UW Women Win Home Rodeo Team Title; Nelson Top Regional Breakaway Roper
When Kaycee Nelson won back-to-back breakaway roping titles to open the spring season back in March, few folks took notice because the University of Wyoming sophomore was still not in contention for a regional title.
But that was just the beginning what turned out to be a productive five rodeos for the Buffalo, S.D., native whose season culminated with her first Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) individual event championship. The kinesiology and health sciences sophomore started the spring season strong in breakaway roping and steadily climbed into contention before taking the lead for good two weeks ago at the Casper College rodeo.
However, Nelson's regional title makes her the only Cowgirl to qualify for next month's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), which wasn't decided until Sunday's short go at the Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo.
Coming into the finals, Nelson held a slim 15-point lead against Chadron (Neb.) State College's Kelsey Scott, but the Eagle roper's chances of overtaking the UW Cowgirl ended early when she whiffed on her calf. Nelson came up minutes later and cleanly got her loop over the calf's head, winding up third in the average to nail the breakaway roping title. She finished the season with an 85-point margin over Scott in the final standings.
Nelson's individual effort enabled the Cowgirls to win for the first time this season, taking the final regular-season rodeo in front of the home fans with a solid effort. The UW women tallied 395 points to top defending CNFR and regional champion Gillette College, which scored 310 points.
But the Cowgirls will not send a full team to the CNFR with their third-place finish in the region. Only the top two teams -- Gillette College and Central Wyoming College (CWC) -- received automatic bids. UW's women totaled 1,870 points to finish more than 700 points behind CWC for the runner-up position.
The UW Cowboys also placed third in the region after taking fourth in the home rodeo. In a surprising season, Casper College won the regional title for the first time in more than 20 years, overtaking defending CRMR champion Gillette College on the final day. The T-Birds won Sunday's team title with 446.7 points, CWC placed second at 430, Colorado State University had 428.3 and the Cowboys 370.
Three of the four UW Cowgirls whose points counted during the final home rodeo placed in their respective events, with Wheatland senior Dana Weiser winning both rounds of breakaway roping. Weiser split first with two other competitors in the opening round and was even better in the short go with a 2.1-second effort to win the average.
But it was Nelson who had the top overall performance with her regional title in the event.
"I had a rough fall, but it was a new season for me in the spring," Nelson said after receiving word that she was indeed the region's top breakaway roper. "It's just an awesome feeling. It's taken so many years of hard work to accomplish my goal of qualifying for the CNFR."
She is the younger sister of UW's two-time CNFR goat tying champion Kayla, who was in attendance Sunday to cheer on Kaycee.
"Everything just came together for me in the spring like it needed to be," the younger Nelson said. "Those back-to-back rodeos to start the season gave me the confidence and it carried over all spring."
Teammate Ilene Choal, a Laramie senior, came out of the No. 9 slot after one round of barrel racing to finish second in the average. Another UW Cowgirl also placed, but her points didn't count in the final team standings. Bellvue, Colo., sophomore Cayla Allen was fifth in the barrel racing average.
The UW men also had one event champion Sunday.
Merritt Smith opened the short go of saddle bronc riding with 74 points -- a total that held up as nine other finals riders were either bucked off or failed to beat the Gillette senior's score. As the first rider up in the championship round, Smith's points held up, and with his opening ride of 72, the three-time CNFR qualifier won the average.
He along with team roping partners Kade Merritt and Clayton Van Aken are the only three who will represent the Cowboys at the CNFR in Casper. All three UW team members were the regional runners-up in their respective events.
Smith, who won the regional saddle bronc title as a sophomore, has finished second the last two seasons. He needed a lot of luck Sunday to overtake season-long leader Cole Elshere of Gillette College.
And it appeared he just might do it when he led off the short go with his 74-point ride.
"I kind of like coming out first because that way you don't have to sit and think too much what you have to do if you go last," Smith said. "Sometimes it's an advantage to go first and get it out of the way."
