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Published December 17, 2020
The University of Wyoming meats judging team placed within the top five of all but two contests this season despite setbacks from COVID-19.
The honors included winning the American Royal contest, held virtually this year.
UW team members were Grace Corrette, of Brighton, Colo.; Hunter Valasek, of Savannah, Mo.; Abby Vogl, of Elizabeth, Colo.; and Sam Wolf, of Biggsville, Ill.
Practices this past spring looked different from traditional sessions, says Coach Sierra Jepsen, an assistant lecturer in the UW Department of Animal Science. Instead of meeting at the meat lab at 5 a.m. during the week, and the traditional six-hour-long Saturday practice, the team met via Zoom for virtual practices.
Jepsen says the team missed some of the traditional team-building components, such as traveling together in the van for contests, team dinners and other team-building activities. But the group still was grateful to have some normalcy and consistency that meat judging provided.
“It was something normal for them to base their semester around,” Jepsen says. “When the rest of the semester was turned on its head, our practices, our team unit and competing were all very consistent for them. They knew what they were getting, they knew what to expect, and it gave them something positive for a semester that was very nontraditional and challenging.”
The team attended four contests in person during the spring, including the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo.; Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas; the Iowa State Invitational in Ames; and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in Texas. The team finished the season with three virtual contests during the fall, including the virtual South Plains, virtual American Royal and virtual High Plains contests.
“This has been one of the most resilient meat judging teams we’ve had in recent history,” Jepsen says. “They were extremely competitive in the spring, and then they had to continue on with that success in an untraditional way.”
At the National Western Stock Show, the team placed seventh overall; fifth in pork judging; sixth in reasons and sixth in specifications. Valasek was 12th overall, 12th overall in beef, 13th in total placing, 13th in beef judging, 14th in beef grading and 15th in reasons. Corrette was first in pork judging, ninth in reasons and 10th in specifications.
At the Southwestern, the team placed fifth overall, and placed fifth in beef grading, pork judging, beef judging, reasons and total beef judging. Corrette was seventh overall, third in pork judging, seventh in reasons, ninth in lamb judging, 10th in specifications and 11th in placings. Vogl was 13th in pork judging.
Overall, the team placed fifth, first in processed meats, first in placings, second in pork judging and fourth in reasons at the Iowa State Invitational, with Vogl taking first in pork judging, third in total placings and fourth in processed meats.
The team rounded out the spring semester at the Houston Shock Show, placing fourth in pork judging and fifth in beef grading. Corrette was fourth overall, third in total placings, fifth in pork judging, seventh in beef grading, eighth in total beef and 15th in specifications.
Of the fall schedule, Jepsen says the team improved greatly despite the challenges of going virtual.
At the virtual South Plains, the team was third overall and first in placings. Valasek was fourth overall, first in placings with a perfect score, sixth in reasons, highest quality grade score and highest set written in the entire contest for beef carcass. Vogl was fifth overall, first in specifications and fourth in reasons. Corrette was third in reasons, fourth in specifications and highest set written in the contest for pork loins.
During the virtual American Royal, the team placed first overall, first in beef grading, first in reasons and first in specifications. Corrette was high individual, first in reasons, first in specifications, fifth in placings and had the highest set written in beef carcass, beef ribs and pork loins. Valasek was second overall, first in placings, third in beef grading, third in reasons and third in specifications. Vogl was ninth overall, second in specifications and fourth in reasons.
“This was the first time, as a coach, that I had a team win a contest,” Jepsen says.
At the final contest of the season, the virtual High Plains, the team finished second overall, second in specifications, second in reasons and third in beef grading. Corrette was high individual, first in specifications, second in reasons, seventh in beef grading and made the All-American Team. Valasek was third overall, first in placings, second in specification, third in reasons and highest set written for beef carcass and hams. Wolf finished fifth in beef grading, and Vogl received the Rachel Hamilton Spirit Award.
“I was wildly impressed with their work ethic and their continuous desire to keep improving,” Jepsen says. “This has been one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. They were always positive, always having fun and always willing to work hard.”