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Cowgirls Win CNFR Championship; Mulholland Takes Goat Tying Title

June 30, 2009

All day long Sarah Mulholland kept telling herself that three-tenths of a second would be tough to overcome. But it was the time she needed to win a national goat tying title.

She did it Saturday night at the College National Finals Rodeo short-go round and it came at the expense of teammate Nikki Steffes.

Coming into the championship round at the Casper Events Center as the two top-ranked goat tiers, Steffes and Mulholland needed to finish in that same order to help secure a national team title for the Cowgirls. And they did, as the UW women won the team championship for the second time in three seasons.

"This one is a little sweeter because of the quality of the women that we have competing for us. We were knocking on the door last year and it would have been nice to have it three years in a row -- I hate to say it -- but they don't come together like this and that's what makes it so special," UW Coach George Howard said. "I'll probably never see another group of girls like this, all at once."

The UW women scored 690 points, while runner-up UNLV had 580.

It was a tough task for the two UW teammates during the championship go round. What Mulholland and Steffes faced was that only one of them could win the individual title.  But what made it significant is that Steffes, for the third straight season, came into the short-go as the top-seeded goat tier. In the two previous seasons she finished as the national runner-up.

Make it three consecutive years.

Mulholland, a Richland Center, Wis., senior, came from the number two spot Saturday night to edge Steffes for the goat tying title when she had the night's fastest run in 6.8 seconds, making her the only competitor in the finals to put together a sub-seven second run. Added to her time of 20.3 seconds in three previous runs, that gave her an overall time of 27.1 seconds.

All Steffes needed was a seven second run to win the national title and Mulholland knew that her teammate would come out with determination.

"All day I kept thinking I have to be so quick because three-tenths to beat Nikki was going to be tough," Mulholland said.

She waited at the back fence as she watched her teammate enter the arena. Steffes came down in her usual quick pace. She had a clean dismount, and then the goat took over. It moved quickly in the opposite direction just as Steffes was ready to reach for it.

At that point Mulholland thought she had a chance to win.

Precious seconds clicked off as Steffes valiantly tried to tie the goat, but by the time the clock stopped, 7.5 seconds had elapsed. Her dream of finishing as an individual event champion was gone. She quickly left the arena, clearly disappointed.

The emotions Mulholland emitted were the complete opposite. She put her hands over her mouth and looked in disbelief to see her name atop the leader board.

"I can't even explain it. It's been my dream since I was in high school to be a national champion. This was my last chance and I did it. There is no better feeling than this," a beaming Mulholland said outside the arena.

She was quick to credit teammates Steffes, a senior from Vale, S.D., and TaNaye Carroll from LaJunta, Colo., another senior. Mulholland and her teammates were 1-2-3 in the regional goat tying final standings this season.

"The three of us have been tying against each other all year. And when we got here we already knew that we had tied against the best. We just pushed each all year long," she said. "We all shared in this national championship. We three girls love each other. It's an awesome team to be a part of. Just an awesome feeling."

For her first two college seasons, Mulholland competed for Central Wyoming before transferring to UW. The Cowgirls were coming off a 2007 national title and a year ago, the team was leading until the short-go. The Cowgirls finished fourth.

This year's championship is UW's fifth in the program's history.

Mulholland said being a part of the program and to win an individual and national title is why she came to UW.

"The only way that it could have been better is to make it back in the breakaway. What a better way to go out. It can't get any better than this," she said smiling. "This makes up for last year. Getting this win in my last time is unexplainable. I'm going to sleep with my saddle tonight."

Even though Steffes finished second in goat tying, it wasn't the night she expected. She had a tough go in her other event earlier in the evening.

Steffes missed out in breakaway roping -- twice. Coming in at the number six spot among the 12 ropers, Steffes threw long on her first attempt in what would have been a sub-four-second time. She was packing a second rope and tried to track the calf, but it got away at the end of the arena. Steffes had to throw in a hurry to stop the clock, but it wasn't a good one as the calf ran through it.

However, Steffes' week-long effort in three events propelled her to her second all-around title in three years with 395 points. Coincidently, those two all-around titles have come in the two seasons that the UW Cowgirls have been national champions. Steffes will go down as arguably the greatest all-around Cowgirl in the program's history and is the school's all-time leading scorer. She won the regional all-around title in each of her four years at UW.

"I don't know if I deserve the all-around title because of my performance tonight," Steffes said later in the evening. "But it does feel good. Being any type of champion is an honor."

Steffes will return to UW next year and compete in rodeo again, but her points will not count in the Cowgirls' team standings. She is granted another year of eligibility because she is a region student director. Steffes will complete work as a double major in molecular biology/medical microbiology.

It was the goat tying event that propelled the Cowgirls to their national title. Mulholland won the round, and then she and Steffes added points in the average.

Merritt Smith was the lone UW Cowboy to advance to the short-go round. The Gillette sophomore scored 71.5 points on "Elvis" to give him eighth place overall in the average.

Posted on Saturday, June 20, 2009

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