1. Hillsdale’s Brody Cress wins saddle bronc average title at National Finals Rodeo.

Competing in his first NFR, the 21-year-old Cress was the only saddle bronc rider to make it to the 8-second buzzer all 10 nights. As a result, his total of 841.5 points easily outdistanced runner-up Hardy Braden, who finished with 764 points.

Cress finished in the money in seven rounds, pocketing more than $176,000 at the 10-day NFR. He won more than $286,000 for the year and finished less than $3,000 behind Ryder Wright for the world title.

Cress was the first Wyoming cowboy to win the saddle bronc average title since Cody’s Enoch Walker in 1960.

2. Rodeo coaches Tom Parker and George Howard pass away.

The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association lost a couple of icons in 2017 as both Casper College’s Tom Parker and the University of Wyoming’s George Howard died.

Parker, who had coached the Thunderbirds since 1990, passed away on March 15 after a months-long battle with cancer. At the College National Finals Rodeo in June, Parker was posthumously named the NIRA Coach of the Year.

Howard, who had been at UW for 20 years and had coached the Cowgirls to national titles in 2007 and ‘09, died on Nov. 24 from an apparent gunshot wound.

3. Minor-league baseball returns to Casper.

After last fielding a collegiate summer wooden bat baseball team in 2014 — the Casper Cutthroats, who won the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League title — it was announced at a press conference Sept. 19 that baseball would be returning to Casper in 2018.

The Casper Horseheads, a member of the newly formed Expedition League, will begin their 64-game schedule in the spring. The team will be comprised of collegiate players from across the country and will play their home games at Mike Lansing Field.

4. Laramie County Community College volleyball and women’s soccer teams reach NJCAA Championships.

The Golden Eagles volleyball team (34-8) won the Region IX tournament and went 2-2 at the NJCAA Division I Championships to place 10th.

Sophomore outside hitter Carlee Morrison earned second-team All-America honors while freshman outside hitter Avery Nelson was an honorable mention selection.

The soccer team (17-2) also advanced to the NJCAA Championships, but lost to ASA College in pool play.

Freshman defender Katie Loken (Cheyenne East) and sophomore forward Nikita Morris earned first-team All-America honors, with sophomore Abby Morillon (Cheyenne East) named to the second team.

In addition, freshman Taylor Stoeger (Green River) finished second on the team in goals with 20 and led LCCC with 59 points.

Earlier this month head coach Jim Gardner and assistant coaches Rebecca Valdez and Kay Valdez were recognized as the United Soccer Coaches Women’s West Region Staff of the Year.

5. Casper College men’s basketball coach Dan Russell wins 100th game with T-Birds.

Now in his fifth year as the T-Birds’ head coach, Russell earned win No. 100 in Casper College’s 111-59 victory over the Wyoming All-Stars on Nov. 30. Russell, a former Natrona County and Casper College standout, enters 2018 with an overall record of 102-43 in his fifth season. The T-Birds are 11-4 this season.

6. Cowley bareback bronc rider JR Vezain finishes third in average at NFR.

The 25-year-old former high school and college national champion placed in six of 10 rounds and won more than $107,000 at the season-ending rodeo in Las Vegas.

Vezain totaled 842.0 points to finish 11.5 points back of average winner and world champion Tim O’Connell. Vezain pocketed more than $220,000 for the year to finish fourth in the world standings.

7. Casper Coyotes bring back David “Smoke” Cole as head coach.

To begin their fourth year of competition in the Western States Hockey League, the Coyotes welcomed back Cole, who coached Casper’s minor-league hockey team — the Casper Wranglers and the Wyoming Outlaws — from 1993-98.

Cole replaced Jon Ambrefe, who resigned in April after leading the team in each of its first three seasons.

After spending last year playing home games at the Casper Ice Arena and the Casper Events Center, the Coyotes now have a permanent home at the Ice Arena. Casper enters 2018 11-15 and is fifth in the WSHL’s Mountain Division.

Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN


Sports Editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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