UW Hosts Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo This Weekend
It's like a Game 7 for the University of Wyoming's Merritt Smith.
The UW rodeo team member has a shot to win his second Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) saddle bronc riding title during his illustrious four-year career for the Cowboys.
And it all comes down to the final rodeo of the season this weekend, which also happens to be the annual Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo at the indoor Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena.
Smith, who won the individual CRMR saddle bronc riding award his sophomore year, says he couldn't write a better script than having the outcome decided in the final regular-season rodeo of his career.
He is currently second in the regional standings, trailing friend Cole Elshere of Gillette College by 105 points. With two successful marks this weekend, Smith could overtake Elshere for the saddle that goes to the regional champion.
"It's really great that it's coming down to the last rodeo because it makes it all that much more exciting," Smith says. "Cole's such a great bronc rider and it will be a good matchup this weekend."
The Gillette senior, who will graduate in December with an animal science degree, says he's feeling relaxed coming into the final home rodeo after securing an automatic bid -- his third overall -- for this summer's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper.
"My goal every year is to qualify for the CNFR," he says. "I've done that, so I'm happy with the year I've had."
The next step is to win a national title. The past two seasons Smith has advanced to the CNFR's short go round, but has had trouble cracking the top five. Last year he was bucked off in the final round and placed 10th overall and the year before eighth.
Going into the Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo, the UW men are third in the overall regional standings and will need a total collapse of second place Casper College to secure the last spot to qualify for the CNFR. The Cowboys trail the T-Birds by more than 600 points for the runner-up position.
Casper College still has a chance to catch season-long leader Gillette College for the team title, trailing the Pronghorns by just 55 points.
Only the top two teams in the region qualify for the CNFR, while the three leading individuals in each event earn their way to rodeo's biggest event. Besides Smith, only two other UW team members have qualified for the CNFR -- the region's top-ranked team ropers -- header Kade Merritt, Eaton, Colo., sophomore, and heeler Clayton Van Aken, a freshman from Descanso, Calif.
On the women's side, UW won't be sending a team to the CNFR. The cowgirls are sitting in third place, trailing leaders Gillette College and Central Wyoming College by considerable margins.
"It's been a really tough region this year," Smith says. The Cowboys have won just one regional event during the fall and spring schedule. "We have been competitive all year, but it's been a tough region with some pretty good teams."
After four years at UW, Smith wants produce two more good rides in his final home appearance this weekend.
"I've really enjoyed my time here. It's been good to rodeo here at the university," he says.
Slack competition begins Friday at noon, followed by the first of four performances later that evening at 7 p.m. Two performances at 1 and 7 p.m. are scheduled Saturday and the championship round begins at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Cost for each session is $5 per person, with UW students (with valid ID) and children under 12 admitted free.