ALVA, Okla. – A year ago, steer wrestler Jacob Edler let the national title slip out of his grasp on the final run of 2015 College National Finals Rodeo.
“I had a 9-second lead going into the short round last year,” said Edler, a senior at Northwestern Oklahoma State University from Statesville, Iowa. “After missing that steer, I was in disbelief.”
He didn’t allow that episode to define him, though. In fact, it’s been a motivating factor in his championship reign through the 2015-16 regular season. Edler won the Central Plains Region title in dominating fashion. He’ll carry that momentum into the college finals, set for June 12-18 in Casper, Wyo.
“My goal for the college finals this year is to pick up off the table what I let down last year,” he said. “My goal is to win a national championship. This is my last year of college rodeo, so I’m going to let it all hang out.”
It’s a formula that has worked well for the young cowboy.
“Last year I fell five points short of winning the region,” Edler said. “That was my biggest goal. This year I got my good horse back, and I tried to do good at every single rodeo I went to.”
Edler is one of four Northwestern men who have qualified for the college finals. He will be joined by fellow bulldogger J.D. Struxness of Appleton, Minn., who finished second in the region; bareback rider Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., who finished third; and Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla., who won the regional title in tie-down roping.
“We’ve got quite a few tough ropers that go to school in our region, so it means quite a bit to win the region two years in a row,” said Sechrist, whose 925 points was 215 more than the regional runner-up. “I went out and focused on making practice runs, roping smart. I practiced every day, as much as I possibly could.”
While tremendous talent is one key factor in being successful, having that work ethic is what paid off. In addition to the four Northwestern men heading to Casper, the region-winning women will field a full team of four cowgirls: region goat-tying champion Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D.; barrel racer Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla., who finished third in the circuit; and two more goat-tiers in Tearnee Nelson of Faith and Laremi Allred of Kanarraville, Utah.
“I’ve never made the short round out there, and I’d like to at least make the short round this year,” said Miller, now making her third trip to Casper. “The ultimate goal is to win the whole thing. I know what it takes to win it. If I put in the work, I think I can get it done.”
That stands also for the women in their effort to bring the team title back to Alva.
“I think we can do it,” Miller said. “The other girls on the team haven’t been to the college finals before, but they’re tough competitors. I’ve competed with them all year, so I know they can do it.”
Rodeo is such a different mindset than many team sports, much like wrestling. Each individual success can help the program. While the Northwestern women will field a full team, the four Rangers men are just two cowboys shy of a full roster. All have college finale experience.
They also have lessons they have learned while competing for Northwestern all season under the tutelage of rodeo coach Stockton Graves.
“He is the main reason for my mind game,” Sechrist said of Graves, a seven-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier in steer wrestling. “I used to get so down on myself if I didn’t do well. I’d go talk to him, and he’d get my mind right.”
That type of encouragement goes a long ways.
“Stockton has been a huge influence on my bulldogging,” Edler said. “I’ve gotten sharper just by hanging out with Stockton. You also have other guys that are hanging around there and consistently coming to practice. J.D. Struxness and I are rodeoing together this year, so we push ourselves to the limit every day.
“That’s what’s set me over the edge. Every single day J.D. and I were in the practice pen making sure we were getting better.”
They teams have shown that consistently through the regular season. They hope it carries over into the final week.
“We’ve got some great guys going to Casper,” Sechrist said. “We all have a little more experience, so I think that can help us a lot.”
“For us to have a chance to win the men’s title, we’re all going to have to go in there and fill our goals,” Edler said. “J.D. and I are going to have to win first and second in bulldogging. Austin rides bareback horses really consistently. Bryson is the most talented 24-year-old calf roper that’s walking the face of the Earth right now. I know he can win first.
“I think if we can all go out there, make the short round and take care of business, our chances are extremely good for winning the team deal.”