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June 5, 2013 — It can be done.
In the early 1990s, Jimmi Jo Martin single-handedly won a national rodeo championship for the University of Wyoming Cowgirls. And last summer, a UW men’s team composed of just three Cowboys -- half of what constitutes a full team -- flirted with the team’s first national championship since the Kennedy administration before finishing a surprising third.
Yes, a team can win a College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) title with a short-handed lineup -- if things go right.
“It’s not the quantity of the individuals you take, but the quality of the competitors,” UW veteran rodeo Coach George Howard says. “Sure, it helps if you can take a full team because it keeps others from getting points. For what we got qualified for the national finals, I’m pretty excited.”
Six men and four women constitute full teams that can score points at each rodeo for a respective school. The same is true for collegiate rodeo’s biggest year-end event.
The Pokes qualified four team members and the UW women three for the CNFR June 9-15 at the Casper Events Center. Action begins Sunday with a pair of afternoon performances at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Slack both Monday and Tuesday begins at 7 a.m. The first of four straight nightly performances begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The short go (championship round) is at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15.
The top 12 individuals in both the men’s and women’s events advance to the short go for the opportunity to compete for an individual title. Each competitor is guaranteed three rounds of competition for a chance to reach the all-important fourth round.
UW finished third in the final Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) standings, so only Eastern Wyoming College and Gillette College, the top two teams, will send full six-man teams among the region schools to the CNFR. Individuals placing among the top three in their respective events during the regular season qualify for the CNFR.
The Cowgirls are just one team member short of a full squad after placing fourth in the region this past spring. Northeastern Junior College and the Gillette College women were the top team CNFR qualifiers.
“But we do have some quality experience competing next week,” Howard says.
Heading the list for the UW men is returning national champion header Tyler Schnaufer in the team roping competition. The Pueblo, Colo., senior placed third in the region this year, breaking in a new partner, Clayton Van Aken, a Descanso, Calif., sophomore.
The pair struggled during the spring season and fell from the top spot in the standings, but Howard is quick to point out that the team ropers failed to draw good steers at some of the competitions.
“With 70 to 80 teams competing every weekend, it’s tough to draw good steers,” he says. “At the college finals, there will be about 50 team ropers. Clayton was third in the nation last year, and we have the defending national champion. What more do want than that? I like our chances.”
Those two scored the bulk of the team’s points at last season’s CNFR when the Cowboys were a surprising challenger for the top spot.
Schnaufer, who was the all-around runner-up in the region, also will compete in tie down roping. He placed third in the CRMR this past season.
Howard also is counting on a pair of roughstock competitors to bring home some points.
Stanton, Minn., senior Justin Moldaschel, who was the regional runner-up, will compete in bareback riding. He is making his fourth straight CNFR appearance; the first two came as a Casper College student.
“This is Justin’s fourth year, and he has a chance of winning it or placing deep,” Howard says. “We don’t need him to be crazy, just go out there and be aggressive.”
Bull rider Hunter Hoover will make his first appearance at the big show. The Ulysses, Kan., sophomore split third in the final CRMR standings after the spring season.
“Bull riding is always so wide open,” Howard says. “All he needs to do is get at least two covered, and he can win it.”
This will be the last chance for a pair of senior Cowgirls to win a possible individual national title -- and both compete in the same event.
Kaycee Nelson, from Buffalo, S.D., and Lydia Coe, Salinas, Calif., were really the only two competitors challenging for a regional breakaway title this past season. The pair traded the lead for most of the season before Nelson captured her second CRMR title in three seasons with a late run.
The two will push each other at the CNFR, competing in the same three rounds each day. They wrap up their three rounds of competition early in the week during the first night performance on Tuesday.
“We hope that they set the standard that night to put the scare in everybody else,” Howard says. “We want them to go out there and not just stop the clock, but to set the standard that everybody else has to match.”
The third Cowgirl team member is newcomer Chandler Markel from Scottsbluff, Neb. The freshman burst onto the regional scene in a big way, taking the barrel racing lead after the fall season. But a tough spring slate left her third in the overall standings. Howard says Chandler has made adjustments in her riding and says the bugs were worked out at the last two regular season rodeos.
“Her horse is capable, and Chandler now just needs to do her part.”
The UW Cowgirls have won four CNFR team titles in the program’s history, the last coming in 2009.