Smith watched Elshere get bucked off later in the final round, but with Smith winning the opening round and grabbing additional points, the UW Cowboy couldn't overtake the Pronghorn rider in the final standings. Smith fell just 35 points short for the saddle bronc title.
Merritt, an Eaton, Colo., sophomore and Van Aken, a freshman from Descanso, Calif., came into the final rodeo holding a 17.5-point lead in the regional team roping competition and were on their way to securing the championship after clocking the best opening round time. But they were hit with a penalty in the short go and wound up fourth in the average. The UW partners finished less than 40 points behind the winning team of Lamar Community College's Tyler Schnaufer and Shay Carroll of Northeastern Junior College, who won the average of the UW rodeo.
UW also received points from Casper senior Coley Wondra, who reached the short go of the steer wrestling competition. Fremont County cousins Chance and Dahl Nicholls placed third in the team roping average, but their points did not count in the UW team standings.
Listed are team standings and winners in the average of the Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo. For final regional results, visit the UW rodeo website at http://www.uwyo.edu/rodeo/.
Men's team scores -- Casper College 446.7; Central Wyoming College430; Colorado State University 428.3; University of Wyoming 370; Eastern Wyoming College353.3; Gillette College 338.3; Northeastern Junior College 260; Lamar Community College 160; Sheridan College 140; Laramie County Community College 120; Chadron State College 105; Otero Community College 20.
Women's team scores -- University of Wyoming 395; Gillette College 310; Northeastern Junior College 275; Central Wyoming College 225.5; Casper College 175; Colorado State University 130; Sheridan College 72.5; Laramie County Community College 70; Chadron State College and Eastern Wyoming College 60.
Goat tying -- Jordan Thurston, GC, 13.9; Traci Hinman, CWC, 14.1; split, Chelsey Kelly, SC, and Jacalyn Walker, CWC, both 15.3; Talea Sunde, CC, 16; Katelyn Ellis, LCCC, 17.3.
Breakaway roping -- Dana Weiser, UW, 4.7; Megan Schrock, CC, 5; Kaycee Nelson, UW, 5.4; Charlie Opela, EWC, 5.8; Chelsea Moore, GC, 5; Taylor Holmes, CC, 6.4;
Barrel racing -- Samantha Tallent, NJC, 30.58; Ilene Choal, UW, 30.62; Dani Buhler, CSU, 30.68; Amy Tierney, NJC, 30.76; Cayla Allen, UW, 30.90; Marlys McGuire, GC, 31.28.
Saddle bronc riding -- Merritt Smith, UW, 146; Clay Gruel, CWC, 145; Wyatt Thurston, CWC, 135; Matt Costello, GC, 120. On two.
Bareback riding -- Split, Casey Bruer, GC, and Justin Moldaschel, CC, both 144; Shane Stevens, SC, 142; Collin Chytka, CSC, 127; Spencer Brown, OJC, 119. On two.
Bull riding -- Loncey Johnson, LCCC, 84; Jake Buller, CWC, 79; Kris Newman, CC, 78; Charles Pesicka, GC, 76; Tyler Trump, CSC, 69. On one.
Tie down roping -- Joey Dickens, CSU, 21.4; Troy Wilcox, EWC, 21.9; Shay Carroll, NJC, 22.5; Riley Millward, UW, 23.1; Daine McNenny, CWC, 23.9; Jack Tyner, UW, 28.3.
Steer wrestling -- Tee Hale, EWC, 7.5; Russell Hipke, CSC, 18.4; Riley Krassin, CC, 30.5; J.D. Harrell, CC, 31.4. On two.
Team roping -- Tyler Schnaufer, LCC/Shay Carroll, NJC, 16.1; Kyle and Joey Dickens, CSU, 16.3; Chance and Dahl Nicholls, UW, 19.5; Kade Merritt/Clayton Van Aken, UW, 20.2; Kelsey Scott, CSC/Chelsea Moore, CG, 21.7. On two.