National-Leading UW Women's Rodeo Team Back in Action
George Howard thinks positive all the time, so much so that he compares his team against the nation's best.
Sure, the veteran University of Wyoming rodeo coach wants to win the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) title each season, because it means topping UW's rivals in the arena.
What he likes even more is knowing that his teams, especially his women's club, the last few years, are good enough to compete for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) championship. That is Howard's ultimate goal even before his teams come back to campus each fall semester.
Two years ago, Howard's Cowgirls won it all, bringing back to UW the school's fourth women's title. And last year, his women were the heavy favorites to repeat, but a tough short go moved them from first place heading into the championship round to an overall fourth place finish.
With their top three Cowgirls back again for the 2008-09 season, the UW women are again challenging for collegiate rodeo's biggest prize -- the CNFR title.
The spring season begins this weekend (Friday through Sunday) at the Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) rodeo in Torrington. Not only are the Cowgirls dominating the CRMR, but the UW women sat atop the national standings after the fall season concluded.
Warmer climate schools began the spring season earlier this month. With eight rodeos already completed, New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) has retaken the overall national lead. The UW Cowgirls have yet to begin the spring season, and Howard expects his women to reclaim the national lead. They are now 800 points behind.
"I've never had a national leader during the regular season, and hopefully we can make up the difference in a couple of weeks," Howard says.
After five fall rodeos, UW has 3,045 points -- averaging an eye-opening 609 team points per competition. The Cowgirls have a big lead in the CRMR over Gillette College, which has 1,390. Central Wyoming College (CWC) is a distant third with 890.
The Cowgirls' dominance is directly correlated to returning CNFR senior veterans TaNaye Carroll, Sarah Mulholland and Nikki Steffes. Combined, they have nine years of CNFR experience.
This is one balanced lineup and it shows in the national and regional rankings after the fall season.
Steffes, who has won the women's regional all-around title in each of her three previous seasons at UW, was the national leader, meaning she also heads the CRMR standings. The Vale, S.D., molecular biology straight "A" major, won the CNFR all-around title during the Cowgirls' national championship run. She's placed second twice in the CNFR goat tying competition.
Going into the spring season, she was 13th overall in the national goat tying standings (third in the region) and is sitting first overall in the CRMR's and third nationally in barrel racing. The consistent competitor also is third regionally in breakaway roping.
Carroll, a kinesiology student from La Junta, Colo., was the fall season's national goat tying leader and currently heads a 1-2-3 Cowgirl domination in the regional standings.
Mulholland, a nursing major from Richland Center, Wis., is second in the CRMR goat tying competition and seventh in breakaway roping. She also made a move on the national goat tying standings, sitting third heading into the spring season.
"With the notoriety the three have received regionally, and especially nationally, they are taking all of this with a grain of salt. They're not letting it go to their heads; they're just going about their business," Howard says. "I expect big things for our women this spring. They practically have their tickets punched for the college finals. Going by what they did in the fall, I believe that no one in the region can get close to them."
Howard's "big three" will be joined by Lander kinesiology freshman Heather Bregar in the four-women team for this weekend's EWC rodeo.
With an almost entirely new men's lineup this season, the UW Cowboys late last fall surged into second place in the CRMR behind perennial front-running CWC. The Rustlers have 2,325 points, while the Cowboys are 240 points back. Gillette College is third with 1,736. Only the top two men's and women's teams advance to the CNFR this June at the Casper Events Center.
Going into the spring season, CWC and UW were 13th and 15th, respectively in the overall national points standings.
Gillette animal science sophomore Merritt Smith leads all CRMR saddle bronc riders and was fifth overall in the national rankings. UW also has a second regional leader in his event -- team roping header Chad Nelson, agricultural business senior from Buffalo, S.D. His point totals were good enough to put him 12th overall nationally.
Teammate Justin Viles, a finance senior from Cody, is second in the current regional team roping points standings as a header and was 16th nationally after the fall season.
The Cowboys also have the second through fourth-place CRMR steer wrestlers. Senior John Franzen, communications, Riverton, is the region's number two bulldogger followed by teammates Troy Brandemuehl, wildlife biology senior, Gordon, Neb., and Seth Bolerjack, geophysics junior, Gillette.
In tie down roping, Brandemuehl enters the spring schedule at number three in the CRMR and Viles is one place back. Bucky Dickson, kinesiology sophomore from Sequim, Wash., heads into the spring season as the region's third best bareback rider.
Brandemuehl, Dickson, Nelson, Smith, Viles and Jason Hubbard. an agriculture senior from Wheatland, will compete for the six-man UW team this weekend.
UW's annual Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo closes the regular spring season May 1-3 at the indoor Cliff and Martha Hansen Teaching Arena.
National Leader -- University of Wyoming Cowgirl TaNaye Carroll, a kinesiology senior from LaJunta, Colo., successfully ties a goat during a recent rodeo. Carroll ended the fall season as the national goat tying leader. She and her UW teammates enter the spring season ranked number one in the nation. (UW Photo)
Posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2009