By Carol Schmidt MSU NEWS SERVICE
GREAT FALLS – School was out last the weekend of May 6-7 for Montana State University’s students, but not for the nearly 50 Bobcat Rodeo athletes.
The competitors represented the Big Sky Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association at a rodeo in Great Falls over the weekend, and both men’s and women’s teams brought home regular season first place honors to Bozeman. Thirteen of those MSU students have qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in June in Casper, Wyo.
It is the 12th year that MSU has qualified for both the men’s and women’s events by finishing in the top two regional schools. According to Andy Bolich, MSU’s first-year coach, the leading two teams from each region qualify for the CNFR as well as the top three individuals in each event. Last year, the MSU men finished second.
“It was good to reclaim first in the region this year on both the men’s and women’s team in my first season as head coach and I look forward to continuing the tradition,” said Bolich, who competed for MSU as a student and then professionally in bareback riding before joining MSU as an assistant rodeo coach. He was named head coach last summer after longtime coach Mike True retired.
“We have a good group of kids and a good reputation,” Bolich said. “I’ve been a part of the program long enough to know where pieces fit.”
Part of finding the pieces are finding Montana kids—many from small towns across the state—with great work ethics and passion for the sport. One such athlete is Will Powell, a first-year student from St. Ignatius who finished second in the all-around title by a hair.
Another student with high hopes is Wyatt Bloom, a senior from Bend, Ore., who has been in the top five in bareback at the College National Finals Rodeo for the last two years.
“[Wyatt] is a contender,” Bolich said. “We’re hoping it all comes together for his senior year and this year he will win [a] championship.”
Bolich said to also keep an eye on Cierra Tredway from Belgrade, who hasn’t been to the CNFR since she was a freshman, but who has had a strong spring in breakaway roping.
The Bobcat women won the national title in 2011, and Bolich isn’t ruling out a championship for either the women or men’s team this year at the competition, set for June 10-18 at the Casper Events Center. More than 400 cowboys and cowgirls from more than 100 universities, colleges and schools will compete.
“Our kids will stack up well,” Bolich said. “We have a good combination of kids who have done well in high school and amateur rodeo, and an older class that’s been there.”
Bolich said training for the CNFR provides a minor challenge in that school is now out, and all of the athletes have scattered for home or summer jobs. “However, [they] compete in rodeos all summer long. They all have practice lined up … so we should still be pretty sharp.”
Even though rodeo schools from the southern tier usually have more athletes on their teams because they compete year round, the equalizer is that CNFR caps each school at 30 athletes with three animals for each competitor.
“I think our team chances are good,” Bolich said. “Although, you never know how we’ll draw. There are so many teams and variables. But on paper, our team looks good.”