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Published June 07, 2022
In 1961, John F. Kennedy’s presidency had just begun; Western classics “Gunsmoke” and “The Guns of Navarone” dominated black and white televisions and movie box offices nationally; and gas was just 31 cents per gallon.
That year also is the last and only time the University of Wyoming men’s rodeo team won a collegiate national title. Now, decades later, the UW Cowboys will attempt to end the 61-year championship drought when the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) begins its seven-day run Sunday, June 12, at Casper’s Ford Wyoming Center.
The UW men are coming off a dominant season, winning nine of 10 Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) rodeos while accumulating a school-record 8,350 points, second nationally only to Missouri Valley College’s (Marshall, Mo.) 9,065 points.
Both the Cowboys and Cowgirls will send full six- and four-member teams, respectively, to the CNFR; both repeated as CRMR team champions for the fourth consecutive season. Just the top two men’s and women’s teams, and the top three individuals in each event, earn automatic bids to college rodeo’s main event.
“I am confident we have one of the better teams going to the CNFR. The men are capable of winning it, and I’m optimistic we have a good chance,” says UW Coach Beau Clark, who has won regional titles in each of his four years leading the program. “There are some really good teams going to the CNFR, and it won’t be easy for anyone to win the men’s national championship. In rodeo, you need a lot of try, talent and a little bit of luck. Hopefully, the ball bounces our way next week.”
Experience is what will guide how the Cowboys do at the CNFR. Five of the six team members have finals rodeo experience -- Chadron Coffield, of Yuma, Colo., in tie down roping; Austin Hurlburt, from Norfolk, Neb., in steer wrestling; Cameron Jensen, of Hyannis, Neb., in steer wrestling; Kemmerer’s Donny Proffit in bareback riding; and Garrett Uptain, from Craig, Colo., in both saddle bronc and bull riding.
This will be the first CNFR experience for Brice Patterson, from Bozeman, Mont. He will compete both in bareback riding and steer wrestling.
Clark says this is the most balanced UW men’s team he has had, with three roughstock and three timed event qualifiers.
“I think their maturity, experience and competitive nature are what really help them succeed. They compete with each other all the time in practice, and that has pushed them to where they are,” Clark says. “Also, they are a tight group, and they want to succeed and see each other succeed. Rodeo is individual, but it helps to be surrounded by great people who are pulling for you. We are hoping that their experience will be a benefit to their success at the CNFR.”
Uptain is the national points leader in saddle bronc riding heading into the CNFR, while Patterson is the No. 2-ranked bareback rider. Patterson accumulated the third-most all-around points nationally, while Uptain was fourth. Proffit put up enough points in bareback riding to rank fourth nationally. As a team, the Cowboys have eight scoring opportunities in the six men’s events at the CNFR -- that opens the door for the team to score points.
“It would be great to win it. I would be most happy for the boys; they are deserving because of the effort they put into college rodeo,” Clark says. “And I would be happy for all of the people who support UW rodeo. We have a great support group that rallies behind the team; it would be awesome for them as well.”
As for the UW women, the Cowgirls rebounded in the second half of the season to come back from third place at the halfway point. They needed to win the final home rodeo to win their fourth straight regional title.
The Cowgirls did not have any CRMR event champions but used an experienced, balanced group to have another successful season. However, the four-member team all will compete in just one event at the CNFR -- goat tying. The four Cowgirl qualifiers are Riata Day, of Fleming, Colo.; Taylour Latham, from Lapoint, Utah; Faith Hoffman, of Kiowa, Colo.; and Kelsey Lensegrav, from Interior, S.D.
“The bonus for us is that all of them are going in an event that they are really good at -- goat tying is their best event,” Clark says. “It’s maybe the most exciting women’s event to watch at the college finals because of how athletic the girls are who make the CNFR.”
All four women have CNFR experience and, at one time, all have won individual event regional titles, either at UW or from other programs from which they transferred after two years. Clark says it was a tough decision to select the four-member CNFR team.
“When (assistant coach) Casey Reimler-Sellers and I talked about the women’s team, it was so close that we took everything into account -- grades, work ethic, leadership, commitment to the CNFR and experience,” Clark says. “We are excited about the team we are taking and what they are capable of when they get there. It should be fun watching them compete. All of them are capable of winning rounds and making the short round.”
Two sessions of “Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway” open the CNFR at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, June 12, followed by slack at 7 a.m. Monday and Tuesday. The Tuesday, June 14, session at 7 p.m. begins the first of five nightly performances. The short go, featuring the top 12 individuals in both the men’s and women’s events, is at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 18.