ALVA, Okla. – Much has happened in Dustin Searcy’s freshman year at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
From move-in day to his first lecture to his first National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association event in Colby, Kan., Searcy’s life has been dramatically different than a year ago when he was a senior at Mooreland (Okla.) High School. But one thing has remained constant: He’s still one heck of a roper.
Searcy proved it over the course of the 10-event Central Plains Region season, dominating the competition to win the circuit’s championship.
“Winning the region means a lot to me,” said Searcy, whose 755 points was 350 points better than the runner-up Rhyder Nelson of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. “I never really thought about coming in as a freshman and winning the region. My goal was to qualify for the college finals, but to win the region is kind of a dream come true.”
Searcy is also one of six Rangers to earn trips to the College National Finals Rodeo, set for June in Casper, Wyo. He will be joined by Kyle Irwin of Robertsdale, Ala., who won the region’s steer wrestling crown; heeler Tanner Braden of Dewey, Okla.; header Collin Domer of Topeka, Kan.; tie-down roper Will Howell of Stillwater, Okla.; and saddle bronc rider Cody Burkholder of Clarksville, Iowa.
“I’m tickled that we got six kids to the college finals,” said Stockton Graves, in his first semester as coach of his alma mater. “We saw a lot of the kids really grow up over the course of this spring. It’s been fun to watch.”
So was the final round of the season during the championship round of the Doc Gardner Memorial Rodeo presented by Oklahoma Panhandle State University. With a strong first-round run at Hitch Arena in Guymon, Okla., Irwin put himself into a tie for the regional lead with Levi Rudd of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
“Kyle won the long round and Levi was third, so that tied them heading to the short round,” Graves said. “That meant whoever had the fastest run on the last steer was going to win the title.
“Kyle made a good run, and Levi made a good run, too, but Kyle was just a little bit faster. That was a good, little old race.”
And it helped Irwin accomplish one of the goals the senior had set out for himself in his final year of eligibility for the Northwestern men’s rodeo team.
“It’s a great accomplishment, especially for my senior year,” Irwin said. “I won the region my sophomore year, then I finished third last year. My goal was to finish my senior year strong and win the region again. I’m very pleased with myself.”
Now there’s just one more goal he has in place, and that means winning next month in Wyoming.
“Last year I ended up second at the college finals by a 10th of a second,” he said. “The kid that beat me last year is a good friend of mine. But this year I’d like to win it by more than a 10th of a second. This year I’d like to make a statement and dominate the bulldogging at the college finals.”
Searcy would like to make that kind of statement, too.
“I think the key to winning the region was just consistency and trying to rope the steer for what he is every time,” said Searcy, sounding much wiser than his age might seem to allow. “You just don’t beat yourself.”
Both the Northwestern men and women finished fourth in their respective team races. Throw in the potential of the younger cowboys and cowgirls who make up the strong roster, and there’s plenty of reason behind the excitement for the Rangers.
“I’m a senior and I’ve experienced a lot, but I look at what we’ve got coming up, and I think this could be a good team for a long time,” Irwin said. “We finished fourth in the region, and they all saw what it takes to win. It’s just getting over that little bit of an edge.
“Stockton ahs some young talent that I feel will make a difference in the way this team does. It was really neat to work with them this year and see then grow.”
Graves said he enjoyed watching the young women’s team progress through the season but would’ve liked to have seen one of the girls qualify for the college finals.
“I thought our girls matured a lot, and the freshmen did really well,” Graves said. “Karly Kile won second in goat tying in Guymon, and Karly Benzie came on strong at the end. We finished well, and I really would’ve liked to have seen Lauren Barnes make it to the college finals.
“I think doing as well as she did will make her gung-ho for next year.”
Searcy is one of several Rangers who has his mind set on the future, but he’s done quite well handling each task as it presents itself. Does he feel any pressure to continue the winning trend?
“I don’t really look at it as pressure but more as an opportunity to win the region four times in a row,” Searcy said. “I feel like you set your goals high, you can always achieve them. There’s no turning back now. You might as well go out and win everything from now on.”