CASPER, Wyo. - A lot of hard work, dedication and love for the sport of rodeo paid off for 11 member of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) during the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR).
The 63rd annual CNFR was held at the Casper Events Center June 10-17 with athletes representing 11 regions of the NIRA competing for national championships, scholarships, saddles, buckles and bragging rights.
Each region hosts 10 rodeos during the school year. From there, individuals and teams work to earn points to qualify for the CNFR. This year champions from schools in Missouri, South Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Colorado and Washington were crowned.
When they arrived in Casper, they had three rounds of competition to look forward to. Then, the twelve contestants with the highest total scores of fastest times advanced to the finals. There were 367 athletes competing in bareback riding, breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, goat tying, team roping and bull riding. Additionally men’s and women’s all-around champions were crowned.
All three of the champions in the scored events were four-time qualifiers for the CNFR. In the bareback riding, it was Tanner Aus from Missouri (Marshall) Valley College who emerged at the top with 315 points. Aus placed in the first two rounds, came back and won the third round and was leading going into the finals. A 76.5 score sealed the deal for him.
Tyrel Larsen from Southwestern (Weatherford) Oklahoma State University came into the final round of saddle bronc riding in third place. Larsen scored 79 points, then watched while the men ahead of him stubbed their toes. Larsen, who lives in Inglis, Manitoba earned the championship with 301 points.
Tag Elliott from Utah Valley University has probably ridden as many bulls at the CNFR as anyone. The first year he qualified, 2007, he rode four bulls and finished as the reserve champion. He qualified twice more and finished in fourth and third place before winning the title this year. He won the first and third rounds and in tough bull riding, lead the field with 167.5 points on two head. As he watched competitors fall, Elliott knew that he was the champion regardless of what happened in the final round. He still gave it a valiant effort, but bucked off at 7.94 seconds.
“I really wanted to ride that last bull,” Elliott said. He qualified for the CNFR his first three years for the College of Southern Idaho at Twin Falls. “I had come so close (to winning) before. This means so much to me and my family.”
The only repeat winner was Liz Combs who has won back-to-back barrel racing titles for Sam Houston State University. Combs, from Eltopia, Wash., has ridden her great horse Boogie around the barrels eight times in the Casper Events Center. Her final round time of 13.91 seconds was the fastest of the whole rodeo and gave her a total time of 57.47 seconds.
The goat tying win was especially rewarding for Lacey Tech from Fairfax, S.D., who is attending Central Wyoming College (CWC). Tech is the first woman from CWC to earn this title since her coach Lynn Smith won it in 1998. She tied her four goats in 26.4 seconds for the title. Tech’s coaches, Lynn and Rick Smith have accepted positions at Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz. Tech helped their women’s team finish in second place behind Texas (Lubbock) Tech University.
Another South Dakotan, Joey Panter from Buffalo won the breakaway roping in 13.0 seconds for Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D. In steer wrestling, it was another Utah Valley University athlete that earned the title. Ben Carson from Orem, Utah had three runs totaling 17.9 seconds. The tie-down roping was won by Chant DeForest from Wheatland, Calif., who competed for Western Oklahoma (Altus) State College. DeForest had a total time of 36.2 seconds on four runs.
Team ropers Tyler Schnaufer and Shay Carroll made the most of their last opportunity to rope together in the college ranks by winning the championship with a total time of 24.9 seconds on three runs. Schnaufer competed for the University of Wyoming at Laramie where he will return next fall. Carroll made his last appearance for Northeastern Junior College at Sterling, Colo. He is transferring to Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, next fall so they will be in different regions.
“We’ve roped together since we were about eight-years-old,” Carroll said. “This was our last opportunity here. I guess it was a perfect ending to the story.”
The men’s team championship went to Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College for the second time in four years. Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, who won the title finished in second.
Helping Walla Walla Community College win the men’s team title was Bryce Palmer who earned the men’s all-around title competing in tie-down and team roping. Freshman Haden Segelke won the women’s title earning points in barrel racing and goat tying.
Plans are already underway for the 2013 CNFR which will be held 8-15 at the Casper Events Center.