By CONOR NICHOLL
Pratt wrestling coach Tate Thompson has handled the Greenbacks’ season-long No. 1 ranking in several ways. Last winter, Pratt finished in second place in the Class 4-1A (Division II) state championship, 5.5 points behind Baldwin. The Greenbacks qualified five wrestlers to state and all of the points came from non-seniors.
Jadyn Thompson went 36-2 and took third at 115 for her second straight state medal. Livia Swift completed a 32-2 year and has captured back-to-back state titles. Keimarla Thompson (28-13) earned fifth at 155. Lilly Herrman was a state qualifier at 101.
This winter, the quartet returned and are all high contenders for state championships. Pratt rolled at the Remington regional with 173 points, well ahead of runner-up Wellington’s 104. The Greenbacks qualified nine for the 4-1A state meet this Wednesday and Thursday at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina. Pratt has the most qualifiers, one more than Columbus.
As of Feb. 15, Pratt is ranked first, Wellington second, and Lakin third by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. Regional titlists Holton, Columbus and Hoisington are fourth, sixth and ninth, respectively. Coach Thompson has looked to not post the top ranking “too many times.” Thompson believes the ranking helps promote the program and the sport, though can affect the team negatively.
“You get too much of that out there, and there’s outsiders, students and parents who don’t know much about wrestling will really kind of make the girls nervous about stuff they don’t really need to be,” Thompson said.
Inside the room, though, Thompson has reminded the team the Greenbacks need to rise to the high standard every competition, especially at state.
“Our mindset is, if we are supposed to be No. 1, we need to act like it,” coach Thompson said. “We need to prove it every week, and we need to make sure that our performances match the hype, because until you get to state, and you prove something, that ranking means absolutely nothing.”
Plus, Pratt has three of the top-nine on the all-time Kansas girl wrestling career wins list, according to SIK information, researcher David Heidrick and other sources. Swift is 108-10, and Jadyn Thompson is 100-11.
Senior Ava Thompson, formerly Ava Mull, had a hardship transfer from Larned to Pratt before this season. She first focused on a consistent household and schooling and was eventually cleared to wrestle by KSHSAA. She is 98-3 in her career and ranked first at 191.
Jadyn, Ava and sophomore 132-pounder Keimarla Thompson (17-0) are sisters. The Thompsons and Swift are ranked in the top-two. Pratt has never won a team state wrestling title. Pratt boys, with coach Thompson, finished third and fourth in ’16 and ’19, the best boy showings in school history, per KSHSAA archives.
“If we are supposed to be No. 1, we need to do our best every time and show them that we are trying to prove that that’s real,” coach Thompson said.
Lilly Herrman, a junior, stands at 16-6 at 101. Her sister, Daisy, is a senior and served as Lilly’s backup in ’20-21. This winter, Daisy stands at 16-7 and qualified at 109. The sisters missed a couple of weeks, including the league meet when Pratt lost to Hoisington. Both Herrmans have been involved since Pratt kids’ wrestling.
“Daisy getting her own identity and a different weight class, they have really pushed each other, motivated each other and been really good for each other,” coach Thompson said. “And they understand that they belong where they are at, and we have worked to get there.”
A state powerlifting champion, Jadyn stands at 34-1 at 120. Freshman Wendy Candia (15-11) reached at 126. Keimarla dropped down to 132, missed some time this winter and stands at 17-0. Sophomore Emmaline Primrose is 17-9 at 138.
Keimarla is ranked second at 132 behind Mission Valley sophomore Hope Blake, an undefeated wrestler at 20-0 and defending state champion. Ava, Keimarla and Blake are among the 11 undefeated wrestlers.
The group also includes Douglass 155-pound senior Jewella Cokeley (29-0), Lakin 109-pound junior Josiah Ortiz (28-0), Erie 115-pound junior Breanna Ross (28-0), Clay Center 126-pound freshman Gabi Koppes (26-0), Abilene 191-pound senior Lyndsey Buechman (23-0), Winfield 126-pound senior Mikayla Konrade (23-0) and Wellington 101-pound junior Anna Cullens (20-0).
Cullens is a defending state champion. Oakley junior Citori Bosserman is also a defending state champion and ranked fifth at 109.
