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UW Teams Have Mixed Results on First Day of CNFR Competition

June 14, 2009
Merritt Smith sits 14th in saddle bronc riding.

All this rain is making the College National Finals Rodeo calves faster than normal.

Or it seemed that way to University of Wyoming breakaway roper Sarah Mulholland as she sat in the Casper Events Center stands Sunday afternoon. She watched 48 other competitors try and stop the clock in the first round of CNFR competition before her turn late in the day.

She observed half the contestants missing their calves and quite a few more recording higher than normal times in what is shaping up to be a fast competition. She is among the top 10 after the first round when the "Broncs, Bulls and Breakaway" event began college rodeo's biggest show. Mulholland recorded a 3.4-second time.

"The calves are moving and people are having trouble getting out quick enough out of the box. I really had to get out and get my shot," Mulholland said. "I really don't know why they are so fast this year. Maybe it's all the green grass they're eating caused by all this rain. It's important for us not to break the barrier and be prepared to take a good shot with these fast calves."

The Cowgirls, who won the national title two years ago and finished fourth in 2008, have high hopes this week to win the school's fifth team championship. But Mulholland was the only UW Cowgirl to have a good opening round.

Sunday's two afternoon performances marked the end of the first round for the roughstock riders and also the women's breakaway ropers. The first of two days of slack competition began Monday morning. Nightly performances begin Tuesday.

Mulholland, a nursing senior from Richland Center, Wis., was all business before and after her turn.

"I have a goal and I haven't met it yet. I want to win a national title," she said with a serious look on her face. "I have to stay mentally tough and I'm just glad to get one down. I just tried to stay focused after watching all afternoon. I have to remember I'm just here to have fun."

It was a shaky start for four-time regional all-around champion Nikki Steffes, who had to scramble to get a second chance after missing on her first breakaway roping attempt.

The molecular biology/medical microbiology senior from Vale, S.D., came out of the box throwing and managed an accurate attempt, but the loop skidded over the calf's head. Luckily she was packing a second rope. She quickly built a second loop and stopped the clock in 11.7 seconds, leaving her in 21st place.

"I'm really not sure how I missed on my first loop, it just didn't work," Steffes said. "It's the first round and I'm just glad I caught him with my second loop. There is a lot of rodeo left this week. Whenever there is an opportunity to carry two ropes I will."

Merritt Smith was second-guessing himself, wishing he was better prepared for his first saddle bronc ride.

The animal science sophomore from Gillette notched his first successful ride of the CNFR, taking "Howdie Doodie" to the eight-second buzzer for 70 points, putting him 14th overall.

"Hey, 70 points works all right for me. Just being in the running and getting one down is all I'm looking for right now," he said as he removed tape from his heavily bandaged forearm. "Here at the CNFR, it's an average competition not a one-head round. I'm just happy to get one in the books."

His first-round score left him behind the overall leaders, but with two more successful rides later in the week could propel the UW sophomore to Saturday's final round. The individuals with the top 12 scores and times among the men and women competitors advance to the short go.

Smith said "Howdie Doodie" was a good horse, but should have been better prepared to ride him.

"I didn't know a whole lot about him. I guess I should have found out a little more about him before I got on," he said, smiling. "I'm just happy to get one down at this point."

Bronc rider Bucky Dickson scored a low 58.5 points and was hampered when he nearly fell off the right side of "War & Peace." The kinesiology sophomore from Sequim, Wash., had a decent ride going about three seconds into his turn when he nearly was bucked off. He managed to regain his balance, but the momentum cost him a chance to score better. He is 28th in the competition.

Earlier in the afternoon, Kacy Hatten, making her first CNFR appearance, had a no time in breakaway roping. The agricultural communications junior from Wheatland got off a clean throw, but the loop slipped right through the calf's entire body.

The remaining UW men's and women's team members will compete in both slack rounds.

Posted on Monday, June 15, 2009

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