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It has been a few years since University of Wyoming rodeo Coach George Howard has felt confident that both his women’s and men’s teams could challenge for at least the top two positons in the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR).
With an up-and-coming Cowgirl team that surged late in the fall season, to a balanced Cowboys club that was in contention for the first five rodeos last semester, Howard’s two programs are gearing up for the spring portion of the CRMR schedule.
UW opens the five-event slate this weekend at the Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) rodeo in Torrington. Both UW teams are challenging for the top two spots awarded regional teams, which gives the clubs an automatic bid to this summer’s College National Finals Rodeo in Casper.
The surprise CRMR team has to be the Cowgirls, who are coming off nearly four straight seasons of being out of contention in the team race. UW closed the fall season by winning the Laramie County Community College team title. It was the Cowgirls’ first win since October 2012.
The late fall surge boosted the Cowgirls to third in the region, but the team is not too far off the two leaders. The Cowgirls enter the spring season firmly in contention for at least the runner-up spot, trailing number two team Northeastern Junior College, which has 1,213.33 points, by just 58 points. Gillette College leads the pack with 1,403.33, just 248.3 points ahead of the third-place Cowgirls, who have 1,155 points.
They are doing it without a senior in the lineup.
Selected for the four-member women’s team this weekend are Amelia Anderson, from Forsyth, Mont., competing in all three women’s events and team roping. She currently is second in the region in goat tying.
Pavillion’s Josee Vogel also will compete in three events, plus team roping. She is third in the regional team roping standings; both she and Anderson are nationally ranked.
Cady Halverson, of Douglas, will compete in barrel racing and breakaway roping where she is among the top 10 ropers in the region. Kailee Webb, from Isabel, S.D., is entered in barrel racing and breakaway roping this weekend. She is third in the regional barrel racing standings.
The UW women have been starters on and off for at least three seasons at UW. They have taken their lumps, but the experience has turned them into contenders this season, Howard says.
“Their maturity is coming through for them this season,” Howard says. “In fact, we have some good freshmen this year and a good recruiting class coming in this fall; we’ll be just getting stronger and stronger.”
Even though the UW men enter the spring season in fifth place, Howard says “we’re not that far out of the whole deal.”
Chadron State College heads into the spring season as the overall CRMR leader with 2,280 points. EWC is second with 1,897.5; Casper College has 1,645; Gillette College is fourth with 1,605 points; and the Pokes are in fifth place with 1,505.
“One good rodeo will put them back up there,” he says. “We’ve got a good-balanced team, and I am excited for them to compete.”
Selected for the six-man team this weekend are: Brock Wahlert, Casper, in bareback riding and steer wrestling; Jess Davison, Miles City, Mont., competing in bull riding, tie down and team roping and steer wrestling; Brady Merritt, from Fort Collins, Colo., and his cousin, Reed Merritt, from Windsor, Colo., are team roping partners, and both will compete in tie down roping; Dillon Simonson, from Purdum, Neb., will be in steer wrestling, tie down and team roping; and Jacob Smith, of LaSalle, Colo., will compete in bull riding.
The Cowboys have a pair of contestants in the top two of their respective events. Smith continues to dominate rodeo’s toughest event, bull riding, owning a nearly 300-point lead over his nearest pursuer, and is among the top three nationally. After being the steer wrestling leader for nearly the entire spring season, Simonson enters this weekend as the second best bulldogger, just five points behind the leader.
UW’s home rodeo -- the Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo -- is scheduled April 29-May 1.