretty much, shut down two weeks before the season and two weeks after and that’s it. Year round that kid goes. And he’s always at the door ready to practice and work harder than anybody else. It’s been good. He’s still focused and he’s got a goal this year, wants to win it all. And hopefully he can do that.” 

One of the people most excited for Cardwell Jr. is his father, Mark Cardwell Sr., who said it was the moment the family had been waiting for.

“It’s great, this was our ultimate goal,” Cardwell Sr. said. “From middle school, elementary school, this was the goal. ... And I told him, ‘Everything else that happens this season. Hey that’s great, you can win this, do this [but] you got it.’ All the hard work. I know Arthur said it, he is probably one of the hardest working kids. He wrestled couple years ago he was 10 seconds from being a state placer with a busted knee in a brace. And that’s why he is where he is.”

The pressure may be mounted on the senior this season to go where no Monache wrestler has ever gone, but the future kinesiology major is happy to have the worry about what he’ll do for college off his shoulders.

“It’s a big relief because I had a lot more over my shoulders before big matches because I had a lot to lose,” Cardwell Jr. said. “Now it’s more like, I have nothing to lose. I do but I don’t. Just go out there and more so have fun.”

Cardwell Jr. will wrestle in the 174-pound weight class for Bakersfield. He’ll have the experience of competing in state and national championship tournaments to aid him, as well as a style perfect for college according to Demerath. 

“His style is very good for college style,” Demerath said. “He’s really great on his feet. Hands, head defense. He’s good on getting away from the bottom and he’s really tough on top. He’ll be nails, he is nails already, he’ll be nails in college at some point. He’s going to have a growing curve but once he gets there. He’s the type of kid that keeps coming back to learn more and he won’t quit. And once he gets there, you just can’t stop him.”

Editor's Note: Story updated to reflect that Mark Cardwell Jr. is ranked second in both the state and Central Section, and that he placed fourth at last year's state championships.

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