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Last summer, Jake Pratt fielded more than a few questions about the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR).
Only he couldn't provide any answers. As a freshman for the University of Wyoming men's rodeo club, Pratt didn't qualify to compete at the Super Bowl of college rodeo.
"It was tough not to make it last year, because nobody back home knew how my season went and everybody was always asking me about the college finals," says Pratt, a secondary education sophomore from Ellensburg, Wash. "I heard it all summer long, ‘When are you heading to the college finals?' and ‘How'd the college finals go?'
He adds, "It would sure be neat to make it and be able to answer all those questions this summer."
So far, so good.
Through seven of 10 rodeos in the 2007-2008 Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) season, Pratt holds a 150-point lead atop the tie down roping standings heading into this weekend's Ropin' and Riggin' Days at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper.
But, he cautiously says, "There's still three more rodeos to go."
Pratt isn't the only UW roper seeking his first trip to the college finals.
Jason Hubbard, an agriculture junior from Wheatland, is second in the tie down standings after a second-place finish at last weekend's CRMR event at Chadron State College in Nebraska. The top three contestants in each event automatically qualify for the CNFR, June 15-21, at the Casper Events Center.
"I've been there and watched it, but I want to be out there," Hubbard says.
In a UW men's season marked by inconsistency -- the Cowboys stand fifth in the regional standings and are in jeopardy of missing the college finals for the second consecutive year -- Pratt and Hubbard have been models of consistency.
Pratt has scored points at five of seven rodeos, including one first-place finish and three seconds, while Hubbard has placed among the top six in four rodeos, highlighted by a victory at the Laramie County Community College rodeo in the fall.
They credit each other for their success.
"You only rope as well as your competitors," says Hubbard, who missed qualifying for the CNFR by a meager five points as a freshman. "If go someplace and they don't rope as well as you do, you kind of stoop to that level. I think we thrive off each other, in practice and at the rodeos."
Adds Pratt, "I couldn't have said it any better."
In the final three weeks of the season, Pratt and Hubbard hope to push each other all the way to the college finals. They say they won't safety-up; they'll chase each calf with the same dogged determination that has helped them move up the standings.
"There's a lot of points out there yet. When any one guy can get 180 points (for first place), you can move a long way, or drop a long way, in one weekend," Hubbard says."We can't coast."
Following Ropin' and Riggin' Days, the CRMR circuit goes to Sterling, Colo., before finishing May 2-4 at the Laramie River Rendezvous.