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The University of Wyoming men's team opened the rodeo season last September with an impressive school record 770-point performance. That came on the heels of a third-place finish at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) just three months earlier.
But things have not gone well for the Cowboys since the start of the spring season. Injuries and ineligibility issues have plagued UW. The promising start and the hope of winning the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) and a repeat performance at this summer's CNFR now depend upon what will happen this weekend.
The Cowboys desperately need another 700-point rodeo in the season finale at this weekend's annual Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo at the Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena.
Slack competition begins Friday at noon, followed by the first of four public performances that day at 7 p.m. Performances are scheduled Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the short go round begins at 1 p.m. Sunday. Cost for each performance is $5 per person.
The UW men are third overall in the regional standings, facing a 341-point deficit for second place behind Gillette College. Casper College, which took control of the region in the final fall rodeo, leads the overall standings with 4,020 points, followed by the Pronghorns and Cowboys.
What makes the home rodeo so important for the UW men is the fact that just the top two teams advance to the June CNFR.
"It comes down to rolling the dice this weekend," UW Coach George Howard says. "We started the season with 700 points; we need another 700-point finish this weekend to take care of things."
UW needs that strong finish to send its six-man team to the year-end rodeo because only a handful of Cowboys will get the chance to compete if the team fails to get into the top two. Only the top three individuals in each event gain automatic qualifying bids to the CNFR.
The way it stands now, team ropers Tyler Schnaufer, a junior from Pueblo, Colo., and sophomore Clayton Van Aken from Descanso, Calif., would be UW's only CNFR qualifiers. Van Aken is in a tight race for the tie down roping title, and Schnaufer and partner Shay Carroll of Northeastern Junior College hold a comfortable lead in the team roping competition.
Strong performances this weekend from others on the team could boost them in the overall individual standings.
The UW women have struggled for most of the season, finding themselves in fifth place in the CRMR standings. The Central Wyoming College women will win the region, having scored 2,905 team points going into the final rodeo. Chadron State College holds a slim 90-point lead over Northeastern Junior College for second place. The Cowgirls have 1,158 points on the season.
Two UW breakaway ropers have the chance to qualify for the CNFR. Lydia Coe, a junior from Salinas, Calif., is second in the region, while teammate Kaycee Nelson of Buffalo, S.D., the defending regional champion, is fourth.
Last weekend, the UW men were fourth and the women fifth at Casper College's Ropin' and Riggin' Days Rodeo.
A pair of UW roping teams led the way for the Cowboys. Brit Ellerman from Fort Lupton, Colo., and partner Marcus Banister from Brighton, Colo., both freshmen, split second in the competition, and Schnaufer and Carroll were fourth in the average.
Schnaufer also picked up fourth-place points in tie down roping and Gillette freshman Eric Gewecke was fourth in saddle bronc riding.
The Cowgirls' best finish came from Nelson, who was fifth in the goat tying average.
For complete team standings and individual results from Casper College's rodeo, click here.