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September 12, 2013 — Last season, the University of Wyoming men’s rodeo team had high hopes, while the women had two returning club members with finals experience.
It turned out that the Cowboys couldn’t quite put things together at this summer’s College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper, placing 25th overall. And that was with a veteran team.
The women made a late charge, due largely to senior Kaycee Nelson’s run at a national goat tying championship. She finished as the CNFR runner-up as the Cowgirls nearly cracked the top 10, finishing in 12th place.
As the new season begins this weekend in Riverton at the Central Wyoming College rodeo, the UW men again have high hopes, fielding a veteran squad with at least five team members with CNFR experience.
As for the women, veteran UW Coach George Howard may have his youngest four-woman team in his 16 years at UW. All are underclassmen.
“I’m excited for the season, and I like the balance of this team,” Howard says about the Cowboys. The team has depth on both sides of the arena in the timed and roughstock events. “There are no major surprises across the region, but there is always someone out there.”
Howard hopes that someone will be the Cowboys.
Three-year CNFR qualifier Clayton Van Aken of Descanso, Calif., a senior, will again compete in the two roping events -- tie down and team. Also returning are veteran Cowboys Wyatt Clark, a Wellfleet, Neb., senior who will compete in both roping events and saddle bronc riding; junior Brett Ellerman from Fort Lupton, Colo., in team and tie down roping; and junior Hunter Hoover, a bull rider from Walsh, Colo.
Returning from a year’s absence are Gillette senior Eric Gewecke in saddle bronc riding and team roping; and Cade Merritt, a senior from Greeley, Colo., who placed in the CNFR’s team roping event two seasons ago.
But Howard has yet to make up his mind who will represent UW on the six-man team. Also in the mix is another Cowboy with experience, senior Thomas Smith from Eden, who is a tie down roper and steer wrestler. Freshman Jayden Clark, Wyatt’s younger brother, is getting a look as well. He is a bareback rider and team roper.
Just one Cowgirl brings in CNFR experience: sophomore barrel racer Chandler Markel from Scottsbluff, Neb. She qualified for last summer’s year-end collegiate rodeo and used that experience to reach the short go during July’s Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. She also will compete in goat tying this weekend.
Another sophomore coming in is Cassie Hamilton from Chehalis, Wash., who is a breakaway and team roper.
Howard has selected a pair of first-year rodeo competitors to make up the four-woman team for the CWC rodeo. Farson’s Rhianna Gail and Amelia Anderson, from Forsyth, Mont., will both compete in all three women’s events: goat tying, breakaway roping and barrel racing.
Howard says Gillette College appears to be the team to beat in the Central Rocky Mountain Region this season, but “other than that, it’s really spread out.”
“Maybe we can surprise some people,” he adds.