CASPER, Wyo. – Sometimes the stars align in just the right places and the unexpected happens.
Since the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) started having the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) and recognizing college teams for excellence in 1949, only four teams from the West Coast Region have won the Men’s Team Championship. Three of those were won by Cal Poly State University and the last time they won it was 43 years ago in 1973.
This year, it was an upstart team from a little known junior college in Quincy, Calif., that changed that. With Jesse Segura, the 2003 college all-around champion and former NIRA student president at the helm, the Feather River College (FRC) men’s team not only won the championship, they dominated throughout the competition June 12 – 18 at the Casper (Wyo.) Events Center. Segura started the rodeo program at FRC 11 years ago.
In college rodeo, points are awarded for how contestants finish in the rounds and average. Those points then accumulate for all-around and team titles. Both men’s and women’s team titles are up for grabs. The men’s team is made up of up six members and women’s team is up to four.
Members of the FRC men’s team included Wyatt Denny who won the bareback riding at the CNFR and Clayton Biglow who finished as the reserve champion. Biglow was also the reserve champion all=around after placing in the second round of team roping with partner Lane Santos-Karney.
Santos – Karney finished fourth in the all-around race earning points in the tie-down roping as well as team roping. Other team members were Ryan Opie, Dane Browning and Quincy Crum. Opie qualified in team roping, Browning in steer wrestling and Crum in saddle bronc riding.
At the end of the competition, these six men had racked up 1,000 points for FRC, beating Northwestern Oklahoma State by 200 points. An amazing feat to go to the CNFR, beat all the other teams and bring the trophy home for a program that has only been in existence for 11 years.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Segura said. “Not just for what they’ve accomplished in the arena but for the kind of people they are. They have a great work ethic and care about other people. And, they are all very competitive.”
The women’s team title went to Blue Mountain Community College, largely because of the success of Danyelle Williams who won the women’s all-around championship as well. Williams is a sophomore who made her second CNFR appearance. She finished as the reserve champion barrel racer and also got points in the breakaway roping. Other women’s team members were Jessica Lewis and Emiliy Sorey who competed in the barrel racing and goat tier Lauren Leyva.
Marcus Theriot from East Mississippi community College entered his first CNFR expecting to win, and he had plenty of opportunity qualifying in all three timed-events. He made the most of his opportunities earning points in all three events to earn his first college all-around title. He finished the race with 510 points. Clayton Biglow from FRC was second with 390.
Theriot is the son of the 1994 PRCA world champion tie-down roper Herbert Theriot, so it’s not surprising that he won the tie-down roping title in Casper as well. He finished fifth overall in the team roping heading for Lane Mitchell from the University of Tennessee at Martin.
He also won the second round of steer wrestling. He earned the Rookie of the Year award in all three events and got over $6,000 in scholarships. He also put East Mississippi Community College on the map. The college is located at Scooba, a town boasting a population of just over 700 that is nearly on the Alabama line.
“Our whole school and community were so excited,” said Morgan Gully-Goodrich, Theriot’s coach. “We got congratulations from all over the country and from people who have probably never thrown a rope.”
Lots of practice throwing a rope paid off for team ropers Cole Wheeler from Weatherford College and Wesley Thorp from Ranger College. With Wheeler heading and Thorp heeling, they had a total time of 24.4 seconds to win the championship by over two seconds.
They started the CNFR off by winning the first round with a 5.1. Wheeler’s horse wasn’t working exactly how he wanted and the second round saw a 6.6 and a fifth-place finish. They came back to win second in the third round with another 5.1. As the high-call back team in the short round had plenty of time to make a clean run and did that with a 7.6.
The barrel racing title went to a veteran, of the CNFR, of barrel racing and of rodeo. This was Kristi Steffes’ fourth qualification. She competed her first three years for Gillette College, transferred to Black Hills State University and is taking the title home to South Dakota.
Her older sister Nikki Steffes – Hansen won the all-around title in Casper in 2007 and 2009 and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in barrel racing in 2012. She was on hand to see her younger sister take the crown.
Kristi Steffes placed second in the first, third and final rounds. She had times of 14.10, 14.16, 13.98 and 13.85 respectively. Her total of 56.09 was less than two-tenths of a second ahead of Danyelle Williams who finished second with 56.24.
The goat-tying also went to a four-time CNFR qualifier, Shelby Winchell who is a graduate student at Chadron State College in Nebraska. She started her college rodeo career at Eastern Wyoming College. As a two-time reserve champion (2012 and 2014) she had been so close before.
This year, she won the title by seven-tenths of a second with a total time of 25.0 seconds. K.L. Spratt, who grew up in Wyoming but is going to school at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, finished second with 25.7.
Other champions at this year’s CNFR were J.D. Struxness from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in steer wrestling, Kirbie Crouse from Missouri Valley College in breakaway roping and Wyatt Casper from Clarendon College in saddle bronc riding.
---By Susan Kanode for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association