ALVA, Okla. – Micah Samples has one last chance to claim the most coveted prize in college rodeo.
As she prepares for the 2014 College National Finals Rodeo, the Northwestern Oklahoma State University senior has hervision pointedly set on returning to the Plains with the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s national title.
“It means a lot to make it myself,” said Samples, of Abilene, Kan., who will compete in breakaway roping after finishing the 2013-14 Central Plains Region season No. 2 in the standings. “It’s great to make it as an individual and not have to depend on the team to make it to the finals.”
The top three individuals in each event and the top two teams in the region earn the right to compete at the College National Finals Rodeo, set for June 15-21 in Casper, Wyo. Goat-tier Karley Kile of Topeka, Kan., joins Samples as individual qualifiers; Kile finished third in her event.
“It’s always great to see the team to be able to be part of that,” Samples said. “It’s great to have more girls go.”
The Northwestern women ended the region season second in the standings, so the Rangers will take two additional players to fill the team: Kesley Pontius, a breakaway roper from Watsontown, Pa., and Lauren Barnes, a goat-tier from Buckeye, Ariz., will make up the full roster in Casper.
“I feel like it’s very important to take as many kids to the finals as you can,” said Stockton Graves, Northwestern’s rodeo coach. “That’s what our goal was at the beginning of the year. The more girls you can take, the better it increases your chances just to finish with more points.”
Points are vital. The team with the most points at the conclusion of the seven-day finale will win the national title. Individuals earn the championship by finishing with the best cumulative time or score.
“Just with my past experiences, I think you have a better chance of doing well if you go in there with confidence in my roping and be able to score good,” Samples said, referring to the start of a run. “The key is to not let the pressure build up. The key is to get three caught and get back to the short round.”
Contestants compete in three go-rounds, and the top times qualify for the finale. That’s where dreams and hard work are realized.
“I’ve been practicing on as many horses as I can rope on,” she said. “I’m trying to just have good, solid practices, working on scoring sharp and roping sharp.”
It is important to be at the top of one’s game when it’s time to compete in Casper. The pressure to excel inside the Casper Events Center is great, but so are the qualifiers. For Samples, she will lean on a veteran partner in Lucky, a 16-year-old sorrel gelding.
“I’ve had him since he was a yearling,” she said. “We trained him, and I’ve roped on him forever. I took him to high school rodeos and did everything myself. He’s awesome. He gives you the same run every time.
“In the past, I’ve always taken two horses out there and switched back and forth. Now I’m going to stay on my most solid horse. I figure by taking one horse, I won’t have to fight my head about how I’m doing.”
While the women’s team will be fully loaded in Casper, the Northwestern men will feature four cowboys instead of a full team of six. Still, the four Rangers are pretty salty, led by region champions Trey Young, a tie-down roper from Dupree, S.D., and Chase Boekhaus, a heeler from Rolla, Kan. They’ll be joined by steer wrestler Stephen Culling, the regional runner-up from Fort St. John, British Columbia, and Parker Warner, a header from Jay, Okla.
“I thought we would’ve done a little better this season,” Graves said. “We had a lull there right in the middle of the spring. We did good at Manhattan to start the spring, but we got a little distracted. It’s a weekly battle with young men and women to keep their minds on their goals.
“The men finished third in the region, and I feel like we could’ve finished second easy.”
Warner finished fourth in the region in heading, which allows him the opportunity to rope with heeler Shelbie Weeder of Panhandle State; she is the student representative for the Central Plains and is an automatic qualifier, and that pushed Warner into the mix. With four cowboys and a team full of cowgirls, Graves likes the Rangers’ chances.
“I really feel good about everybody we’re sending,” Graves said. “I feel like it’s very possible for us to come away with the titles. We should do good. Everybody has high hopes. Everything starts over at the college finals.
“This is our ultimate goal. Now we reset and go win a college national championship. I think they’re all on that same page.”