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After 30 years as a rodeo coach -- 15 as the head man for the University of Wyoming -- George Howard’s ultimate goal remains the same today: Win a national championship.
During his tenure, Howard’s UW women’s teams have won the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) title twice, in 2007 and 2009. His 2003 men’s team came the closest to taking the championship, finishing second.
His Cowboys and Cowgirls teams have consistently finished among the top 10 in their respective divisions, while also placing high in the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) each year.
Howard’s 30-year career includes seven national team titles with Dodge City Community College and Southwest Oklahoma State University where he served as assistant coach, and the two championships with UW.
He has helped coach 16 individual national champions and 23 runners-up, and his teams have finished the year in the top 10 nationally in all but five years of his 30-year career.
But one title that has eluded him, while at UW, is a men’s team championship. The last two years his Cowboys have sent just a partial team to the CNFR, but have come away with third- and fifth-place finishes, respectively.
Ten years ago, Howard’s men’s team came close, but in a long line of successful UW rodeo coaches, none have managed to capture the CNFR title since 1961.
That all could change this coming season. Howard feels he has the horses in place to complete a successful season, culminating at the CNFR next June at the Casper Events Center. The Cowboys and Cowgirls begin the fall season this weekend at Central Wyoming College in Riverton.
He returns the national team roping champion in Tyler Schnaufer, a Pueblo, Colo., senior, who will partner with another outstanding roper, UW teammate Clayton Van Aken, a junior from Descanso, Calif. With a different partner, Van Aken placed third in the nation two seasons ago, and placed third in last year’s CNFR tie down roping competition. Schnaufer is the header, while Van Aken will be his heeler partner.
“They’re both roping just as good as last year or even better,” Howard says. “I don’t expect them to win every rodeo this year, but they’ll be right up there.”
Also returning is Fort Lupton, Colo., sophomore Brit Ellerman, a former national high school team roping champion, who was fifth in the region last season.
Two transfers will give the Cowboys much-needed depth on the roughtstock side of the arena.
Former CRMR bareback champion Justin Moldaschel of Stanton, Minn., is a transfer from reigning regional champion Casper College. Another community college transfer, Eastern Wyoming College’s Wyatt Clark, from Wellfleet, Neb., was among the region’s top 10 saddle bronc riders and top 15 tie down ropers last season.
And returning is bull rider Hunter Hoover, from Manter, Kan., who placed ninth in the competition last season as a freshman.
“With this lineup, I feel we can contend just a little bit more at the CNFR,” Howard says. “Now, we’ve just got to keep everybody healthy.”
The UW women’s team has struggled the past two seasons with a young team, but now a trio of veterans is ready to lead a resurgence, Howard says.
Heading the list are former CRMR breakaway roping champion Kaycee Nelson, a senior from Buffalo, S.D., and senior Lydia Coe, Salinas, Calif., who was the regional runner-up in the same event last season. She was the only Cowgirl to qualify for last season’s CNFR.
Nelson will compete in all three women’s events, while Coe will be in breakaway and team roping, plus goat tying.
Ellis, Idaho, freshman Loni Dowton was among the four-member Cowgirl team on and off last season, and will be entered in all three women’s events.
The fourth member of this week’s women’s team will be freshman Chandler Markel from Scottsbluff, Neb. Her specialty is barrel racing, but she also will compete in goat tying.