Erickson will compete in the bareback riding, light rifle and trap shooting competitions at nationals after qualifying in all three at his first-ever state finals.
Klassen is headed for nationals after her third straight trip to state netted her a qualification in goat tying.
Both Panthers said reaching nationals was the greatest accomplishment of a childhood spent honing their skills.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Erickson said. “It’s been one that I’ve had since I was little. I rode steers and bulls since I was 7, and then when I was 12 I started riding bareback horses.”
Klassen’s rodeo aspirations began at a young age as well.
“I’ve just kind of been dreaming about it my whole life and it’s a really awesome opportunity,” Klassen said.
The National High School Finals Rodeo will be held in Rock Springs July 12-18.
Erickson qualified in three events in his first trip to state, which followed his first season in the Montana high school circuit.
Erickson had been riding for years but the 2014 spring season was his first competing at the high school level, which was a brand new circuit for him.
“I knew I was riding decent for my level, and (after) going to a few high school regular season rodeos I realized I was kind of above average,” Erickson said.
He felt confident and determined, and set his sights high.
“I wrote some goals and I hung them in my room and in my truck that said I wanted to make nationals — and I did,” Erickson said.
But state came first, and Erickson didn’t know quite what to expect.
“Going into that first round I definitely had a lot of nerves going,” Erickson said.
Even a state veteran like Klassen felt the pressure during her opening performance.
“My first run I was really, really nervous and after that I just decided to have fun and do what I like to do and not stress over it,” she said.
Both riders were able to refocus in subsequent runs and climb the leader board to reach the top four.
Klassen won the goat-tying competition with a time of 8.05 seconds, which beat the second-place finisher by .55 seconds. Erickson finished third in bareback riding with a score of 63.
Klassen said she’s been around roping her whole life but didn’t start goat tying until middle school. She took quickly to the event and went to clinics to improve her skills.
The Panthers each have just more than a month to prepare for nationals.
For Erickson, the training has already begun.
“Heck, this morning I got out of bed and ran two miles, “ he said Monday afternoon. “I’m going to start working out hard.”
Erickson will join the Northwest College men’s rodeo team in the fall, and plans to bring his work ethic to the Trappers.
“I really want to qualify for the college and national finals and go into the pro circuit,” Erickson said. “I’m not going to get that without a lot of trying and determination. I know there’s some guy down the road that’s going to want to beat me.”
Klassen said she’s going to “focus on getting better and faster so I can compete at that higher level.”
With one more season of high school rodeo left, Klassen will set her goals higher in 2015.
“I’m probably going to push myself to do a little bit better since I know I can make it to nationals,” she said “If I don’t do well at nationals this year my goal will be to place at nationals next year.”
Both Panthers said they couldn’t have achieved such success on their own.
Erickson thanked his parents, Brad and Janet Erickson, (Northwest College rodeo coach) Del Nose, Dick Gifford and my fellow cowboy Luke Wozney “for always being there for me and holding me up to a higher standard than anyone else and trying to keep me in check.”
Klassen said she’d like to “thank my parents and everyone who’s helped me on the way.”