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Nikki Steffes will go down as one of the two greatest Cowgirls in the history of the University of Wyoming women's rodeo program. She's done it all in the arena, but one thing that will elude her illustrious career is an individual event title.
With one chance to win an elusive goat tying title Saturday night at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, the school's all-time leading individual scorer just could not pull the trigger once again in her best event at the Events Center.
For the fourth straight season the Vale, S.D., senior entered the short go as the top seed in the average. And for the fourth consecutive year Steffes did not come away as national champion.
It's tough to know which of those four seasons will be tough to take. Will it be the first two when Steffes was the runner-up both times to UW teammate Kayla Nelson, or last year when another Cowgirl, Sarah Mulholland, came out of the number three position to overtake Steffes, leaving her with three straight runner-up awards.
Or will it be her final goat tying run Saturday night, knowing that her glorious UW career ended?
Steffes came into the goat tying short go with a 20.2 time on three, leading both Gillette College's Jordan Thursday and West Texas College's Bailey Gutherie by a mere tenth of a second. Thurston came in as a threat after winning four straight Wyoming high school goat tying titles.
As the top-seed Saturday night, Steffes was up last, with the 12th competitor in the average going first. Steffes knew what she had to do by the time Thurston tied her goat in a blazing 6.2 seconds to take the overall lead at 26.5 seconds on four.
With a partisan crowd cheering her on, Steffes came down the arena in good shape, but as she ran near the goat, the animal bolted away from her. That's all that was needed for the goat tying title to slip out of her grasp once again. Steffes had to settle for a tough 7.8 effort, leaving her seventh in the average and an overall time of 28 seconds.
To her credit, Steffes won two-all around titles and collected three runner-up goat tying awards in leading UW to a pair of CNFR championships. She'll be remembered as one of the two best UW women, along with Jimmie Jo Martin who won an all-around title plus a goat tying and breakaway roping championship. Martin single-handedly won a national team championship for the UW women in the early 1990s with those individual titles and the all-around.
Steffes finished third in this week's all-around competition.
It was a tough short round for UW's men as well, but one Cowboy managed to place in the average.
Regional champions Jordan Steele, a senior from Aladdin, and his partner, Dustin Smith of Gillette College, had their best time of the week, roping their steer in 6.4 seconds, giving them an overall time of 23.5 seconds on three head during four rounds of competition. They finished fifth in the average.
But for UW's two other qualified roping teams, it was not to be.
The top roping team for UW coming into the final round. Pavillion cousins, Dahl and Chance Nicholls, were third in the average and just 2.1 seconds from the leaders, but they suffered a no time in the short go. They placed seventh in the nation.
Riley Millward, a Jackson sophomore, and partner Dane Kissack, of Gillette College, also failed to stop the clock in the event and placed ninth overall.
UW's lone roughtstock competitor, Merritt Smith, was bucked off his ride after successfully marking in three straight opening rounds. The Gillette junior entered the short go in the number 11 position and took 12th in the average.
In the team standings, UW's men took 26th overall with 213.33 points, while the Cowgirls were 366th with just 3.3 points.