Mac Conkling of the Whetstone High School wrestling team couldn't be happier that his hopes of winning a City League championship and advancing to the Division I district tournament for the first time are alive and well.

Mac Conkling of the Whetstone High School wrestling team couldn't be happier that his hopes of winning a City League championship and advancing to the Division I district tournament for the first time are alive and well.

It wasn't immediately clear whether either goal was attainable five weeks ago.

During what has been a promising season for the Braves' only senior, Conkling was driving home from his girlfriend's house on Dec. 30, 2011, when an oncoming car swerved into his lane and struck his family's Dodge Caravan. The accident left him with a sprained wrist and four staples in his scalp.

"It was pretty scary," he said. "My first thought was to reach (to the passenger seat) to see if my girlfriend was OK because she's always with me, but thankfully she wasn't there. (The vehicle) was totaled, and they said that if I was driving my car, which is a Ford Focus, I probably wouldn't have made it."

Conkling missed a week of practice and one meet before getting cleared to wrestle again Jan. 9.

He won his first match that night in a dual against Fredericktown and was 22-4 before a match against Centennial on Feb. 1.

After playing basketball as a freshman, Conkling joined the wrestling program as a sophomore and finished fifth in the City League tournament that season at 112 pounds. Last winter, he went 25-6 and placed second in the league at 112.

Conkling has competed this season at 113 and 120 and is expecting to compete at 113 for the league tournament Feb. 11 at Centennial. He expects Columbus West's Tommy Johnson to be among the top competitors at that weight.

Conkling has attempted to take on a leadership role in the practice room similar to his sophomore year when 2010 graduates Spencer Tuttle and Ben Leach were the veterans.

"We have a lot of sophomores and freshmen, but the new kids have adjusted to the lineup pretty well," Conkling said. "My sophomore year, Spencer Tuttle and Ben Leach were our two captains, and they taught us what they learned and that gave us a big jumpstart. When they left, I saw that somebody had to take the lead role, so that's what I've tried to do."

Conkling and junior Anthony Lehnen, who has competed at 106 and 113, give the Braves a pair of wrestlers capable of scoring significant points in the league tournament. Lehnen was 22-2 before the match against Centennial after going 31-6 and winning a league championship last season at 103.

Last season, Whetstone finished seventh in the league tournament with 109.5 points behind champion Marion-Franklin (202).

Other competitors for the Braves who had a winning record before matches against Newark and Reynoldsburg on Jan. 26 included Daylon Smother at 132 (12-4), Kevin Ellison at 220 and heavyweight (17-7), Chris North at 152 and 160 (8-3), David Lipscomb at 220 and heavyweight (8-1), Alex Arnold at 182 and 195 (16-9) and N.D. Matson at 195 (9-5).

The Braves were 12-12 in dual matches before competing against Centennial.

"We've had a tougher schedule, so our record is not as good as last year's record, but that kind of comes along with the territory," coach Tom Jones said. "We had five pins and St. Charles had three pins, but we had to forfeit three weight classes in a dual Dec. 21 (that Whetstone lost 48-30).

"I think Anthony and Mac are good candidates to win (league) championships and Daylon should get into the top three."

•The boys basketball team is looking to get off to better starts for the remainder of the season.

The Braves outscored Mifflin 22-4 in the first quarter of their 54-53 victory on Jan. 13, but that performance was an exception, according to coach Kevin Arway.

Whetstone was outscored 24-11 in the first quarter of a 77-54 loss to Brookhaven on Jan. 20 and 26-12 in the first quarter of a 77-66 loss to Beechcroft on Jan. 12.

"The first quarter has just killed us," Arway said. "The thing I've tried to explain to the guys is that when you dig a hole, you might not come back. The odds are strongly against winning the game. A good half of our games have had bad first quarters. We've actually been practicing how we start games."

Senior Gabe Reece, who is a 6-foot-8 post player, has come on of late along with the team's leading scorer, senior guard Marvin Draper.

Reece had 21 points against Beechcroft and 15 in a 104-44 loss to Northland, which features a pair of 6-8 seniors in Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott.

"(Draper's) been playing well, but the last few games Gabe has come on strong," Arway said. "He made the winning free throw against Mifflin with four seconds left. It was a great basketball atmosphere, and Gabe came through in the clutch for us. We're hoping we can go through the second half of the City League schedule better than we did the first half."