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Published June 06, 2018
Only two qualifiers for each of the University of Wyoming rodeo teams for next week’s College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR)?
Even though both the Cowboys and Cowgirls did not qualify full six- and four-member teams for the CNFR June 10-16 at the Casper Events Center, that doesn’t mean that the two clubs can’t compete for national titles. The UW women proved that last year.
The Cowgirls had just two team members score points throughout the week to pull off a national runner-up finish, basically coming out of nowhere. So, it can be done, and the way to do it is that individuals must win or place high enough to score points in each of the three qualifying rounds.
If that happens, individuals can then score additional points in Saturday’s championship round. That’s how UW’s two Cowgirls did it last season.
“It can be done. Our teams sure have a shot at doing it, but we’ll just see how it goes,” UW interim Coach Lydia Coe says.
The Pokes and Cowgirls will learn their fate by Tuesday if they qualify for Saturday’s short go after the completion of two slack rounds, which count as the first of three qualifying rounds.
Action begins Sunday, June 10, with two rounds of “Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway” just for all roughstock contestants and breakaway ropers. The matinee performance begins at 1 p.m., followed by the evening session at 4 p.m.
The first two rounds of slack begin Monday, June 11, at 7 a.m. and continue the next day. The first of four nightly performances begins Tuesday, June 12, at 7 p.m.; and the short go is Saturday, June 16, also at 7 p.m.
The two Cowboy qualifiers are team roper Denton Shaw, a junior from Lusk, and senior bull rider Jacob Smith, from LaSalle, Colo. The Cowgirls will be represented by Cheyenne sophomore Justene Hirsig, in team roping, and freshman barrel racer Kelsey Lensegrav, from Interior, S.D.
Smith will compete in Sunday’s “Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway” evening performance and also in Monday’s slack. He completes his three rounds Wednesday night. The remaining three UW team members all will be in two rounds of slack. Hirsig/Shaw wrap up during Wednesday’s performance, while Lensegrav’s third-round run is during Thursday’s evening performance.
Hirsig is in rare territory as a female team roper. She is the only female roper from the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) to qualify for the CNFR. A handful of females will team up with male counterparts at next week’s CNFR.
Hirsig, the header, and Denton, the heeler, had a strong second half of the season to place third in the region. The top three individuals in each event earn automatic CNFR bids.
The two were successful as roping partners in high school, giving them valuable experience in their CNFR debuts.
“They have jackpotted together a lot and are a tough team,” Coe says. “I remember them roping in high school. Justene is mentally tough, and Denton is a catcher and gamer.”
Any points the pair score throughout the competition will go to their respective men’s and women’s total team output.
Smith returns for his second CNFR after qualifying as a sophomore. As was the case two years ago, the LaSalle rider won the regional bull riding title.
“It makes a huge difference having qualified for the CNFR once before,” says Coe, who competed for the Cowgirls and qualified herself twice for collegiate rodeo’s biggest event. “The first time you go in just taking it all in. Being there the second time, you know what to expect and know how to prepare mentally in order to succeed.”
Smith started the season slowly and cranked it up in the spring semester to steadily pull away from the CRMR competition and win the bull riding title.
“He’s a disciplined rider, and it shows,” Coe says.
Even though she only is a freshman, Lensegrav has the makeup of a veteran competitor, Coe says. Perhaps that’s because her father, Ken, was a nationally ranked bareback rider during his collegiate days.
Lensegrav was steady all season and finished as the second-best barrel racer in the CRMR.
“Kelsey has proven throughout the season that she’s mentally tough for only being a freshman,” Coe says. “Most freshmen are nervous when first competing at this level, but you wouldn’t think Kelsey is a freshman because she acts like she has been there, done that before.”
The Cowgirls finished third as a team in the final CRMR standings and the Pokes seventh this past season.