ALVA, Okla. – Ten Rangers are ready to ride for college rodeo’s most coveted title.
Six men and four women from the Northwestern Oklahoma State University have earned the right to compete at the College National Finals Rodeo, set for June 11-17 at the Casper (Wyo.) Events Center.
“Having 10 going to the college finals shows how great the program is in Alva and what a great coach Stockton (Graves) is,” said Edgar Fierro, a heeler from Hennessey, Okla., who qualified with his partner, Kass Bittle of Kremlin, Okla. “It shows Stockton’s ‘Let’s go win’ attitude. That attitude goes through us, and that’s the way it showed this year.”
Bittle and Fierro advanced to the CNFR by winning the Central Plains Region team roping title, a feat shared by steer wrestler Joby Allen of Alva. They will be joined on the men’s team by header Dylan Schulenberg of Coal Valley, Ill.; tie-down roper Mason Bowen of Bullard, Texas; and steer wrestler Cody Devers of Perryton, Texas.
The Rangers women will be represented barrel racers Ashlyn Moeder of Oakley, Kan., and Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla., along with goat-tiers Tearnee Nelson and Katy Miller, both of Faith, S.D. Miller finished third in the region to qualify outright, and the other three were added to the team since the Northwestern women finished second in the region and earned the right to have a full squad in Casper.
“Having that many make it to the finals means quite a bit for the rodeo program here at Northwestern,” said Bittle, who just wrapped up his freshman year in Alva. “I think it helps build the program for the future. The more times we have big numbers going to the college finals puts out a good reputation for us.”
But the goal, of course, is to leave Casper with championships. A year ago, steer wrestler J.D. Struxness won the college title, followed closely by the runner-up, teammate Jacob Edler. The Rangers finished second in the men’s team standings.
“The college finals is a big deal, but you can’t overthink it,” Bittle said. “I feel like we’ve got a really good chance. We’ve got a really good women’s team. As for the guys, we’ve got a lot of talent going up there. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”
While Miller was the only qualifier for the women’s team, the others were among the top 10 in their respective events. Nelson finished fourth in goat tying, while Moeder was fifth and Bynum tied for eighth in barrel racing.
The six men advanced on their own. While Allen, Bittle and Fierro earned regional titles, Devers, Bowen and Schulenberg were runners-up.
“I think the men’s team is going to have a great chance,” Fierro said. “I think the guys are just as hungry for it as I am, and I think we’re going to do pretty good.”
It comes down to putting in the work ahead of time to make sure they arrive in Casper as prepared for the competition as possible.
“I go to the practice pen about 7 (a.m.), roping on some horses,” Fierro said. “I’ll rope on some colts during the day when it’s hot, then I’ll get on good horses and rope some more in the evening.”
That’s the work ethic it takes to be successful at that level, but there’s much more than work that goes into being a top-notch rodeo athlete.
“Stockton works with our mental game so much,” Fierro said. “He teaches us how to win, and he prepares us for the mental side of the rodeo life. I think that’s what makes us successful.”
“Stockton is a heck of a guy who has been around and done so much,” said Bittle, pointing out the coach’s seven NFR qualifications. “I’m a team roper, but the things you learn from him can apply to any event. He’s been in every setup and every situation you can think about.
“The mental game is as much of rodeo as anything else, and I think Stockton helps that with everybody, no matter what event they do.”
Now the Rangers hope it translates into a solid college finals. They will have a week of competition to find out.