The team has already earned the school’s first-ever women’s team berth to the College National Finals Rodeo. Now all eyes are on the golden ring that’s within reach — the 2012 national title.
“It’s huge for these kids,” acknowledges Trapper rodeo coach Del Nose. “It’s huge for Northwest College. If we can do good down there against the four-year schools, our recruiting will go out of sight.”
That women’s team will be comprised of goat tying specialist Steffani Hofrichter of McMinville, Ore., breakaway roper Jessica Ehlers of Reader, N.D., barrel racer Cheyenne Saltsman of Republic, Wash., and two-event entrant Heather Knerr of Grass Range, Mont.
Knerr will compete in both breakaway and goat tying at the CNFR for the Trappers.
“For some of these kids, it will be their last hurrah,” said Nose. “I think the girls will be really strong, all of them.”
Of that group, several eyes will be on Saltsman, who spent the fall semester among the nation’s leaders in barrel racing. The newcomer to the Trappers’ roster saw her meteoric arrival to college rodeo slowed due to a spring injury to her horse, but Nose is hopeful that matter is in the past and that Saltsman will be able to showcase her first semester shine to the crowds in Casper.
“Her little mare called Copper should be sound and ready to go,” Nose said. “She had some problems this spring, but they took two to three weeks off and look to be ready.”
Nose also sees a lot of opportunity for a more familiar face on the Trappers’ roster.
“I told Steffani (Hofrichter) that she’s got a tremendous chance to win the college finals,” said Nose. “She’s been staying in tune. She’s tying well, staying aggressive. The ball is really in her court now.”
Maintaining that aggression during all the pomp, ceremony and pressure of the CNFR will be key to Northwest’s hope of keeping the national champion’s trophy in-state.
“Staying focused is key,” Nose said. “If you just stay focused on your game and when you’re in the arena, be committed to what you’re doing, that’s huge. It will be very rewarding. If you don’t stay focused and get caught up in what’s going on elsewhere, it can break you down very, very fast.”
On the men’s side, the Trappers were unable to qualify as a team, but will be represented by a pair of athletes. Lovell’s Clint Griffis and Vaughn, Mont., native Tyler Owens will look to place as high as possible for Northwest.
Griffis will be competing in the bareback for NWC. Nose points out that he ended the spring season riding well and looks for that trend to continue when he gets into the chute in Casper. Owens will compete in bull riding, an event that, by its very nature, Nose says “can be anyone’s game.”
“I just told them to worry about what they were doing and not to worry about anyone else,” Nose said of his advice to the Trappers’ roughstock riders.
Most of the Northwest College delegation will get its first taste of competition on Sunday, June 10, when the CNFR begins. Some will have to wait and watch that first night before taking their first runs on Monday, June 11.
In all, every competitor will have the chamce to compete in three preliminary rounds. The top performers based on the cumulative results of those three prelim rounds will be invited back to compete in the short go finals.
“To me, and to lots of spectators, this is probably the second-best rodeo in the United States behind the NFR,” Nose says of the CNFR. “There’s great stock that’s moved through there. Kids from all over the U.S. come and play to win. It’s just like the NFR, they’re on their game. Ive been to a lot of rodeos, and when you get everyone mixing around and they get going in that arena, the CNFR is just electric.”
NWC at the CNFR
Here are the dates on which Northwest College rodeo team members will be competing in their preliminary rounds at the CNFR:
Jessica Ehlers, breakaway: June 10, June 12 and June 13
Clinton Griffis, bareback: June 10, June 12 and June 15
Steffani Hofrichter, goat tying: June 11, June 12 and June 13
Heather Knerr, breakaway: June 10, June 11 and June 15
Heather Knerr, goat tying: June 11, June 12 and June 14
Tyler Owens, bull riding: June 10, June 11 and June 14
Cheyenne Saltsman, barrel racing: June 11 and June 12 (two runs)