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For a group that didn't even qualify as a team for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), the University of Wyoming Cowboys will send five individuals into Saturday night's short go round.
The Cowboys made a push into the championship round on the final night of round three action at the Casper Events Center. Four will be in the team roping competition, while the fifth is the lone roughstock rider.
On the women's side, perennial goat tying favorite Nikki Steffes will go for the elusive CNFR title in her best event in the short go as the overall average leader.
"It was just an exciting night for us," said UW Coach George Howard who has seen his women's team fail to gain a short go qualifier. But his men made a strong case late in the week to perhaps move into the overall top 10 with just one round to go.
Steffes' points will not count toward the Cowgirls' team totals because she has used up her four-years of collegiate eligibility, but is granted another season as a regional student director.
The Vale, S.D., senior is making her final CNFR appearance a good one as she enters the goat tying competition as the overall leader with a three-round time of 20.2 seconds -- a mere tenth-of-second ahead of both Jordan Thurston of Gillette College and West Texas College's Bailey Gutherie.
And Saturday night's final round of goat tying competition is eerily similar to the past three seasons for Steffes. In each of those years, UW's all-time leading individual scorer has entered the competition leading the average, but all three times she's watched someone over take her in the standings. She has wound up with three runner-up awards.
Steffes also remains in contention for all-around honors and is second overall. She has won two previous all-around titles -- both during the Cowgirls' championship seasons.
As for her male teammates, the Cowboys jumped from 50th place to 29th with 83.3 points when five team members placed -- four in team roping and the other in saddle bronc riding.
Pavillion cousins, Dahl and Chance Nicholls placed fifth in the final round with a tough 6.1 effort for a three-head time of 30.5 seconds, good enough for third in the average. The overall leaders are within striking distance at 28.6 seconds.
Sitting sixth going into the short go are Jackson sophomore Riley Millward and partner Dane Kissack of Gillette College. They finished three rounds of team roping earlier in the week at 49.5 seconds.
Even though the region's top roping team this season, Jordan Steele, a senior from Aladdin, and partner Dustin Smith of Gillette College, managed only to secure two successful attempts this week, their 17.1 second time was good enough to put them 11th in the average.
The top 12 individual timed events and points in the roughtstock events move onto the finals.
UW's lone roughstock qualifier, Gillette junior Merritt Smith, reached the CNFR's short go round for the second consecutive season. He scored 69.9 points on his final ride Friday night, giving him three straight marks for a total of 217 points. He is sitting 11th going into the short go, the same place he entered a year ago.
Even though the UW men did not qualify for the CNFR (only the top two men's and women's team during the regular regional season gain automatic berths), the Cowboys sent six contestants to the year-end event because they placed high individually in their respective events.