ALVA, Okla. – Everything came together well for the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo teams.
The men and women won the team titles this past weekend at the Fort Hays (Kan.) State University rodeo, with the women dominating the standings by earning 505 points; the men scored 380 to better runner-up Southwestern Oklahoma State University by 20 points.
“It was the first rodeo where all the guys put something together,” Kass Bittle, a freshman header from Kremlin, Okla., said about the first men’s championship this season.
The women’s victory marked the third time in the 2016-17 Central Plains Region campaign that the Rangers claimed a title; they also won their home rodeo this past October and Garden City, Kan., early this month.
“Basically now is the time to do well,” said Stockton Graves, Northwestern’s rodeo coach. “I told the girls going in that we had just gotten passed by Panhandle (State) and were now third in the region. Now we’re back to second, and we’ve got a decent cushion over (Panhandle State) heading into the final weekend in Guymon.
“But Panhandle is third, and they have a tendency to do good at Guymon. Our girls have given themselves a chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”
With one rodeo remaining on the regional schedule, the contestants understand what it takes to qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo. The top two teams in the region standings advance, and so do the top three individuals in each discipline.
Bittle and his heeling partner, Edgar Fierro, made a big move in Hays by winning the team roping championship. They moved to first in the region.
“I knew we had to do some good because we were sitting sixth” in the region, said Fierro, a junior from Hennessy, Okla. “The whole game plan is to go one at a time. You can never look ahead. I have confidence in Kass, and Kass has confidence in me.”
The duo stopped the clock in 7.1 seconds to share the first-round victory, then were 7.8 to finish second in the championship round. Their two-run cumulative time of 14.9 seconds earned them the victory, nearly two seconds ahead of the runners-up.
“We just wanted to make a snappy run” in the first round, Bittle said. “We drew the best one and got out really good and were able to put the round we wanted to.
“I knew if we tried to overthink it, that wouldn’t do us any good. We just kept the same game plan: Make a nice, sharp run and let the cards fall where they may. All you can do is make your run.”
Kass and Fierro were the leading tandem in team roping, but they were joined in the winner’s circle by header Maverick Harper of Stephenville, Texas, and Tanner Nall of Colcord, Okla., who placed fourth overall. Header Taylor Munsell of Arnett, Okla., finished fourth with her partner, Wyatt Rogers of Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
The Rangers men received a big boost from Joby Allen of Alva, who won the steer wrestling title in Hays. He was 5.3 seconds to finish in a tie for second in the opening round, then grappled his steer to the ground in 5.5 seconds to share the short-round victory. He outlasted teammate Cody Devers of Perryton, Texas, by two-tenths of a second with his two-run cumulative time of 10.8 seconds.
“The men had a good rodeo with a team-roping win and a bulldogging win,” Graves said. “That’s one of the better rodeos we’ve had, and we had quite a few make it to the short round.”
Heading into the final weekend, Devers continues to lead the Central Plains standings, but he’s just 10 points ahead of Allen. Teammate Colt Madison of Whiting, Iowa, is third. All-around cowboy Grayson Allred finished fourth in tie-down roping, while Cole Patterson of Pratt, Kan., was third in the first round and had a no-time in the short round.
The women were paced by their breakaway ropers, of which three cowgirls earned points. Brandi Hollenbeck of Hutchinson, Kan., finished second in both rounds and the average; she was 3.1 in the first round and 3.3 in the second. Katy Miller of Faith, S.D., just missed out on points in the first round, then was solid in 5.2 to finish fourth in the final round and the average. Ashlyn Moeder of Oakley, Kan., picked up fifth-place points in the opener before settling for a no-time in the short round.
Goat-tier Tearnee Nelson of Faith won the first round in 7.8 seconds; she matched that time in the short round to finish in a tie for second, and her 15.6-second cumulative time earned her a second-place finish. Jennifer Massing of Ponoka, Alberta, finished fifth in both rounds and the average.
Barrel racer Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla., posted the fastest run of the rodeo, a 17.40, to win the final round; that pushed her to second in the average.
“This is the time,” Graves said. “It’s like the NBA playoffs; it’s a good time to get hot, and it really counts right. We have an opportunity going into Guymon to be really successful this year. I tell them every weekend that they can’t relax. We’ve got one rodeo left, and it’ll make us or break us.
“Winning is a big part of the game. You can bulldog, you can rope and you can tie goats in the practice pen, but if you can’t win, then it’s all for nothing.”