By CONOR NICHOLL
SALINA – Before this year, Ava Thompson’s name was Ava Mull. She enjoyed “The Karate Kid” growing up. The Karate Kid’s rival, Cobra Kai, had a famous saying “Strike first, strike hard,” a line Thompson repeated Wednesday night at the Class 4-1A state wrestling championships.
Ava grew up in Larned and elected to try all middle school sports: volleyball, basketball, track, wrestling and softball. She would have played football, too, though it conflicted with volleyball. Ava really liked wrestling and competed against boys.
In her first three high school seasons, she won an unofficial state girls’ wrestling championship at McPherson, had a controversial disqualification in the postseason as a sophomore, and took state runner-up last winter. However, Ava’s family situation was problematic, and she had no reliable guardian in Larned.
She knew Pratt coach Tate Thompson and his family through wrestling. Ava went to live with the Thompsons, who have three biological children and adopted four several years ago. Ava shares a room with sisters Jadyn and Keimarla. Ava, part of National Honor Society and Scholar’s Bowl, first focused on a stable home and academics.
In early fall, KSHSAA passed Ava’s hardship waiver. She and Jadyn teamed some together in tennis doubles; both finished over .500 and nearly made state. On Jan. 5, 2022, Ava was officially adopted by the Thompson family, a photo that is still the main picture on Tate Thompson’s Facebook.
“We are the Thompson 10,” Ava said. “It’s a big ‘ol village. There’s always plenty of food and plenty of leftovers, and lots of people to talk to. So never quite alone – ever.”
On Wednesday, Ava Thompson, her adopted siblings, and the Pratt girls’ wrestling team delivered a dominant Day 1 of the Class 4-1A state championships at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina. Pratt, the state runner-up in a close margin to Baldwin last season, would have likely been the favorite without Ava. However, the addition of Ava Thompson significantly improved the Greenbacks.
Pratt has 99 points, well ahead of Prairie View’s 53 and Hoisington’s 51. The Greenbacks are a virtual lock for their first-ever state wrestling title, boys or girls. Additionally, Ava, a senior 191-pounder, was statistically the most dominant wrestler of the entire meet.
She won all three matches by fall in a cumulative 59 seconds. Only undefeated Mission Valley sophomore 132-pounder Hope Blake (total time 1:26) had three pins in less than 3:12. Overall, Pratt had 11 pins, Hoisington eight. No one else had more than five. The tournament concludes Thursday.
“We are all nervous,” Jadyn said. “We always say ‘nervous means you care,’ so we were all very, very nervous about it. We knew if we were confident, we could come on top, because we knew that was a possibility for us, and now I think like after today, it’s kind of like settling in, like this is going to happen.”
Additionally, Ava improved to 35-0 this season and 101-3 in her career. She joined teammates Livia Swift (111 wins) and Jadyn (103 victories) as the first eight girls to win 100 career matches in Kansas history.
Just like Swift and Jadyn had earlier this season, Ava took pictures with her teammates and a 100-win banner once the day concluded. Not only does Ava now have a family, she also has a girls’ team. In the last three years, Ava competed against girls in meets and was a starter on the boys’ wrestling team.
“I wrestle each match kind of like I have never had a win before,” Ava said. “Staying hungry each time. Strike first, strike hard – Cobra Kai. I mean, just whoever attacks first. Even if somebody is ranked above me or I have lost to them before, it means that I am the first one attacking. They have to go against me.”
Pratt arrived at state with nine qualifiers and its four elite wrestlers: the Thompson trio and Swift, a two-time state champion and second all-time for girls’ career wins. All four reached Thursday’s finals in a day coach Thompson labeled “really good.”
“When I moved over to coaching girls, there is nothing better, because they are so coachable,” coach Thompson said. “There is no ego. They listen. This is what can be done when you have kids like that. And it doesn’t hurt to have athletically talented kids as well. But I had no less expectation from these kids (than first).
“Even last year, until we didn’t win, I didn’t think we would lose, because they listen so well, and they do exactly what they are supposed to,” he added. “And yeah, there is some heart breaks, and yeah, sometimes things don’t go well, but everything the girls at the top are doing, the ones at the bottom of our lineup are soaking in and soaking up.”
In 5-6A at Park City’s Hartman Arena, the race was expected to be close between two-time titlist Washburn Rural, Dodge City and Wichita North. After Day 1, DC, with zero seniors, has 67.5 points, a half point ahead of WR. North has 59.5. The top-seven all have at least 49.
DC has two in the finals with Hailey Ramos at 132, and Ashley Arroyo at 155. Washburn Rural has standout 120-pounder Addison Broxterman in the championship. A defending state runner-up, Broxterman is 42-2. North’s elite duo of Larissa Garcia (109) and Rodah Benghi (115) reached the finals.
As well, Lawrence Free State senior 138-pounder Madyson Gray won her three matches by first period falls, improved to 94-0 all-time against girls and looks to win her fourth state title, third KSHSAA sanctioned. Bonner Springs sophomore 170-pounder Olivia Stean, a returning titlist, moved to 41-0 and won her three matches in a combined 1:07.
Last season, Jadyn took a disappointing third at state, a loss that has spurred throughout the year. A state powerlifting champion last spring, Jadyn stands at 37-1 at 120 pounds after a fall, a 5-1 decision and a win by fall. Jadyn and Pratt sisters Lilly and Daisy Herrman have competed together since kids’ wrestling.
“I love this season,” Jadyn said. “Everybody is just that much more closer, like last year we were pretty close. … Now I have never felt more tight with them than I have this year, because it’s like, everything is coming together, we all have our spots. We all know each other’s tells. We know how we react to things. We know each other’s emotions.”
She clinched her third state medal and first title bout. Jadyn said she “really, really wanted to win” the semifinals versus Chanute’s Reese Clements and earned the fall in 5 minutes, 32 seconds. Jadyn will face Rossville sophomore Kendra Hurla (38-0) in the title. The two have never faced. Hurla advanced with three first period falls.
“I wasn’t going to lose that again, and last year, that was a big upset for me, because I was ready to win, and I kind of choked I guess you could say, kind of felt like I choked to myself,” she said.
At 132, sister Keimarla, a sophomore, has dropped weight classes and enjoyed a sizable improvement to 20-0. She pinned her way to the finals. At 143, Swift improved to 35-2 in her senior season with a major decision and a pair of first-period falls. Ava was the last Greenback on the mat and rolled over Rose Hill’s Payton Sholander in 36 seconds.
At 132, Keimarla faces Blake, 23-0 and a defending titlist, in the championship. Swift gets Circle junior Katelyn Schmidt. Ava has Abilene senior Lyndsey Buechman, a member of Team Kansas, 26-0 this winter and three top-3 state showings.
After Ava’s pictures, the Greenbacks gathered up their items in the front rows of the event center’s bleachers. Ava and Jadyn joked about living in the same room as Keimarla. With a smile and laugh, Jadyn called her sisters “kind of messy.”
Ava, wearing glasses and a big smile, said the bedroom “kind of forces you to be a team all the time.” Ava is uncertain about her wrestling future. This spring, she knows she will run track and graduate high school. In the short term, she wants Pratt to win wrestling titles, both team and individual.
“I am hoping that we all bring home gold,” Ava said. “Because we are all state wrestlers at my house.”