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UW Cowgirls Move to Third in CNFR Standings

June 17, 2009
Nikki Steffes

Even for her myriad all-around talents, Nikki Steffes has never qualified in all three women's events at the College National Finals Rodeo. That is, until this season.

And she's making the most of her first opportunity.

The University of Wyoming's all-time individual leading scorer tied for the best breakaway roping time with two other competitors during Wednesday night's performance at the Casper Events Center with a blistering 2.3-second time.

It was the Vale, S.D., senior's third successful run in breakaway roping and vaulted her into Saturday night's championship round in the event. The all-around cowgirl has two more chances Thursday night to qualify for the short go - in goat tying and barrel racing.

If that happens, she will be in a contention to challenge for the CNFR all-around title -- a feat she accomplished two years ago as a sophomore. She currently is third in the all-around with 160 points. Kassi Venturacci of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) leads with 220 points and second is Hilary Bair of Utah Valley University with 190.

Her effort helped move the UW women into third place in the national standings with 245 points, just 55 points behind front-running UNLV. South Plains College (Levelland, Texas) is second with 295 points. The point totals are during the third and final round and can change with two more days of competition remaining heading into Saturday's finale.

The UW men are still in 42nd place with 40 points. Western Texas College (Snyder, Texas) leads with 435.

What made Wednesday night's run so meaningful is that Steffes has never qualified for the CNFR breakaway roping competition.

"The breakaway is an event I've struggled in all my life. It's definitely been a challenge. I've had to work really hard in the breakaway roping event," she said with a grin after her best run of the week. "The last three years, my goal has been to be in three events. I couldn't even contain my excitement."

Despite finally breaking through in the event, things started slowly. She opened the event with an 11.7-second time. She missed on her first attempt -- luckily, she packed a second rope and roped her calf.

That move proved to be the turning point for Steffes. On the first day of competition, half the field of 48 ropers missed their calves. During Monday's slack, Steffes had a competitive time of 3.4 seconds to give her a total three-round mark of 17.6 seconds. With two nights of competition remaining, she is sitting fifth in the average.

"I would have loved this run in the first round because it would have meant that I would be first in the average," she said. "I'm just glad that I got three caught. My game plan all week has been to go for first place if I had the livestock to do it. I was definitely going for it and it worked tonight."

Two other UW team members also competed during Wednesday night's performance.

The next two days will be grueling for saddle bronc rider Merritt Smith as the Gillette sophomore waits to learn if his three-ride cumulative score of 206 points will be good enough to qualify for Saturday's championship round. The top 12 individual times and scores move on to the short go. He is currently fifth in the average, but 12 more riders the next two days will have chances to move up in the standings.

Smith drew "Borgato" -- a horse that is known to produce points for a rider if he can stay on. However, Smith says he personally didn't do enough and was saddled with his lowest output of the week, 62 points. He was coming off rounds of 70 and 74.5 points.

"That was a terrific horse I drew. He is a big, strong, powerful bucking horse. I kind of slipped a bit at the beginning and I was not riding good right there," he said. "The score was most deserving. I definitely take full credit for that ride."

Smith will wait nervously during the next two days to see if his score allows him to get into the short go.

"It will be close. It's time to keep my fingers crossed now and see how things play out with other people," he said. "You like to set the pace and assure something for yourself. There is a whole lot of time left this week for me to sit and think. Hopefully, I can sneak in there."

It was a tough end to TaNaye Carroll's illustrious rodeo career. As a two-year member of the UW women's team, Carroll was among the Cowgirls' "big three" the past two seasons with Steffes and Sarah Mulholland. Carroll was second in the region this season in goat tying, holding the lead until the final weekend of the regular season. She's qualified for the CNFR all four seasons; two previously with Northeastern Junior College.

But this wasn't her week. Carroll's first round time of 7.2 seconds put her 11th during the first round, but in slack competition her season virtually ended when her goat kicked out of its tie. And on her final run Wednesday, the La Junta, Colo., senior struggled from the beginning and ended with a time of 8.5 seconds.

"It just wasn't my week. Things did not fall together for me, I made some mistakes and it didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it to," an emotional Carroll said. She added that it was tough because she knew her UW career had come to an end. "I just wanted to come out tonight to win the round. I really wanted to help my team out to give them a chance (at the national title)."


Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2009

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