TROY, MO. • Autumn Flanigan took longer than most girls to give up her enjoyment of dolls.
"I played with my Barbies all the way until the fifth grade," the Troy High junior recalled.
Those days are laughable now.
Flanigan, who grew up as a, "girly girl," according to her mother, Becky, is one of the top female wrestlers in the country and is a strong bet to capture the state title at 110 pounds when the first Missouri girls state wrestling championships are held next month in Columbia.
Growing up, Autumn gave no indication that she was on her way to success in one of the roughest and most physical sports around.
"She used to try on different outfits and clothes and dance around in front of the mirror," Becky said. "All the things little girls like to do, she did them for a long time."
Somehow, Flanigan made a major transition.
From Barbies to takedowns.
Now, Flanigan gets her kicks out of tossing wrestlers around the mat — both male and female.
She sports a 21-1 record for the Trojans this season including four wins over boys, three by pin. Her only loss was a setback to Evan Diehls of Rock Bridge, who reached the quarterfinal round at state last year at 106 pounds. Flanigan, wrestling at 120 pounds, actually took Diehls down early in that December contest before his strength eventually wore her down in a 12-6 loss.
Flanigan has been virtually dominant against females, so much so that most of the other wrestlers around the state are moving to different weight classes to avoid facing her in the post-season.
"Until she gets to the next level, girls aren't going to be much competition for her," Troy coach Patrick Nichols said. "Right now, it's the guys that are giving her the most work."
At least some of them are.
Flanigan has already cleaned up on the Trojans male junior varsity wrestlers. She also has taken care of some of the lighter weight varsity boys, although she is unwilling to brag on her exploits and doesn't want to embarrass any of her classmates.
"I've spent most of my time wrestling (guys), at least around here," Flanigan said. "It's really nothing new for me."
Flanigan has been a natural since taking up the sport in the eighth grade. She got the bug from watching her little brother Myles compete.
"After the seventh grade, I told everyone I wanted to try it," Flanigan said. "By the time eighth grade came around, I wasn't sure I still wanted to do it. I was scared. But I told everyone I was going to try out, so I felt like I had to. I figured if I liked it, I'd keep doing it."
Actually, it was love at first takedown.
"I could tell it was for me, right from the start," she said.
Flanigan has made a name for herself on the national level while competing for Team USA wrestling. She finished fifth at the USA Wrestling Junior Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota in late July. She also helped the Team USA Wrestling squad to a sixth-place finish out of 23 countries in a world wide meet in Sweden just 11 months ago.
Known for her quickness and ability to adapt, Flanigan has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. She has already received 11 college scholarship offers.
"Twelve moths ago, I didn’t shoot, I never got off bottom," Flanigan said. "Now, I'm more aggressive. I'm getting some takedowns."
Flanigan compiled a 15-10 mark last season against guys and was 26-5 as a freshman. Throw in a 10-7 record on the eighth-grade team and the vivacious 17-year-old is 55-23 against males.
"The best part is that she has the ability to use different styles to get the job done," Nichols said. "She's versatile and she can adapt."
Flanigan, who is ranked first in the state at 110 by MissouriWrestling.com, was overjoyed when she found out that Missouri would be the ninth state in the country to include girls wrestling as a sanctioned sport. She has helped recruit wrestlers at Troy. There are now five girls on the team and interest is high all around Lincoln County.
But still, deep down inside, Flanigan relishes her chance to compete against boys, something that is likely a thing of the past.
"Some get mad when they realize they just got beat by a girl," she said. "But the best part (is) it just makes me better for when I go against (girls)."
Flanigan is looking forward to the post-season, which begins next weekend. So are those in her camp, which include father Josh and uncle Greg Montgomery, both former wrestlers.
"She's got so much talent — she's only going to get better and better," Nichols said.