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It may be March Madness for NCAA college basketball, but this month also signals the start of the rodeo season for the University of Wyoming teams.
UW's teams compete in the first of five spring rodeos this weekend (March 16-18) at Chadron (Neb.) State College.
The Cowboys are seeking their first regional rodeo title in several years. UW led the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) throughout the fall season, but the Cowboys were overtaken by Casper College on the final weekend.
The T-Birds scored 2,415 points during the five-rodeo fall season, while the Cowboys notched 2,235 after leading through the first four events. Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington is third in the CRMR standings with 2,080 points.
However, the Cowboys will have to compete this spring knowing that they will be without two of their more consistent scorers -- roper Kade Merritt, who is ineligible for the entire semester, and bulldogger Cameron Trimber, who is recovering from a broken ankle. Trimber should return to the lineup later this semester.
Merritt and team roping partner Clayton Van Aken of Descanso, Calif., both sophomores, were third in the regional standings heading into the spring season. They also were third at last summer's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper. Trimber, from Aledo, Texas, is the region's top steer wrestler.
UW does have a little more consistency in a lineup top-heavy with ropers. Gillette freshman Eric Gewecke, recovered from an injury, will be back in the lineup in saddle bronc riding after competing in just one rodeo last fall. The other roughstock event competitor is Hunter Hoover from Ulysses, Kan., who is ranked fourth in bull riding.
The team will be led by Van Aken, currently leading the all-around competition among all regional cowboys. He also is the regional points leader in tie down roping. Van Aken's new team roping partner will be UW Cowgirl teammate Lydia Coe, a Salinas, Calif., junior. Any points the duo score will count toward both the UW men's and women's overall team standings, which will boost the two squads, says UW Coach George Howard.
Tyler Schnaufer, a Pueblo, Colo. native, currently second in the regional team roping standings, and partner Shay Carroll of Northeastern Junior College (Sterling, Colo.), also will be featured in this weekend's lineup. Freshmen team ropers Brit Ellerman of Fort Lupton, Colo., and Marcus Bannister of Brighton, Colo., will be the third UW partners set to compete at Chadron State.
"It helps us having Eric back in the lineup and also when Cameron returns from his injury," Howard says about trying to catch the regional-leading Casper College men.
The UW Cowgirls ended the fall season trying to find the right combination to fill out its four-member team.
For the season, the Cowgirls were one of the early-season leaders, but slipped to fifth overall in the CRMR standings with 650 points. The four teams ahead of UW are Central Wyoming College with 1,755 points; Northeastern Junior College, 1,268.3; defending regional champion Gillette College has 995; and Laramie County Community College is fourth with 910.
Only the top two men's and women's teams advance to the June 10-16 CNFR in Casper.
UW's Kaycee Nelson from Buffalo, S.D., was tied for the breakaway roping lead at the conclusion of the fall season. She is the only Cowgirl ranked in the top three in the women's events.
In addition to Nelson and Coe, Lander sophomore Heather Bregar and freshman Loni Dowton of Ellis, Idaho, will perform in this weekend's lineup.
UW's Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo is April 27-29, and will take place at the indoor Cliff and Martha Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena.