OSU to send five to College National Finals RodeoTue, 18 May 2021 10:57:39 CDT
Oklahoma State University’s Rodeo Team has overcome the difficulties of training and competing in a pandemic to qualify five students for the College National Finals Rodeo in June.
The five who made the cut comprise the largest OSU contingent in several years to be sent to the CNFR, said Cody Hollingsworth, the team’s coach. The qualifying students and their events are:
• Kenna McNeill, animal science student from Hobbs, New Mexico – barrel racing and goat tying.
• Lariat Larner, agricultural economics master’s student from Stephenville, Texas – goat tying.
• Cheyenne Bartling, recreation management and recreation therapy student from Sand Springs, Oklahoma – goat tying.
• Lexie Russell, animal science student from Gainesville, Texas – breakaway roping.
• Ethan Griffin, agribusiness student from Eucha, Oklahoma – team roping header.
“I’m very happy for the individuals and excited for the team’s position in the finals, particularly with the shortened season due to COVID-19 last year,” Hollingsworth said. “It has been extremely difficult for everyone, but these students rose to the challenge and more. It’s something we can all be proud of.”
The 2021 College National Finals Rodeo will take place June 13-19 in Casper, Wyoming. The Ford Wyoming Center will host about 400 of the country’s top collegiate rodeo competitors in nine events: bareback riding, barrel racing, breakaway roping, bull riding, goat tying, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping. To qualify for the finals, students must rank in the top three point totals for their event for the season.
In the last several weeks, students throughout the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s 11 regions have been tying up those season qualifiers and checking on their points for qualification. Most of the top competitors already had some sense of their odds, but it’s always a relief to receive confirmation, Hollingsworth said – particularly after last year’s conclusion.
In response to the spread of COVID-19, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) closed down the 2019-2020 season without a finals event in June last year. Since then, each region has handled pandemic disruptions a little differently to give their students opportunities to practice and compete in the 2020-2021 season. Most regions didn’t have rodeos in the fall and instead focused on spring events and double-headers.
“Travel-wise, academically, it was extremely tough on the students,” Hollingsworth said.
Cynda Clary, associate dean of the Ferguson College of Agriculture, said she is proud of the effort the OSU Rodeo Team members have put in throughout the semester, both in the classroom and in the rodeo arena.
“Our students on the OSU Rodeo Team have been diligent about putting their academics first, even with an extremely busy competitive rodeo season,” Clary said. “They represent the college and the university well in everything thing they do, and I’m happy to see their hard work pay off.”
The OSU team’s spring schedule began March 2 with an event at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and ended May 2 at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. For its part, OSU hosted the Cowboy Stampede April 1-3 at the Payne County Expo Center – with access limited to competitors and some family in accordance with the university’s pandemic guidance.
It’s been a tight season with unusual circumstances that brought the team closer together emotionally, Hollingsworth said. The students continued to train independently and met online weekly through 2020, and toward the end of the year the team was able to work under university protocols to meet at the OSU rodeo facility.
Some of the OSU Rodeo Team’s graduating seniors saw their hopes crushed when the finals were cancelled in 2020. The NIRA granted exceptions to let them compete one more year, he said, but that wasn’t feasible for most.
“After all the COVID virus difficulties we’ve faced, it felt like the world was flipped upside down for everybody,” McNeill said. “Even though nine rodeos in nine weeks this year seemed like a lot, it was also something we all needed.”
She added, “It’s great that we were able to work so hard together and win the opportunity to represent the university. It’s a really satisfying feeling.”
Looking at the results for the Central Plains region only, the OSU team had several notable successes: Griffin finished third in team roping, and McNeill took third place in barrel racing. The OSU Rodeo Women’s Team members were named Reserve Team Champions, and McNeill was named the Women’s All-Around Champion for the region.
“Starting a season the way we did, you just never know what’s going to happen. We all hope to do well and get enough points, but nothing’s ever set in stone. Our place in qualifiers was a huge relief,” McNeill said, adding that she is looking forward to competing with the team one more year before she graduates.
Hollingsworth said all eyes are now on the full CNFR program of events – available online through the NIRA – and the team is eager to head out to Wyoming.
The OSU Rodeo Team is part of the university’s Ferguson College of Agriculture. The team has been a member of the NIRA since 1948 and competes in the Central Plains Region. For more information, visit rodeo.okstate.edu.
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