Picture the image of a pioneer.

There’s a good bet you won’t be picturing someone who looks like Truman High School’s Ava Miller, the Patriots’ pioneer in girls wrestling.

The 167-pound freshman finished second at Class 1 District 3 action Friday and Saturday at Nixa High School. Now she will be the first girl from Truman to compete at the Missouri State High School Wrestling Championships in Columbia.

“Ava may not think she is a pioneer, but she really is,” said Truman assistant coach Brad Jones, who has spent much of the season working with Miller, one of three girls on the team. “Not only is she a pioneer, but she is a big deal at Truman. It’s huge to be the first girl to represent your school at state, and she is the perfect girl to do it. She has a strong wrestling background, she loves the sport and we have her three more years.

“I think that might be the most exciting thing for me. The sky’s the limit for Ava and we can’t wait to see what she does this year and the next three years.”

When asked if she feels like a pioneer, the freshman scrunches her nose and grins.

“A pioneer? That’s all so surreal to me,” said Miller, who speaks like she is a four-year high school veteran of the sport she has mostly dominated this season. “I don’t feel like what I do is amazing, or special.”

In fact, Miller isn’t satisfied with her finish at district.

“You really want to know how I feel right now? I feel disappointed that I finished second at district. I was seeded No. 1 to Talora Frisbee, who is one of my teammates on our national team – and I really wanted to win since I was the No. 1 seed,” she said. “That was my first goal, and I didn’t accomplish it. My second goal was to go to state, and not just go to state, but get a medal. That is all I am focused on now, because I think I can get a medal this year.”

If not, she knows she has time to improve.

“I want to get a gold medal this year, but if I don’t, I know I’ll work hard enough to get one soon,” she said. “I’m just a freshman, and all I am doing is thinking about this state championship. But I am excited to know that I have three more years of wrestling for Truman.

“And colleges are already talking to me about joining their programs, so I know I will be wrestling for a long time, way past high school.”

Miller grew up watching mixed martial arts with her father, Justin Miller, who has become one of her biggest fans.

“I love it that she’s wrestling,” Justin said. “Ava has always been into combat sports. Before wrestling, she and I watched MMA and she loved it. And now that she’s wrestling, she is really good.

“She’s tough, and headstrong. When she wrestled the boys, she beat a lot of them. I was so proud of her. And now, she’s wrestling girls and was undefeated before district, so I know she’s going to have a lot of success and fun in high school.”

Miller joined the Independence Wrestling Club when she was in the seventh grade. She was a two-time Cadet All-American before joining the Truman team and owns a first-place showing at the Conflict of Character and third-place showing at the Adidas Nationals before joining the prep ranks.

But she was not always that successful.

“When I started, I wasn’t very good – and I was mostly wrestling the guys,” she said. “In fact, I wanted to quit. And I did a couple of times, but when I didn’t have wrestling in my life I felt empty. I felt like I was really missing something.

“I felt like I lost my identity, and I got it back when I got back into wrestling.”

Jones and the male members of the Truman team show Miller and her female teammates nothing but respect, and for good reason.

“I can’t imagine how intimidating it was for Ava and the other girls on the team to walk into our wrestling room the first time, but they received immediate respect,” he said. “Everyone knew about Ava and all the success she had had before she came to Truman. Having Ava on our team makes us that much better.”

Miller said she knew most of the Truman wrestlers before she started her high school career.

“I knew most of the guys from club, and we all respect each other,” Miller said. “It might have been a little intimidating the first time. Now I’m just one of the Truman wrestlers – just one of the guys.”