The last time Weatherford College did not send competitors to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, YouTube had yet to be launched and “American Idol” still ruled TV ratings.
And now, the program has added to its renowned tradition with another first. The entire women’s team has qualified by winning the Southwest Region championship of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), the first regional title in program history. The national finals are set for June 11-19.
Weatherford College last qualified an entire squad in 2014 when the men finished second in the region.
”It is very special winning our first Southwest Region team title, just as it was in 2014 when we had our first ever team qualification to the CNFR,” coach Johnny Emmons said. “We have a very tough and competitive Southwest region, and anytime you can advance a team is a big deal. I am very proud and look forward to not only the CNFR, but having most all of that girls team back again next year.”
Sophomore Kodey Hoss, along with freshmen Sawyer Gilbert, Sophie Dunn and Bradi Good, will represent the women’s team in Casper. At regionals, Gilbert was second in goat tying, Hoss was fourth in goat tying, Dunn was fourth in breakaway roping and Good was sixth in barrel racing.
“The past few years I would follow college rodeo and think of the CNFR qualifiers and dream of what it would be like to make it to the CNFR, and now here I am in my freshman year preparing to make the trip myself,” Dunn said. “I am beyond excited to experience the College National Finals, and so excited for my teammates.”
In all, seven Weatherford College athletes will be making the trip to Casper as three men also qualified. Freshman Jace Helton won the region in team roping-heeler, junior Blake Bentley was third in team roping-heeler, and freshman Chance Thiessen was third in both team roping-header and tie-down roping.
”They are all just very talented. Having your top four girls being competitive in multiple events was a huge shot for us this year,” Emmons said.
Long tradition of success
Emmons said this year’s achievement should help fuel continued success for a rodeo team that has sent competitors to the national finals every year since 2005, when it joined the Weatherford College athletic program and began awarding scholarships.
It will also help Weatherford College compete with larger schools with rodeo programs such as Texas Tech and Tarleton State, he added.
”Although TSU and Tech are much bigger schools, their rodeo programs are not necessarily much bigger than WC. We all have similar scholarship budgets to work with,” Emmons said. “There is a lot of talent coming out of high school rodeo each year, and for many of those students choosing a (junior) college over a university makes more sense for them academically and financially. So we have just as good of opportunity to recruit the top talent as the universities do.”
Gilbert believes it’s time for herself and her teammates to add their names to some of the program’s greatest performances at nationals.
“I’m thankful to get to be part of such a competitive team. I have high expectations for nationals and truly believe the women have a great chance at the national team title,” she said.
Good added, “It’s such a huge accomplishment to say that we won the first women’s team (rodeo) championship in Weatherford College history. I think we are going to do well up there.”