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Northwest College rodeo team returning to the arena

Trappers have mountain to climb in the spring semester

Northwest College interim rodeo coach Dan Mortensen leads the Trappers into the start of their spring schedule when his squad travels to Montana State University. Competition in Bozeman opens today (Thursday).

“I think things have gone well,” said Mortensen, who took over following the mid-season resignation of Ryan Vander Pluym. “We have some good kids. They’ve been hitting it hard in practice for the last month. Everyone seems to be making progress, and that’s what I’m striving for.”

Progress will be what the Trappers need if they intend to make some ripples at this year’s College National Finals Rodeo. Northwest College sits in fifth place out of 10 teams on the men’s side of the Big Sky Region standings and in fourth place on the women’s side.

Only the top two teams qualify for the CNFR, meaning the Trapper men will need to overcome a nearly 1,500-point deficit this spring. The NWC women are approximately 250 points out of second place.

“I’m not willing to give up, especially on the women’s side,” Mortensen said of the Big Sky team race. “We have some really talented girls on the team that are pretty darn handy. I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen.”

If the Trappers are to make that team push, it will have to be accompanied by a similar climb on the part of the team’s individual performers. At the midway point of the season, Northwest College has just one athlete — bareback rider Jordan Gill — in position to qualify for the 2011 CNFR.

Only the top three individual performers in each event earn the right to attend and compete in the CNFR. The Trappers had several others in the top 10 of various events at the mid-season break, but some of those performers opted to withdraw from the school following Vander Pluym’s resignation.

“I thought the kids have been handling it well,” Mortensen said of the coachng change. “It says something about the quality of the kids here. As far as I was concerned, we’re just moving forward here. I wanted everyone to have a positive attitude.”

This weekend will go a long way to determining the Trappers’ CNFR hopes. The Montana State University weekend counts as two of the five remaining rodeos on the college calendar. The results of Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s rounds will count toward one event. Sunday’s go-round will count as an entirely separate event.

Put together, it means that 40 percent of the total points available this spring are up for grabs this weekend.

“We’ve sent some kids out to clinics over the winter,” said Mortensen. “We’ve brought some folks in to get them some exposure to some qualified coaches. If everyone goes and competes to the best of their ability, then I’m happy. That’s the track we’re trying to put them on.”

The Trappers will make three more trips to Montana this spring. Following this weekend, the team competes in the Big Sky Regional rodeo at Helena (April 15-16), at Dawson Community College (April 22-24) and at the University of Montana (May 6-8).

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