ALVA, Okla. – For the better part of four years, Denton Mars has had his eyes on a certain prize.
It finally happened this past weekend. Mars, a senior at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, won his first intercollegiate saddle bronc riding championship at the Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College Rodeo.
Mars scored 73 points to finish in a tie for third place in the opening round, then spurred a horse for 76 points to win the championship round and the aggregate title. It was worth 155 points for the cowboy from Freedom, Oklahoma.
“Finally getting my first win at a college rodeo was pretty exciting,” he said. “It was fun. All my buddies where there, and they were all cheering me on.
“Right before my ride on the first night in the long round, Stockton (Graves) told me just to bear down and go after it. I thought it was as good a time as any.”
Graves is the rodeo coach wrapping up his 10th season leading his alma mater. While his specialty is in the timed events – he was a seven-time steer wrestling qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo who just won the bulldogging title at San Antonio a few weeks ago – Graves does everything he can to push all members of his rodeo team to succeed.
“Having Stockton in my corner means a lot. He knows how to do it. He knows what it takes to win in the rodeo world. It doesn’t matter what event you do; he gets you mentally ready.”
The points pushed Mars to third place in the Central Plains Region’s saddle bronc riding standings. That’s good news for now, but he and the rest of the Rangers have seven more rodeos remaining in this campaign to build upon that. Only the top two teams and top three points-earners in each event advance to the College National Finals Rodeo, which will take place in June.
Twelve months ago, Fort Scott’s became the last rodeo of the year or all teams in the Central Plains after the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Even the college finals was canceled. While one circuit rodeo was canceled because of the coronavirus this season, the rest are on schedule as expected, even the CNFR.
For now, though, Mars just wants to close out his campaign the only way he knows how: building toward his first qualification to the championship event in Casper, Wyoming.
“It’s pretty simple; I’ll just keep taking it horse by horse and get them all rode,” said Mars, who alternates his time between school in Alva and working in Freedom at the ranch of Frontier Rodeo, the reigning six-time PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year. “If I start planning too much, I just set myself up for failure. I want to keep moving ahead instead.
“This is a very tough region with a bunch of really good bronc riders. It’s pretty much a drawing contest at every college rodeo; whoever draws the best horses is probably going to win.”
He attributed his victory in southeast Kansas to having the best horses, but even the best cowboys can get bucked off. Instead, he found his way to the victory stand in Fort Scott for the second time in his college career – as a freshman, he and Chase Finnell won the team roping title there.
Mars wasn’t the only winner for Northwestern. Heeler Bo Yaussi of Udall, Kansas, won the team roping title with his partner, Garrett Elmore of Western Oklahoma State College. They stopped the clock in 6.0 seconds to win the opening round, then won the second round and the aggregate with a 5.5-second run. Yaussi now leads the region’s heeling standings. Meanwhile header Camden Hoetling of Emporia, Kansas, finished sixth in the opening round with his partner, Rio Esquibel of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
Bridger Anderson of Carrington, North Dakota, scored big points for the Rangers in steer wrestling. After finishing just out of the points in the first round, he knocked his steer down in 4.9 seconds to place second in the short-round and second overall. The reigning college champion from 2019, Anderson leads the bulldogging standings.
Riley Westhaver of High River, Alberta, also snagged some steer wrestling points. His 5.1 finished third in the opening round. He placed fifth in the final round and fifth overall. Tie-down roper Brandon Hittle of Topeka, Kansas, had two consistent runs, finishing sixth.
Barrel racer Samantha Chambers of Calhan, Colorado, earned the most points for the Northwestern women. She posted a run of 13.41 seconds to finish in a tie for third place in the opening round. Her 13.24-second run was good enough for third in the short round, and she finished third overall. She is fifth in the regional standings. Fellow barrel racer Callie McGhee of Collony, Kansas, scored points for the Northwestern women by placing in the opening round.
The weekend, however, belonged to Mars. He has hopes of advancing to the professional level, but he knows he has work to do just yet. Being part of the Northwestern team and Frontier Rodeo helps with that.
“I get on a lot of broncs at the ranch, and I figure if I can ride these, I can ride just about anything they put in the chute,” Mars said. “They definitely help step my game up. We don’t practice broncs in Alva, so I practice at the ranch when I can. Most of the time, it’s all fundamentals. Once you’ve got them down, just go and do it.
“It’s not like a timed event; you don’t have to practice 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it dang sure helps if you do.”