“Her body completely changed over the summer, and into the next school year, and she has no trouble making 132,” coach Thompson said of Keimarla. “She wasn’t a big (1)55, but 132 is a whole different world for her. I think she feels stronger, faster, more skilled.
“The girls all went to a camp together over the summer, and got a lot of good reps in, and it really made a difference,” he added. “So some of the things that she may have just gotten by with a little bit of athletic ability and creativity before now is just skill from the repetition that she has had. She is a pretty confident girl, but she also knows that there is always somebody better.”
Freshman Lexia Taylor, who had never wrestled before November, has three wins this winter, though qualified at 170. Then, Pratt has its two significant state favorites with Swift (32-2), a 143-pound senior, and senior Ava Thompson (32-0) at 191.
The Thompson trio and Swift captured regional championships. Lilly Herrman and Primrose earned regional runner-up. Coach Thompson has reminded his squad that Pratt has “seen the toughest competition all year” and need to be a “confident team” at state.
Last year, Jadyn Thompson defeated Isabell Ortiz, including notably a 9-2 win in the Ellis sub-state championship. Ortiz won the state championship, though Thompson lost in the semifinals. After the loss, coach Thompson said his daughter turned the page. Jadyn eventually took third.
“She can either crumble and lose and go all the way down to sixth place or you can get third for your team and do the best that you can, and see what happens, and from that point on, and through this season, that has motivated her,” coach Thompson said.
This winter, Jadyn fell to Wichita North junior Rodah Benji, who is ranked first at 115 pounds in 5-6A. At state, Jadyn and Rossville sophomore Kendra Hurla (35-0) are the state favorites.
“That’s also a good thing,” coach Thompson said of the loss. “I would rather that happen early, so that gave her even more motivation to make sure she stays in good position and does the things she knows she can do without faltering, without having any moments where she hesitates or falters.”
Tate and Meriam Thompson have long taken in children. Both are from Garden City, and Tate wrestled for legendary coach Rocky Welton. Meriam lived with the Weltons, who provided a stable environment. Tate and Meriam have three biological children, including Jadyn, and adopted four: Kimberly, Keishaune, Ke’Rel and Keimarla. The Thompsons knew Ava well since Pratt and Larned are in the Central Kansas League and normally compete at the same meets.
Ava had an undefeated freshman season and won an unofficial girls’ state championship in 2019 at McPherson, the last meet before Kansas sanctioned girls’ wrestling. Ava had a perfect record before she was disqualified at regional as a sophomore. Last season, she lost close matches in the sub-state and state championship to Council Grove junior Jolie Ziegler. This winter, Ziegler, a two-time state titlist, is ranked second behind Chapman sophomore Grace Johns at 170.
“Finally getting the sanctioned state championship, so that way people won’t call the other one a non-sanctioned one,” coach Thompson said. “She talks about that, she is motivated by it, and she looks forward to the competition.”
However, Ava didn’t know if she could compete in wrestling when first arriving at Pratt. Her response was “at least I will have a home.”
“She got caught in between,” coach Thompson said. “And there was no really place for her to stay. There is no parent or guardian in Larned for her.”
Ava lived with the Thompsons for four or five months, though sports “were completely secondary.” Ava is a strong student. The hardship waiver was passed. On Jan. 5, 2022, Ava was officially adopted by the Thompson family.
“When we take a kid in, in any way shape or form, it’s serious for us, and it’s a lifetime commitment, not a part-time commitment,” coach Thompson said.
Once Ava started on the mat, she kept following the top wrestlers. She matched up with Derby sophomore Meya Howell, currently ranked first in 5-6A, twice. Ava won by major decision and by fall. Ava looked to face Buhler junior Emilie Schweizer, who has been nationally ranked. At regional, Ava earned a quality semifinal win against Smoky Valley standout multi-sport athlete Madi Tolle by fall in 1 minute, 42 seconds.
In the final, Ava and Schweizer were both undefeated. Ava won by fall, 5-2. Coach Thompson said Ava “looked pretty darned good” through the highly difficult bracket. That helped solidify the top spot for Ava and her team, a ranking Pratt looks to crystallize this week with the state championship.