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When Lamar Community College top team roper Josh Fillmore failed to get his rope around the steer's heels during Sunday's Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo, members of the University of Wyoming men's rodeo team knew this was the break they needed.
Mired in a so-so performance during their own home rodeo, the Cowboys needed outside help for a chance to qualify for next month's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper. Entering the weekend rodeo, only 185 points separated the second-place UW men from Lamar (Colo.) Community College (LCC).
The Antelopes put together a run the entire weekend, but it came down to the final two events in which they could score major points to overtake the Cowboys for one of the top two positions for an automatic bid to the CNFR.
But, LCC failed to gain the necessary points when the region's top team ropers Fillmore and Cole Dorenkamp were stung by a 23.1-second time during Sunday's short go round. Minutes after the rodeo, a nervous UW Coach George Howard, who always keeps track of team points after each event, stood off by himself in the Cliff and Martha Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena, tabulating all the statistics.
An unsure Howard then added, "I think we made it by 10 points or we tied." About 10 minutes later, Howard emerged from the rodeo office with the official results.
Even though the Cowboys finished in only fifth place in the season's final rodeo, UW had enough at the end to claim the second-place position and an automatic invitation as one of the Central Rocky Mountain Region's (CRMR) two representatives at the national finals. Stuck in fifth place just four weeks ago, the Cowboys had a late-season push to finish with 3,420 points to make up for failing to qualify for last year's CNFR.
"Ten points is 10 points. It made me sweat it though. But really, it came down to how Lamar's two team ropers competed today (Sunday). They went out there and they didn't do very good," Howard said. "They got the clock stopped, they got a few points, but it wasn't enough."
Fillmore and Dorenkamp placed fourth in the team roping average, but managed to score just 20 points for the Antelopes. Even one place higher would have given the team at least a chance to tie the Cowboys in the overall standings.
"We got healthy, everyone was back in their competitive game and they all want to go to the college finals," Howard said about his team's second place CRMR finish. "That's everybody's goal -- get to the finals, and we're going to take a run at that title now."
On the other side, there was no suspense on what the defending national champion UW women needed to do before the CNFR. The Cowgirls wrapped up their third consecutive CRMR title even before the start of the spring season in March.
The Cowgirls finished a season-long dominating performance, scoring a team-record 765 points to claim their ninth team title in 10 events during the fall and spring schedules. Overall, the team's 5,735 points gives the UW women the second most points nationwide, just 200 behind New Mexico State University.
Central Wyoming College, just like the UW women, dominated this year's men's competition. The Rustlers won the 59th edition of the Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo with 570 points followed by LCC at 465. The UW men were fifth with 290.
Jake Pratt, a secondary education sophomore from Ellensburg, Wash., placed third in the tie down average to capture the regional title. Teammate Jason Hubbard, an agriculture junior from Wheatland, added fifth place points in the same event and was second to Pratt in the final overall standings.
"Last year I just didn't have the same mindset as this year and I wasn't ready to compete on the college level," Pratt said. "But this year I was riding good horses all the time; that's what I give most of my credit to."
The only other points for the Cowboys came when Neil DeZort, civil engineering sophomore from Kalispell, Mont., placed third in the bareback riding average -- the same position he finished overall in the region.
During Sunday's short go, the large crowd at UW's indoor arena witnessed why Nikki Steffes is the Cowgirls' best competitor since Jimmie Jo Martin had a similar dominating performance in the early 1990s.
Steffes, molecular biology junior from Vale, S.D., won her third straight CRMR all-around title, topping teammates TaNaye Carroll and Sarah Mulholland by nearly a 1,000 points, giving her more than 6,000 for her three-year career. Steffes also is the defending all-around national champion.
Sunday, she won both the goat tying and barrel racing events, giving her the regional title in both. Steffes also took fourth in the CRMR breakaway roping.
"I just have had great horses to ride all year. I got to use ‘Doc' all spring and he's just an amazing horse," Steffes said about her ride that was named the region's horse of the year in the women's competition. "We have a great team and it's been a lot of fun being able to practice with Sarah and TaNaye.
If anything, them coming to our team has made me a tougher competitor for sure. I've just enjoyed having them here and am looking forward to the college finals."
The Cowgirls swept all three women's events this year. Carroll, a kinesiology junior from La Junta, Colo., won the overall breakaway roping event and finished second to Steffes in goat tying, the same spot during Sunday's short go.
Mulholland, a nursing junior from Richland Center, Wis., won Sunday's breakaway roping title, the second time this season she's been the top roper. She finished third overall in goat tying and fourth in breakaway roping, giving the Cowgirls a solid lineup heading into the CNFR.
"I'm roping probably the best I have ever done before. I've really worked hard on my breakaway roping this year and my horse has worked so hard. I really want to make the CNFR and I really needed this win," Mulholland, a CWC transfer student, said. "I'm glad I came here. It's an awesome team and I'm just glad that I can contribute."
