Fort Osage freshman Haley Ward calls senior Tess Kinne “our mother hen.”

Kinne, the first girls wrestler in Indians history to medal at state, calls the talented freshman – who won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Panama City this past summer – “my little sister.”

Even though the 2019-20 prep wrestling season has not officially started for the Indians, they have formed a bond they say will last a lifetime.

“I love Tess, because she’s teaching me everything about the high school and the Fort Osage wrestling team,” said Ward, who won the gold medal at 62 kilomoters (136.6 pounds) this summer and is regarded as one of the premier female youth wrestlers in the nation.

“We traveled to a lot of tournaments this summer and we’ve really become good friends. I call her my mother hen because she looks out for me and takes care of me. She and the other wrestlers – our boys and girls – have made the transition to high school a lot easier for me and I really appreciate that.”

Kinne became the area’s first all-state medalist when she took fourth in the first girls state tournament last February. She will wrestle at 135 pounds this season.

She defeated Nevada’s Lotus Van Dyk 7-3 in the consolation semifinals to clinch all-state honors. Kinne then lost by pin to St. James’ Heather Pankey in the third-place match.

“I never thought this would happen in my time,” Kinne said of the girls tournament. “But I am really happy that it did. I suffered my first losses and it showed that there’s better people out there. I want to come back next season stronger.

“I went to state undefeated and wanted to finish undefeated and a state champion. It didn’t happen, and that’s what drives me even more, makes me want to work that much harder this year, my senior year, at Fort Osage.”

Ward, who will wrestle at 130 pounds in high school, has been wrestling since she was 6 years old.

“When I say that, ‘I’ve been wrestling since I was 6,’ it just seems like such a long time,” she said. “I went to wrestling practices with my dad, Anthony, and he didn’t want me to wrestle. But he finally said I could wrestle in one tournament – and I won. What do they say? The rest is history.”

Her father was in charge of a youth wrestling program called Jackson County Wrestling, and Haley worked out with the team but wouldn’t actually wrestle. But when she did, she won that first-place trophy going head to head with a boy.

“I think that’s what has made me so successful, wrestling boys, who are usually bigger and stronger, even though we’re the same weight,” Ward said.

She later decided she wanted to wrestle with the boys.

Anthony didn’t want her to at first because he was unsure that she could handle it. He eventually struck a deal with Haley, and it turned out to be a good one.

Ward made a name for herself in the wrestling world at the U.S. Marine Corps Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., in July.

She finished second to take All-America honors in the 127-pound, 16-and-under women’s division, losing the championship bout by criteria in a 2-2 tie to Karina Blades of Illinois.

She earned a spot in the Pan-American Games after finishing second at the Women’s Under-19 World Team Trials in June at Irving Texas.

She made it to the championship match and fell to Pennsylvania’s Reese Larramendy by fall. She also won a large tournament, the Las Vegas Open, earlier in the year. Because of that she got to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“It’s exciting. We have a lot of great girls to work with from last year, and she adds to that mixture,” Fort Osage coach Brandon Wackerman said. “We will have the opportunity to make her better and get her where she wants to go.

“It’s exciting to coach a wrestler of that caliber. She’s going to help raise the program as a whole to another level.”

With the Indians, she not only wants to win a state title in the girls division, but wants to wrestle against boys during the regular season.

“I can do a few tournaments competing with boys,” she said. “I want to see how well that goes. I’ve competed against boys and I know high school boys is tougher than high school girls. I am looking forward to competing with them because I do train with high school boys.”

She has her future plotted out – both on the prep and national levels.

“I want to make it to the Olympics,” Ward said. “I think I have a good shot. I want to also win (at the Women’s World Team Trials) and make it on the USA World Team.

“And I want to go undefeated and win state this year. With Tess as my workout partner, I have a great partner who is so talented. I think we’re going to make each other better wrestlers.”

So does girls coach Becky McIntyre, who works with Fort Osage girl wrestlers in grades 7-12.

“Both Tess and Haley have such high ceilings,” McIntyre said. “They are highly intelligent, they work so hard and they love the sport. We are so fortunate to have each of them on the team at the same time. And we have a lot of other talented young ladies who are going to make this a special season.”