Nikki Steffes Closing Out Remarkable UW Career
Not even a separated shoulder could stop Nikki Steffes, the University of Wyoming's best all-around performer, from entering last season's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR).
A week before the 2008 CNFR, Steffes, a molecular biology/medical microbiology senior from Vale, S.D., was bucked off a practice horse, separating a joint on her right shoulder. Not many people knew about the injury, including her own coach, George Howard.
The competitor she is in the arena, the tall, lanky Steffes gutted out the week and finished second in the CNFR goat tying competition for the second straight year.
She never used the injury as an excuse for her performances. Many people thought she took most of the summer off from rodeo competition because of her second straight goat tying runner-up finish at the college finals. But she wanted to let the injury heal before her senior season at UW.
"I'm not really going to blame my shoulder for what happened last year, it may have had some effect, but I tried to take care of it that week and I tried the best that I could," she says.
Steffes' best is a lot better than that of most injury-free rodeo contestants.
"But to tell you the truth, I definitely needed a break from rodeo after last summer's CNFR, that's for sure," she adds.
That drive and determination, in and out of the rodeo arena, is what pushes Steffes to succeed. Her long-range plans are to enter the medical field after giving the professional rodeo circuit two years of her life after completing her UW career. She wants to be either a doctor or a dentist -- a tough medical field for anyone to break into, but Steffes has made the UW President's honor roll (for a perfect 4.0 grade point average) each semester she's been on campus.
Not only is she smart, she's arguably the best rodeo athlete in the tradition-rich UW women's program history. You won't get any argument from her coach.
"Nikki is the most unbelievable rodeo athlete I've seen or been around," Howard says. He has been at UW 11 years, and before that for nearly 20 at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. That's a strong statement considering the name Jimmie Jo Martin comes to mind to those around the UW Cowgirl program.
In the early 1990s, Martin single-handily led the Cowgirls to the national championship, winning the goat tying and all-around titles. Some long-time rodeo fans say Steffes is the best anyone has seen at UW.
She won the national all-around title as a sophomore and has been the CNFR goat tying runner-up two years in a row. She's won the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) all-around title three straight years and also barrel racing each of her three seasons at UW. She's twice been the regional goat tying champion.
Steffes is the current national all-around points leader, is third in the goat tying competition and is ranked sixth in barrel racing. She is this season's CRMR barrel racing and all-around leader, is second in goat tying and third in breakaway roping.
And, oh yes, Steffes and her teammates have locked up their third
consecutive regional team title. Plus, the Cowgirls are the nation's
best team, leading with 5,620 points, nearly 900 points ahead of Cal
Poly State University San Luis Obispo. The UW women are running away
with the regional championship, holding nearly a 3,800 point lead
against rival Central Wyoming College.
All Steffes wanted was to do a little rodeo for UW when Howard first recruited her out of high school. She loved the academics that the university offered.
"When she came for her UW visit she decided to stay," Howard says of his prize recruit. But he never expected Steffes to become his best rodeo athlete ever. "I never thought that she would develop this much. You never know what will happen when you recruit someone to compete on this level and you just hope things go like this. What she has done is just phenomenal."
She's also a humble person and knows that rodeo can knock a competitor down in a split second. Or, in her case, a tenth of a second.
That's the margin of time separating Steffes from becoming a two-time national goat tying champion. Two years ago she was the runner-up to teammate Kayla Nelson and last summer it was that same margin that cruelly dropped her to second in the national standings.
"I won't lie and say it didn't hurt more the second year that it happened because all I could think was ‘dang it,'" she says. "But to be there two years in a row and have that opportunity is still definitely a big accomplishment for me."
As a fierce competitor, Steffes' goal is to win that elusive national goat tying championship or any title. She's almost a lock to qualify in all three women's rodeo events for the CNFR.
After she and her senior teammates, TaNaye Carroll, kinesiology, from La Junta, Colo., and Sarah Mulholland, nursing, Richland Center, Wis., finished fourth at last year's CNFR after going into the short go as the national leaders, they vowed to make their final season a memorable one.
They are the top three goat tiers in the region, with Carroll leading, and Mulholland is the region's best breakaway roper. Carroll is ranked second in the nation in goat tying and Mulholland is fifth nationally in her specialty event.
Two years ago with different teammates, Steffes was part of the national champion UW women's team, the fourth title in the program's history.
"When you have teammates such as Sarah and TaNaye, and all of us being seniors, we know what it takes to win. Our level of confidence is so high because we have all individually been to three CNFRs," she says. "Practicing with each other the last two years has increased our competitiveness so much. When you practice with the region's best each day, it just makes you step up to that level even more and makes you an even better competitor."
This weekend will be Steffes' last appearance at the home Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo, but she'll be back next season competing as an individual. She is the student regional director, which gives her the chance to compete a fifth year. However, any points she earns will not count toward the Cowgirls' output.
Too bad, because everyone knows this rodeo competitor can rack up the points every time she steps into the arena.
UW's Best -- University of Wyoming rodeo club team member Nikki Steffes, a molecular biology/medical microbiology senior from Vale, S.D., is the region's top barrel racer. She and her Cowgirl teammates will be in action this weekend for the home Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo at the indoor Cliff and Martha Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena. (UW Photo)
Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2009