ALVA, Okla. – The Northwestern Oklahoma State University men’s and women’s rodeo teams have been oh-so close to greatness all season long.
They took another step closer this past weekend at the Oklahoma Panhandle State University’s Doc Gardner Memorial Rodeo, the final event of the 2013-14 Central Plains Region season.
The men scored 600 points to finish second in the rodeo and move up one spot to third in the region standings, while the women placed third inside Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena in Guymon, Okla., and remain second in the regional standings. By virtue of their top-two finish in the season, the Rangers women qualify to the College National Finals Rodeo.
“It was a great way for our team to finish off the year,” said Stephen Culling, the reserve region champion steer wrestler from Fort St. John, British Columbia. “I think there were 19 black-and-red Northwestern vests in the short round.
“I think, overall, we stepped up and finished off strong.”
Culling was one of four Rangers to win titles in Guymon, joining tie-down roper Berk Long of Mutual, Okla.; breakaway roper Liza Ingram of Defuniak Springs, Fla.; and all-around cowgirl Micah Samples of Abilene, Kan., in the winner’s circle.
Culling was the reigning Central Plains champion heading into the season, having won the title a year ago while competing at Western Oklahoma State College. He transferred to Northwestern this season and had hopes of repeating. He leaned on coach Stockton Graves and assistant Cody Woodward, who are standout steer wrestlers – Graves is a seven-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“I came to Alva to be able to bulldog with Stockton and Cody and be around all those great bulldoggers,” Culling said. “When you surround yourself with guys like that, you really give yourself an advantage.”
Though the circuit title went elsewhere this season, Culling is one of five Rangers who qualify for the college finals based on finishing among the top three in their respective events. Heeler Chase Boekhaus of Rolla, Kan., and tie-down roper Trey Young of DuPree, S.D., won regional titles, while Samples finished second in breakaway roping, and Karley Kile of Topeka, Kan., finished third in goat tying.
The Northwestern women will have two more cowgirls in the mix at the college finals – men’s teams are made up of six cowboys, while women’s teams utilize four ladies.
The college finals, which take place June 15-21 in Casper, Wyo., is where the national champions are crowned. Statistics from the season are thrown out, and the cowboys and cowgirls who have the best run during the week in Casper will win the coveted titles.
“This year I’m going to take my own team of horses down there and hopefully be a little sharper than I was last year,” said Culling, who finished seventh in the nation last year. “I just flew down and jumped on a horse I’d never ridden before. I ended up seventh, but I didn’t really have a good week there.”
That wasn’t the case in Guymon, where the Canadian cowboy scored a 5.1-second run to finish second in the long round. He then posted a 4.6 to win the championship round and the average title to close out his junior season.
“I wanted to finish off strong,” he said. “I didn’t ever look at the standings to see how close I was to winning it until I got there.
“I wasted a few chances the first few events this spring. Still, I feel like I’ve been bulldogging pretty good.”
He’ll need to keep that up when he returns to competition in a month and a half. That’s where it matters most.