ALVA, Okla. – Championship-caliber teams know overcoming adversity is a big part of winning titles.
The Northwestern Oklahoma State University women’s team moved one step closer to claiming the Central Plains Region championship this past weekend by overcoming poor conditions forced through heavy rains that splattered Doug Phillips Arena at Fort Hays (Kan.) State University.
“Southwestern was really close to us for the girls team, so it was really good to pick up some points and extend the lead on them,” said Tearnee Nelson, who was the guiding force behind the Rangers women’s team title in Hays. “It’s really nice to stay in that No. 1 spot.”
What makes the Northwestern women such a standout team in a tough region?
“I’d say it’s our competitiveness,” said Nelson of Faith, S.D. “Everybody wants to win, and we have a lot of talent on the team. Stockton could put eight combinations together to make up the (four-person) team, and I think we’d all be huge contributors to it.”
The water poured over the western Kansas community of 21,000 Saturday, making for a wet and muddy mess for the final two performances of the rodeo – including Sunday’s championship go-round.
“When I was up in everything on Saturday morning, it wasn’t near as bad as it was Saturday night and Sunday,” she said. “The ground was still slick, but the horses held up.”
Then came the heavy stuff. By the time the final round was to begin, the arena dirt was more like a mud pit.
“I was told to go play in the mud,” said Nelson, who sloshed through her goat-tying run in 12.1 seconds to finish second in the short-round and second in the two-run aggregate; she also teamed with younger brother Wylee to gather a time and secure points in both the championship round and average in team roping.
“It was fun. I didn’t want to hurt my horses in the mud, but they held up. I just went out and made my run the best I could. It was either going to be good or good watching.”
While her 12.1-second run in goat-tying was slower than she would’ve liked, it ended up being solid. She and Wylee then posted a 23.6-second team-roping run – they were just one of three teams to score a time in the short round.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to do anything (in goat-tying) in the short round,” she said. “I was kind of upset, but I had to get on my horse for team roping.”
The brother-sister team worked through the adverse conditions and made it work. They finished second in the final round and third in the aggregate. In all, Tearnee Nelson accumulated 190 of the Northwestern women’s 350 points.
“We maxed out in penalties – I broke the barrier, and Wylee caught a leg,” she said, pointing to the 10-second barrier penalty and the 5-second penalty for not capturing two legs on the heel loop. “With the conditions, it was pretty tricky.
“We were pretty lucky that Wylee got a leg at all.”
Those conditions made it tough on everybody. For instance, Shayna Miller of Faith won the first round of goat-tying with a 7.5-second run. Her 18.7-second-round run held up for sixth place in both the final round and average. Elli Price of Faith, who posted an 8.0-seconod run in the rain on Saturday night, earned 25 points for finishing in a tie for fourth place in the long round but was unable to handle the muck and mud Sunday afternoon.
Barrel racer Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla., was third in the long round, then was nearly 2 seconds slower in the final round to finish fifth. Breakway roper Katy Miller of Faith finished second in the long round but was unable to score a the short round, finishing sixth overall.
In team roping, the Northwestern tandem of Mike McGinn of Haines, Okla., and Scott Day of Vernon, British Columbia, won the title after posting a 14.3-second run in the championship round. Their two-run cumulative time of 25.8 seconds was more than 4 seconds faster than the runners-up and almost 8 seconds faster than the Nelsons.
All-around cowboy Maverick Harper of Stephenville, Texas, earned points in both team roping and tie-down roping, winning the long round in the latter and finishing fifth while trying to manage the mud Sunday.
In steer wrestling, a host of Rangers qualified for the championship round, led by J.D. Struxness of Appleton, Minn., who shared the long-round victory with two other cowboys after they all posted 5.0-second runs. Ty Batie of Rapid City, S.D., was third in the first round, while Grayson Allred of Kanarraville, Utah, placed in a tie for fifth place in the opener.
In the final round, Allred’s 13.5-second run was good enough for sixth overall, while Riley Westhaver of High River, Alberta, was 11.4 to finish fourth in the round and fifth overall. Bareback rider Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., finished fifth overall, capturing 50 points for the men’s team in the process.
Now the goal is to finish the season strong the final weekend of April at the Oklahoma Panhandle State University rodeo in Guymon, Okla. The Rangers will lean on the lessons they’ve learned through the season from coach Stockton Graves and his staff.
“He always pushes us,” Tearnee Nelson said of Graves. “He’s recruited a lot of good girls, and now we’ve got a shot at the team title. If everybody goes out and makes their runs, it should be no problem.”
That’s the plan, anyway.