Rangers ready for college finals

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Stockton Graves, left, celebrates his final group of College National Finals Rodeo qualifiers as the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo coach. Pictured with him, from left, are Jacob Haren, Cam Fox, Lauren Hopkins, Emmett Edler and Trisyn Kalawaia.

ALVA, Okla. – The Northwestern Oklahoma State University contingent of College National Finals Rodeo qualifiers is small but mighty.

The men will field four cowboys during the seven-day championship, set for June 9-15 at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper, Wyoming. The group includes two that have played the game at the highest level before: All-around cowboy Jacob Haren of Callaway, Nebraska, and steer wrestler Trisyn Kalawaia of Waiakea, Hawaii.

Both were at other schools the first time they qualified. Kalawaia was at Central Arizona College in 2021, and Haren was at Mid Plains Community College in western Nebraska two seasons ago. Now, they’ll be wearing the black vests representing the Rangers, and they understand the meaning behind it.

“I think we’ve got a good chance,” said Haren, a senior. “We’ve got some really good bulldoggers, and we’ll do our best. I know all of us are ready to give it a good shot.”

He earned his shot to compete at this year’s championship by finishing second in the Central Plains Region all-around standings. He will rope calves and wrestle steers; all the others are steer wrestlers who finished as the top three in the regional standings. Haren finished fourth in bulldogging, surpassed by teammate Emmett Edler of State Center, Iowa, who jumped into third place after a solid finish at the final rodeo of the regular season. They will be joined by Cam Fox of Tulsa, who finished second.

“Getting second in the all-around was kind of a blessing,” Haren said. “There were some guys that had a chance to beat me, but it just worked out. It was really the best-case scenario for the team. It’s pretty cool to see ‘E’ go, too. We get to add another person so we can add points to our team.”

Each contestant will compete in three go-rounds per discipline. Only the top 12 in the three-run aggregate will advance to the championship round on the final Saturday night. Though Haren didn’t advance that far in 2022, Kalawaia finished sixth overall three seasons ago.

“Even though I didn’t do very well, I think it helps that I’ve been there,” said Haren, who competed in tie-down roping and team roping two years ago. “You already know what the start’s going to be. You know how small the arena is and already have a feel for what it’s going to be like.”

It helps, too, that the cowboys have been mentored by their coach, Stockton Graves, an eight-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier who graduated from Northwestern.

“Stockton said, ‘Don’t be starstruck when you get in there; just go make your runs.’ ” Haren said. “You just have to look at it as a good, four-head average and go from there.”  

The Rangers men will be joined by Lauren Hopkins, who won the region’s breakaway roping title to qualify. That status was solidified by an incredible run of success through the 10-event season.

“I’m just grateful that it worked out the way it did,” said Hopkins, a senior from Lincoln, California, now living in Lipan, Texas. “I think there are only two short-goes that I didn’t make all year.”

A key piece of her success is Patron, a 6-year-old sorrel gelding. Timed-event athletes lean on their equine partners.

“I think my horse definitely made a huge difference,” she said. “We really clicked this year, and he helped me a lot. He gives me consistency and a shot every time. I’m just blessed to have had the opportunities I did and was able to capitalize on them.”  

Like Haren and Kalawaia, Hopkins was a transfer student. She spent the first few years at Eastern New Mexico University and has taken her classes at Northwestern online. That allowed her the opportunity to train herself and her horses in a setting that worked best for her.

“I’m really excited about representing Northwestern in Casper,” Hopkins said. “Stockton was a great coach for me; I am a very like-to-do-my-own-thing kind of person, and he always worked with me in my schedule in what I needed to do.”

Graves is wrapping his 13th year as rodeo coach at his alma mater. It’s also his last. Former Rangers assistant Cali Griffin has been tabbed as his replacement, so this group of five will be Graves’ last heading to the college finale.

“I think it’s pretty cool to be his last set of kids going to the college finals,” Haren said. “This is one of the larger groups he’s had in a little while, so we want to see him finish strong. When I didn’t do very good last year, he asked us all what our goals were. He’s really good at the mental game. He’s got a pretty good way of putting it how it is.”

Over his career, Graves has coached three national champions: steer wrestlers J.D. Struxness (2016) and Bridger Anderson and breakaway roper Taylor Munsell (both in 2019). The Rangers men finished second overall in 2016, thanks to large part to Struxness and fellow bulldogger Jacob Edler, the 2020 world champion and older brother of 2024 college finalist Emmett Edler. While Struxness won the title, Edler finished as the runner-up, just a second off the pace.

This year’s group has a chance to surpass that finish. It will come down to which team has the best run over those June days in eastern Wyoming.


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