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UW Rodeo Teams to Compete at CNFR June 14-20 in Casper

June 9, 2009
Woman racing on horse
UW Cowgirl Sarah Mulholland

One team had a dominating season, while the other had a steady performance. But there's no doubt about it, both the University of Wyoming rodeo teams have one common goal: To win the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) championship.

College rodeo's biggest event -- the CNFR -- begins Sunday, June 14, with the "Bulls, Broncs & Breakaway" matinee at 1 p.m. in the Casper Events Center. A second performance featuring the three men's roughstock events and the one women's timed competition is at 4 p.m.

Two days of slack, with each of the nearly 400 contestants competing, begins Monday and Tuesday at 7 a.m. The first of five nightly public performances is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and the championship finals, featuring the top 12 competitors in each event, is Saturday, June 20.

As the CNFR's biggest draw -- because Casper is hosting the CNFR for the 11th consecutive year -- the "home team" UW squads have high expectations, especially the Cowgirls. They enter the week-long event as the nation's second best team in total points.

The UW women, who in a span of two years have won 18 of 20 regional rodeos, completely dominated the regular season, scoring a school-record 5,925 points to win the team title for the third straight year. They finished just 131 points behind Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in the final national team point standings.

The Cowgirls won the CNFR team title in 2007 and were fourth a year ago. With basically the same lineup intact with one added team member this year, the Cowgirls are considered one of the contending teams.

As for the UW men, the Cowboys had a steady season, finishing second in the region to perennial front-runner Central Wyoming College. Both the UW men's and women's teams will take a full contingent of competitors to the CNFR.

"I expect good things from both teams," veteran UW Coach George Howard says. "Like I keep telling them, you are all in contention and you all are capable of winning."

The UW women enter the CNFR with some impressive performers led by the senior trio of Nikki Steffes, Sarah Mulholland and TaNaye Carroll. Steffes, who won the national all-around title during the team's championship run, won both the regional barrel racing and goat tying titles this past season. The microbiology/medical microbiology senior from Vale, S.D., has been the national goat tying runner-up the past two seasons, finishing second twice by a mere tenth-of-a-second.

UW's all-time scoring leader, Steffes comes into the college finals ranked second nationally in the women's all-around, barrel racing and goat tying standings -- all compiled during the regular rodeo season. She won the regional all-around title during her four-year UW career.

Mulholland captured the breakaway roping title, giving the UW women a clean sweep of the three regional women's events this season. The nursing student from Richland Center, Wis., also was third in goat tying.

And the third member of the high-scoring trio, Carroll, kinesiology senior from La Junta, Colo., was the goat tying regional runner-up.

Those three, along with newcomer, Kacy Hatten, an agricultural communications junior from Wheatland, will give the UW women seven chances in three events to score points, the most among all women's teams competing at the CNFR.

"I'm not worried one bit about our women's team, but I know we need luck on our side, too," Howard says.

The UW men also will take a full team to the CNFR. Competing are Troy Brandemuehl, a wildlife biology senior from Gordon, Neb., in steer wrestling; Bucky Dickson, a kinesiology sophomore from Sequim, Wash., in bareback riding; Jason Hubbard, an agriculture senior from Wheatland, in tie down roping; a pair of team ropers, Chad Nelson, an agricultural business senior from Buffalo, S.D., and Tyler Viles, a finance senior from Cody; and Merritt Smith, an animal science sophomore from Gillette, in saddle bronc riding.

Two Cowboys won regional titles this year: Smith in saddle bronc riding and Viles in team roping. Nelson was the regional runner-up in team roping behind his teammate; both are headers. Brandemuehl finished second in the regional bulldogging competition.

"I like that we have a nice balance among this group of guys," Howard says. The Cowboys have at least one competitor in each men's event except bull riding.

He says both teams come into the CNFR healthy except for Hubbard, who suffered a separated shoulder in an automobile accident two weeks ago. That injury could hamper his performance.

The UW men are seeking their first CNFR title since 1961.

Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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