CASPER, Wyo. – Stephen Culling and Micah Samples finished the 2014 College National Finals Rodeo on the highest of notes.
The two Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo team members earned at least a share of the championship go-round titles in their respective events. Culling, a junior from Fort St. John, British Columbia, posted a 4.5-second run to win the round in steer wrestling; Samples, a senior from Abilene, Kan., scored a 2.6-second run to finish in a three-way tie in breakaway roping.
They were two of four Rangers who qualified for the final round last week at the CNFR, the year-end championship in college rodeo. They were joined by tie-down roper Trey Young of Dupree, S.D., and goat-tier Lauren Barnes of Buckeye, Ariz.
“I was very proud of everybody who went to the finals,” said Stockton Graves, Northwestern’s rodeo coach. “We had four Northwestern vests in the short round, and three of them placed in the top five in the round. That is, by far, the best we’ve done since I’ve been coach; I’m pretty proud of that.”
For Samples, she produced the winning time on the final run of her college career, which made it even more special.
“I wanted to be quick and put the pressure on the other girls,” said Samples, who finished the rodeo fifth in the four-run aggregate with a total time of 12.3 seconds. “I think I performed well, and I was really happy with my horse.
“It felt good to go out and make my last college rodeo run like that.”
Culling finished strong after starting the week with a question mark. His good steer wrestling horse died from a bout with colic on June 13, just before he was to leave for Casper. He enlisted the assistance of assistant coach Kody Woodward, who provided Culling with a horse on which to compete.
“That was a pretty rough, but that horse Kody brought me was a great horse that’s been there a bunch of times,” said Culling, who finished third in the average race with a four-run cumulative time of 21.8 seconds. “It worked out as good as it could have for how it started.”
He placed fourth in the opening round with a 5.2-second run, then posted a 4.9 in the second round to finish in a tie for seventh. His third-round time of 7.2 was the only hiccup of his week.
“I didn’t do a very good job on my third one, and it cost me,” he said, noting that it may have been the run that cost him a shot at the coveted national championship. “I was happy winning the round to end it off, but I did not go there to finish third; I went there to win it.”
Barnes, a junior, posted a 6.5-second goat-tying run to finish in a tie for third place in the short go-round. That was a solid way to finish her first qualification to the finale.
“I thought it went really well, especially for being my first time,” she said. “I would’ve liked to have been faster in two rounds, but I was happy with my performance.”
That final run was especially nice.
“It sounds kind of goofy, but it almost doesn’t seem real yet,” Barnes said. “I’ve worked so hard and barely missed qualifying, so to do that well is a dream come true for me.”
Young didn’t have the same fortune in his final college run. The South Dakotan qualified for the final round tied for second; he roped his fourth calf, but it did not remain tied for the required six seconds, so he was saddled with a no-time.
“To win the national championship in any of those events, there’s not a whole lot of room for mistakes,” Graves said. “We didn’t make too many. We just had a few things not go our way, but I was real proud of the kids for staying hooked and continuing to fight through it.”