Listed are the team points, followed by the top six individuals in the average, final year-end CNFR qualifiers and post-season awards:
Women's team points -- University of Wyoming (UW), 765; Central Wyoming College (CWC), 345; Sheridan College (SC), 170; Chadron State College (CSC), 70; Laramie County Community College (LCCC), 55; Colorado State College (CSU), 50; Gillette College (GC), 40; Casper College (CC), 15.
Men's team points -- CWC, 570; LCC, 465; GC, 425; CC, 385; UW, 290; Northeastern Junior College (NJC), 170; Eastern Wyoming College (EWC), 150; Mesa State College (MSC), 120; CSU, 85; SC and LCCC, 80.
Barrel racing -- Nikki Steffes, UW, 30.34; Annie Joanette, CWC, 30.62; Chelsea Moore, CWC, 30.70; Ilene Hilman, UW, 30.85; Jessica Picchietti, CWC, 31.39; Devan Frey, CC, 31.47.
Breakaway roping -- Sarah Mulholland, UW, 5.7; TaNaye Carroll, UW, 6.6; Randi Perry CC, and Megan Schrock, CC, 6.7; Barbara Pfeiffer, CSU, 7.7; Caitlyn Cahill, UW, 9.5.
Goat tying -- Nikki Steffes, UW, 13.2; TaNaye Carroll, UW, 13.7; Lacey Schuelke, SC, 15.1; Lacey Roberts, CSC, 15.5; (tie) Annie Joanette, CWC, and Tia Brannan, LCCC, 15.9.
Saddle bronc riding -- J.W. Moore, CC, 153; Blaze Hamaker, CWC, 150; Seth Glause, CWC, 142; Patrick Carpenter, SC, 128; Ty Hamaker, CWC, 127; Wyatt Johnson, NJC, 120.
Bareback riding -- Ty Kenner, EWC, 142; Bryan Jones, CWC, 141; Neil DeZort, UW, 132.
Bull riding -- (one qualified ride) Jason Blasdele, MSC, 80; Seth Glause, CWC, 77; Brandon Abel, LCCC, 71; Cody Sierks, EWC, 60; Neil Muscat, SC, 57.
Steer wrestling -- Cody Nichols, EWC, 12.0; Troy Brademuehl, UW, 13.4; Tyrel Larson, CC, 14.1; Chason Floyd, GC, 15.0; Cameron Weddle, NJC, 17.2; Jake Colletti, LCC, 23.2.
Tie down roping -- Cole Dorenkamp, LCC, 19.5; Jake Pratt, UW, 20.4; Jake Hamilton, CC, 20.9; Joey Dickens, CSU, 21.4; Brad Johnson, GC, 21.8; Jason Hubbard, UW, 23.1.
Team roping -- Katie Felix/Jake Hamilton, CC, 17.1; Hazen Duncan/Beau Miller, GC, 20.0; Chase Dodson/Blake Henry, UW, 28.4; Cole Dorenkamp/Josh Fillmore, LCC, 28.9; T.J. Teague, UW/Garrett Rothenhoffer, CC, 30.9; Charlie Bezona/Chance Threet, LCC, 33.4.
Goat tying -- Nikki Steffes, UW; TaNaye Carroll, UW; Sarah Mulholland, UW.
Bareback riding -- Ty Kenner, EWC; Bryan Jones, CWC; Neil DeZort, UW.
Steer wrestling -- Brad Johnson, GC; Wyatt Johnson, NJC; Chason Floyd, GC.
Team roping headers -- Cole Dorenkamp, LCC; Tyler Viles, UW; Chris Cover, EWC.
Team roping heelers -- Josh Fillmore, LCC; Justin Viles, UW; Dustin Smith, CC.
Barrel racing -- Nikki Steffes, UW; Jessica Cates, GC; Taylor Miniat, CSU.
Breakaway roping -- TaNaye Carroll, UW; Kori Jorgensen, CWC; Katie Felix, CC.
Saddle bronc riding -- Seth Glause, CWC; Blaze Hamaker, CWC; Pat Carpenter, SC.
Tie down roping -- Jake Pratt, UW; Jason Hubbard, UW; Joey Dickens, CSU.
Bull riding -- Ty Hamaker, CWC; Seth Glause, CWC; Cameron Weddle, NJC.
Rookie of the Year -- Women, Chelsea Moore, CWC; Men, Cole Dorenkamp, LCC.
All-Around Champions -- Women, Nikki Steffes, UW; Men, Seth Glause CWC.
All-Around Reserves -- Women, TaNaye Carroll, UW; Men, Ty Kenner, EWC.
Horse of the Year -- Women, Steffes' Doc; Men, Clint Doll's Hudson.
Most Improved Rodeo of the Year -- Laramie River Rendezvous, UW.
Rodeo of the Year -- Ropin' and Riggin' Days, CC.
Coach of the Year -- Gillette College's Will LaDuke.