DUNCAN, Okla. – This year has been a pretty good one for J.D. Struxness.
The 22-year-old steer wrestler finished his final year of rodeo at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva in the biggest way possible for a collegiate cowboy: He won the bulldogging championship at the College National Finals Rodeo.
Now the Appleton, Minn., cowboy is leading the way in the race to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20-Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.
Struxness has earned more than $8,000 in the region so far this season, and a big run of rodeos awaits him and other circuit stars next week at Kansas stops in Hill City, Dodge City, Abilene and Phillipsburg.
Though he is from western Minnesota, Struxness has chosen the Prairie Circuit as his home primarily because if his temporary residence in Alva. He hopes to be one of the top bulldoggers in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region to earn a spot at the circuit finale – only the top 12 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season earn the right to compete in Duncan.
Struxness struck early this season, just as he had done through the college ranks. Of his eight grand in earnings, nearly half was earned in early May at the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo; he not only placed in two rounds but also finished second in the average.
He is making his way across the rodeo trail with fellow Northwestern cowboy Jacob Edler of States Center, Iowa. Edler won the Central Plains Region, and Struxness was the runner-up; they switched positions at the CNFR, with Edler coming in as the reserve national champion.
That’s also how they sit in the Prairie Circuit’s standings, with Edler sitting No. 2. They’re following in the footsteps of their college rodeo coach, Stockton Graves, a six-time circuit steer wrestling champion who won the last three titles.
That’s just one of many outstanding races for the regional title this year. Take barrel racing, for example. Emily Miller of Weatherford, Okla., leads the standings with $14,568; she owns a $4,000 lead over the runner-up, Mary Burger of Pauls Valley, Okla., who won the circuit finals average title on her young gelding, Mo.
But Burger is the No. 1 cowgirl in the WPRA standings with more than $175,000 in earnings. There’s a good chance she can make up that ground in a hurry. She recently earned $122,000 at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede.
Former Kansas high school star Blaine Kaufman of Pretty Prairie leads the bareback riding regional standings, with a $600 lead over Australian Anthony Thomas. Five-time circuit champ Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas, is less than $800 behind Kaufman.
Header Jesse Stipes of Salina, Okla., and Buddy Hawkins of Columbus, Kan., lead their respective divisions. Both are secured to return to Duncan for the circuit finale in team roping. Dalton Davis of Holcomb, Kan., has about a $600 lead over Roper Kiesner of Ripley, Okla., in the bronc riding money list, while Hardy Braden of Welch, Okla., is in a close third.
Cody Quaney of Cheney, Kan., would like a chance to repeat as the tie-down roping standings. He holds a slim lead, just ahead of Caddo Lewallen of Morrison, Okla.; Tyler Milligan of Pawhuska, Okla.; and Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla.
Trevor Kastner, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Ardmore, Okla., leads the bull riding standings by less than $400 over the No. 2 man, Jeston Mead of Ashland, Kan. Meanwhile three-time world champion Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan., has a solid lead of $4,000 over J.P. Wickett of Sallisaw, Okla.
With big money available next week in the circuit, many things can change, but that’s the nature of the sport.