Not long after winning last year’s state gymnastics title, Claire Thompson, Ashley Holliday and Katrina May were eating breakfast at a local restaurant when they were approached by a group of ladies.

“Are you guys the gymnasts who were in the paper?” one of them asked.

The trio of girls were, in fact, the ones who led Columbus North to the championship. At the forefront of that was Thompson, who won bars, beam and all-around titles as a sophomore to help the Bull Dogs set a state-meet record for highest team score.

May, the state runner-up in the all-around, has graduated. But Holliday, who finished fifth in the all-around, is now a senior, and Thompson is a junior who will look to defend her titles Saturday at Ball State’s Worthen Arena.

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“(Being the defending champion is) obviously going to add some extra pressure, but my goal is just to not think about that part and just think about my routines and what to do,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be hard to get that out of my head, but I know for me to be the best I can be, I can’t really think about that.”

North co-coaches Sandy Freshour and Bob Arthur think either Thompson or Holliday, who won the bars title two years ago, could come out on top.

Freshour said there’s always a lot of pressure when a gymnast is trying to defend their title. She thinks a lot of that with Thompson coming as internally as it is externally.

“When we started practice this week, to kind of set the stage, we talked to Claire and Ashley both, and the two of them are capable of winning every single event, including the all-around,” Freshour said. “I think that camaraderie those two feel as they go back and forth and try to make each other better when they practice. They train a lot together, and they’re always pushing each other. That’s helped a lot. It’s definitely been a good thing for both of them.”

Arthur said he wouldn’t be surprised if Thompson can win individual or all-around titles again because she is capable of doing that. But he said he would not be disappointed if she didn’t win because there are a lot of great individuals that are going to be competing at state.

Like last year, it’s going to be whoever has that solid meet that particular day.

“The pressure is not going to get to her,” Arthur said. “She has never come across with any kind of air like, ‘I’ve got this taken care of.’ She’s humble; she knows what she has to do and she’s a hard-working individual.”

Thompson finished second behind Holliday in the all-around at the Conference Indiana and sectional meets before claiming the title at last week’s Columbus East Regional. But it didn’t come without a scare.

After nailing her first vault, Thompson landed flat on her back on her second and final attempt. Her muscles tightened up and didn’t allow the rest of her back to move how it usually would.

This week, Thompson has been getting treatment on her back from trainers Steve Souder and Ashley Martin. She feels ready to go in preparation to defend hers and the team’s state titles.

“I feel pretty good,” Thompson said. “I feel like skill-wise, our whole team is ready for this meet. All of our routines have the potential to be up there. We just have to really be consistent and hit it when we need to.”

If you go

Gymnastics State Finals

When: 1 p.m. Saturday (opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m.)

Where: Worthen Arena, Ball State University

Teams: Columbus East, Columbus North, Bloomington South, Chesterton, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Dwenger, Homestead, Merrillville, Valparaiso

Admission: $10

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.