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June 12, 2013 — It may have seemed like several minutes for Kaycee Nelson to see if her horse had left the roping box too soon and broke the barrier. She turned her horse around to learn her fate. Nobody waved her off.
And just like that, the University of Wyoming Cowgirl Tuesday night qualified for her first College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) short go when she clocked a three-round best time of 2.6 seconds. The partisan Casper Events Center crowd roared its approval.
Nelson moved to the top of the breakaway roping pack, sharing the lead with McNeese State University’s Chelsea Carroll. Nelson also has the third round’s fastest time. However, several more ropers have yet to complete three rounds this week.
As she rode out to the back of the arena, the Buffalo, S.D., senior immediately knelt on the ground, bowing her head. She took in deep breaths in an attempt to compose herself. All she could think of was what happened two years ago in the same setting. Things were just too similar for her only two CNFR appearances.
Just like her sophomore year, Nelson competed this week on three successive nights. The difference: She failed to put a loop over her calf two years ago, keeping her out of a sure short go appearance.
This year was different.
“This was a very emotional run for me. I second-guessed myself my third round when I was a sophomore, and I just tried to push it out of my mind today because this is my year,” a breathless Nelson said. “This has just been a dream come true for me. My entire goal this year has always been to reach the short go. It’s been a roller-coaster ride just to even qualify.”
Nelson’s strong showing has boosted the UW women to fourth place in the national standings with 185 points halfway through the third round. Regional conference team Northeastern Junior College of Sterling, Colo., is the leader with 325 points.
The UW men are sitting 25th overall with 95 points. Tarleton State University of Stevenville, Texas, leads with 365 points.
Nelson knew that when she broke out of the box that it would be a close call by the judges.
“I don’t second-guess myself, and when I commit, I commit. That’s just my style,” she said. “I knew I was close and I looked back to make sure and, sure enough, it was OK,” she said.
Nelson can now relax and let the other ropers chase her the rest of the week. It’s just the way she had hoped the CNFR would play out.
“The short go has been right there at the tip of my fingers. The goal is now to win a national title,” she said, finally smiling. “I am not going to change anything Saturday night. I’m going right up to the barrier, take my first shot, trust my instincts and horse, and go right at it and let it play out.”
Two other UW team members also competed during the first of five nightly performances. And like Nelson, it was their third round of competition.
Justin Moldaschel had a re-ride when his horse, Angel Face, tumbled into the arena dirt coming out of the bucking chute. The horse pinned the Northfield, Minn., senior against a post, causing Angel Face to stumble coming out.
However, the horse he drew on the re-ride minutes later turned out to be a mount -- Table Talk -- he’s ridden before. Moldaschel was in complete control, taking the second horse to his best score in three rounds of competition with 75.5 points.
A smiling Moldaschel said the re-ride was in his favor this time.
“It actually ended up being pretty good. I’ve been on that horse before a couple of years ago. I knew she would be good,” he said as other cowboys slapped his back offering congratulations. “I didn’t know too much about the first horse I’d drawn; she’s a younger horse. But this one I just rode has been around for a long time, so I knew that she would be good if I gave it a good effort.”
Now, it’s a waiting game for Moldaschel to see if he returns to Saturday’s short go. He’ll need some luck along the way. He has 147.5 points on three rides, but several other cowboys have yet to finsih their third round. He currently has the round’s top mark, but plenty of riders are left to compete.
“Just got to wait and see what happens,” he said, smiling. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
UW Cowgirl Lydia Coe ended her career on a high note, but it was not enough to push her into the championship round.
The Salinas, Calif., senior stopped the clock in 2.8 seconds -- good enough to be in contention -- but she was saddled with a no-time in the opening round.
Earlier in the morning, three UW team members competed in the final slack round. And, for one, the chances of repeating as national champion may have slipped away, just like the loop of his rope.
Team ropers Tyler Schnaufer of Pueblo, Colo., and Clayton Van Aken, from Descanso, Calif., came up with a no-time in their second round after posting a 12.2-second time the day before.
Schnaufer, the defending national header, came up with nothing when his loop came off the steer’s horns, leaving Van Aken no chance to tie the heels. With no time, the pair is more than likely out of the short go running. They are scheduled to compete Thursday evening.
Barrel racer Chandler Markel attacked all three barrels more aggressively the second time around, shaving more than a full second off her initial run the day before. The Scottsbluff, Neb., freshman made three tight turns around the clover-leaf pattern, stopping the clock in 14.25 seconds to give her a two-run time of 29.64 in the average.
“I was more confident going in. I just wasn’t aggressive yesterday,” Markel said.
She will next compete during Thursday night’s performance and hopes she can move up to the top 12.
Schnaufer also competed individually in tie down roping. And it was déjà vu for the senior roper. He matched his opening round time of 10.3 during Tuesday’s slack, giving him a two-run time of 20.6 seconds. His third-round in the event is Friday.
No UW team member is scheduled to compete tonight (Wednesday).