Hamilton West’s Nick Cecala, pictured at a Jan. 19, 2013 meet at Princeton, aims to rack up titles en route to the state finals. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Nick Cecala leaves nothing to the imagination when discussing how important it is for him to reach the New Jersey State Wrestling Tournament in Atlantic City this year.

“If I don’t go to A.C. the last four years were a waste,” Cecala said. “If I don’t reach Atlantic City, I don’t know what I did for four years. Every day that’s all I think about, going to Atlantic City and Boardwalk Hall. It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s where it’s at.”

Cecala has carved out a pretty nice career for himself at West, going 24-6 and finishing second in the county and district tournaments as a sophomore and going 17-9 and finishing third in districts and fifth in counties during an injury-plagued junior year.

He has flown under the radar at West, however, due to high-profile teammates and classmates Jared Staub and Anthony Kubish. But over the summer Staub transferred to Brick and Kubish left for Steinert, leaving Hamilton short on experience as Cecala and Darius Miller are the team’s lone seniors.

“They have taken the younger wrestlers under their wings and are helping them out in the wrestling room as well,” first-year head coach Justin Kloc said. “They both care about the program. They understand that this year it’s going to be tough to win matches, but they care about the younger kids and they want to leave a legacy, something that we can build on for future years. They’ve really bought into that.”

“We’re young, but as long as everybody goes out there and works hard we can’t complain,” Cecala said.

Nick bears no ill will to his former teammates for heading to greener pastures.

“Nick accepted it for what it was—athletes who wanted to compete at levels where our team is currently not at,” Kloc said. “Nick has taken this on as a challenge. He really wants to see the program succeed, and he is able to take the program closer to that by staying on the team and not transferring. He continues to stay positive as a senior on a team that is in a period of rebuilding. He has been on the team for all four years in high school and has seen the good and the bad with the program. He helps instruct fellow teammates at practice and discussing with them what it takes to be a winner.”

Cecala has shown he is a winner during the past few years as he has slowly climbed the weight classes. He wrestled at 119 as a sophomore and 126 last year. This season he was 7-4 heading into late January but was 5-1 at 132 pounds.

Nonetheless he wants to get back down to where he was last year.

“It’s tough wrestling up (in weight),” Cecala said. “You take your bruises, but as long as I leave with a win, I’m happy.

“I want a county title, I want a district title, I want a region title and I want to go to A.C. I feel great. It’s a big cut going down to 126, but I’m going to get there. Once counties come, we’ll see how I feel, and we’ll go from there. I’ll be at 126, if anybody wants to know. I will be there.”

One of the reasons for Cecala’s success is his conditioning and ability to go the full six minutes of a match.

“Nick works very hard on the mat,” Kloc said. “He is a tough kid and never gets pinned. Nick is very good as a ride-on-top and can work kids for a lot of points. He is not the type of kid to go out and get a pin, but will work a kid over for points.

“I think he has a chance to compete at counties and I hope he’s able to duplicate his success last year at counties and districts.”

Cecala was slowed by injuries and missed time in January, which had him less than 100 percent last year heading into the season’s most important tournaments. This year things are back to normal.

“The leg, the shoulder, everything. I feel healthy this year,” he said. “Of course wrestling up I’m always going to take my bruises. I get my days to recover and then I go back out and do it again. When you go home, that’s when you recover.”

Cecala’s attitude is rubbing off on the rest of the team as Hamilton has been competitive in several losses and also won a few matches.

“I knew I was going to have to lean on Nick for wins and experience but his leadership role has been a bonus,” Kloc said. “He has definitely lived up to my hopes for the season as someone who understands where the program is now and where we want it to be.”

As for himself, Cecala knows exactly where he wants to be – going through the tollbooth on the Atlantic City Expressway in mid-March.