CASPER, Wyo. – The score sheet doesn’t say much about what Tanner Braden did for the Northwestern Oklahoma State University men’s rodeo team during the College National Finals Rodeo.
Braden, a senior heeler from Dewey, Okla., failed to record a qualified time in the opening two go-rounds of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s championship event; he and his header, Bacone College’s Clay Pianalto, were able to post a 9.6-second run on their third and final steer of the week-long competition.
But what Braden told fellow Ranger Collin Domer made a big difference.
“We’d roped our first steer and were a little long,” said Domer, a senior from Topeka, Kan., who roped with Cody Carlin of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M; the two posted a 9.2-second opening-round run, whereas runs of 5.6 seconds shared the round victory. “I was kind of hanging my head a little bit, and Tanner was there as we were coming out of the arena. He really got me to thinking better about it. He said, ‘They bring teams back here (to the short round) on two head. Get two more down, and you’ll be alright.’
“For him to tell me that, it meant something to me. It meant he knew we could do it, and he had faith in us that we could do it.”
That made all the difference in the world for Domer, one of six Northwestern cowboys to make it to the big show. He was the only member of the men’s team to do so non-traditionally. You see, Domer earned an automatic qualification to the college finals by serving as the student representative for the Central Plains Region.
The other five – heelers Braden and Dustin Searcy, a freshman from Mooreland, Okla; tie-down roper Will Howell of Stillwater, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Cody Burkholder of Clarksville, Iowa; and steer wrestler Kyle Irwin of Robertsdale, Ala. – qualified by finishing in the top three in the region, made up of college teams primarily in Oklahoma and Kansas.
“I was a long shot; I’ll admit it,” Domer said. “I wasn’t the one going in that everybody was watching. Will Howell made an awesome run on his third calf, but he missed his second calf. It’s just one of those deals, and it’s bound to happen; you just don’t know when or where.
“We went in with a pretty big goal. Kyle Irwin won second this year, and he wanted to win the title this year. As a team overall, it wasn’t bad luck; it just wasn’t good luck. Everybody had a chance.”
Irwin’s hiccup came in the opening round, where he settled for an overall time of 14.9 seconds.
“We had a lot of bad breaks,” said Stockton Graves, who just wrapped his first semester as Northwestern’s rodeo coach. “Kyle’s steer jumped up, hit his head on the chute, and that slowed him down to the point where Kyle broke the barrier. That’s rodeo. It’s part of it. The good comes with the bad.”
In timed events, calves and steers are given a head start. A barrier string ensures that head start, and if a cowboy breaks the barrier, then he is penalized. That 10-second runoff took Irwin out of contention for the national title.
“It’s too bad, but it’s one of those deals,” said Graves, a seven-time steer wrestling qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo who won the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, Neb., last week. “I think everybody kind of got over that. Right there at the end, we finished strong.”
Domer continued to rope consistently, and Braden posted a qualified run. Irwin scored 3.7-second run to finish runner-up in the third go-round, and Howell won the third round of calf roping with 7.5-second run, the fastest of 147 runs that took place during the seven days of competition.
“I think the key for me was consistency,” Domer said. “Since I’ve been little, it’s always been preached to me to just catch all your cattle. You can’t determine how anybody else is going to rope.
“I felt like I could’ve been quicker in some of the things I was doing. I couldn’t get in too much of a hurry; I just had to relax and catch. I didn’t think we’d be anywhere near the top 12, but that was a tough pen of steers. We had to fight to get three down. The best steer we drew was in the short round; he wasn’t the best steer, but he was the best we had in the four steers we drew.”
Domer will return for a fifth year of eligibility. As an NIRA student representative, his two weeks in Casper were more about business than most of the contestants in the field. That’s OK with the Topeka cowboy, though; he was elected student president, and he’s already earned the automatic qualification to the 2013 CNFR, so it’s all about taking care of business for the next season.
“Everybody at Alva has the ability, and it’s just getting them to take the next step in being more aggressive,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this next year with everything that’s going on. It’s going to be awesome.”
Graves sees a bright future for both the men’s and women’s teams.
“I think all the kids that went this year got exposed to the rest of the college world,” Graves said, “and they saw how things were and that they dang sure can compete at that level. I think they all did good. The younger kids that are very talented … I think that’ll help them next year when they make it.”