BOISE — Ava Ranson is known for basketball.
The Timberline High School senior is a soon-to-be four-year starter, a two-time All-5A Southern Idaho Conference selection, led the SIC in scoring last season at 18.3 points per game, a member of Hoop Dreams and is orally committed to Montana State University.
But she’s pretty darn good at soccer too.
The striker has started in every game since her freshman year, was in talks with several Division I schools before shutting down her recruitment to focus on basketball and will all but certainly earn All-SIC honors for the fourth time when this season is over. Shoot, she has a case of being the SIC Player of the Year with 12 goals and eight assists to date — which both rank fourth in the league — as well.
She will look to lead the Wolves (10-1-3) back to the state tournament for the third time in four years. No. 3 Timberline will play No. 6 Centennial at 3:15 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the District III Tournament at Rocky Mountain High School.
“The Deion Sanders, the Bo Jacksons, the Jim Thorpes, they’re a rarity in today’s world, but she’s that kind of athlete who isn’t just one-dimensional like a lot of other kids out there,” Timberline soccer coach Ross Schultz said. “If you take into account her ability to play basketball and soccer, there’s not a better athlete in the state.”
But Ranson, 17, almost became one of those “one-dimensional athletes” herself.
Soccer had been her passion ever since she first started kicking a ball around at the age of 3. While other kids were out “picking daisies out of the ground,” Ranson was dreaming big. Her favorite player was Hope Solo, so naturally, she wanted to be on the United States women’s national soccer team.
“Every time in elementary school when we were asked to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up, I put down pro soccer player,” Ranson said.
She joined Idaho Rush at 9 and led the club team to a runner-up finish at the State Cup four years later.
But around this time, Ranson had started to get serious about basketball. She had moved over from FLITE to Hoops Dreams — a program that has produced the likes of Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), Mandy Simpson (Oklahoma) and Tori Williams (Colorado State).
“I think just traveling to (basketball) tournaments, I saw the players from other states that I was competing against, the level that they were playing at, and I wanted to be where they were at,” Ranson said. “I also had a lot of people doubt me, telling me I was too small and didn’t have the potential to play at the Division I level. So I had the goal in mind of proving them wrong.”
Coaches told Ranson that she would have to give up soccer in order to do so, though. So Ranson quit the Idaho Rush after her eighth grade season and spent the summer of her freshman year just focusing on basketball.
However, it wasn’t long before Ranson began to have second thoughts. She was literally torn right up until the very last moment. Ranson decided the morning of tryouts to turn out after all.
She became the third freshman in Schultz’s tenure to start. Ranson was also the only freshman to be selected to the All-SIC team that season. Timberline had its best year since winning a state title in 2008. The Wolves went 14-3-3 and took third at the 2016 state tournament.
Ranson followed that up by once again earning All-Conference honors — only this time on the other side of the ball. Despite never playing defense, Ranson was an all-league outside back when Grace Michael went down for the season with a torn ACL.
She returned to the offense last season and was the third-leading goal scorer in the SIC with 17 goals. It led to an All-SIC first-team selection for Ranson, and the Wolves going back to state after missing out the year before. And following a 1-0 loss to Lake City in the third-place game, Ranson broke down in tears. It didn’t have anything to do with the loss. Just weeks earlier, Ranson made the decision that it was going to be her final one after committing to Montana State for basketball.
“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve played soccer all these years, my whole childhood, and now I’m done.’ So it was pretty emotional,” Ranson said. “I was obviously worried about getting hurt. I thought there was no need to risk anything with my scholarship.”
Ranson didn’t think about soccer again for months. She was too busy having the best year of her basketball career. Ranson led the SIC in scoring at 18.3 points per game and made the All-SIC team for the first time. But more important, she helped end Timberline’s 13-year postseason drought.
The Wolves then won their first state game in 14 years thanks to Ranson. She scored a game-high 16 points on a rolled ankle no less, in a 48-40 victory against Highland. And it didn’t stop there.
This past summer, Ranson led Timberline to a win at the Oregon State Team Camp, and Hoop Dreams to a 7-1 record at the Nike Tournament in Chicago.
But as basketball wound down toward the end of July, soccer crept into her mind yet again. Schultz made sure to let her know that the door was always open.
“I sent her one text message,” Schultz said. “I said, ‘You do what you want to do, but just know that I want you any time you’re ready. And I don’t need you to show up until tryouts.’ There was no need to put that kind of pressure on her. I wanted her to make the decision. Not me make the decision for her.”
Ranson had to talk it over with some people first — mainly Montana State women’s basketball head coach Tricia Binford. So over the course of several phone calls and a trip to Bozeman, Montana, Ranson got Binford’s blessing.
Timberline basketball coach Andy Jones also lent his support to the idea.
“That was a lot of weight off of my shoulders because I knew that no matter what happened, they had my back,” Ranson said. “Some other coaches might have just looked out for what’s in their best interests. So I love that about my coaches.”
A final conversation with mom and Ranson decided to come out for her final year. She sent Schultz a text beforehand to the response of, “You made my day,” and casually walked onto the field and put her cleats on.
“Everybody’s jaws were just dropping,” Ranson said while laughing. “They kept asking me, ‘What are you doing here?’”
The Wolves have been reaping the rewards since.
Despite being picked fifth in the Idaho Press’ preseason coaches poll, they finished third in the regular season. Timberline’s only loss is a 2-1 defeat to reigning state champion Rocky Mountain on Sept. 28. Rocky Mountain and perennial power Boise, are the only teams to score on the Wolves this season. The three goals allowed are the fewest in the 5A classification.
“I think that speaks volumes to how unselfish of a player she is that she was willing to help her team do that without any regard for herself,” Jones said. “No one would have faulted her if she elected not to play this season because her future was already set. Players who are that dedicated to their school like that are the ones I really love to have.
“But it boils down to the fact that she likes playing soccer. It’s not something she’s doing just because she feels responsible.”
So much for just being a basketball player.
“I definitely wouldn’t be the player I am today without soccer,” Ranson said. “I think just even my athletic abilities have a direct correlation from playing soccer growing up.
“One hundred percent, soccer has shaped my vision on the court. It’s shaped my teammate skills, being able to communicate on the field and on the court. I think all the skills that I developed playing soccer growing up, directly transferred to playing basketball.”