With a hometown crowd surrounding them at the Casper Events Center, Trey Yates and Kellan Johnson recited the same motivational speech that they’ve always said. It’s always been a variant of “try to do the best we can and whatever happens, happens.”
And just like they had throughout their successful college season, they got their horses in position and awaited the steer to burst out of the chute. Less than 6 seconds later the crowd’s applause returned louder.
Yates, a four-time qualifier from Casper College, and Johnson, a Casper native who ropes for Gillette College, had a 5.9-second run in their third go-round of the 2018 College National Finals Rodeo. It was the duo’s best score of the rodeo and placed them second in the average after Tuesday night’s performance.
“It feels really good,” Yates said. “We had a little tough luck in the first round, I tossed low. But we’ve made two good runs since and we’ve put ourselves in a position to do something. It feels good. I’ve been here three times previous and it feels good to do something.”
The duo won three Central Rocky Mountain Region rodeos this spring by sticking to the same strategy. Yates heels and Johnson heads. It’s been as simple as that.
Their chemistry may have been the biggest worry coming in. Johnson has had years of experience team roping with his brother, Carson, and father, 2011 world champion heeler and current Casper College rodeo coach Jhett.
It took no time for the two to gel and the wins followed. Now, they’re in contention heading into Saturday’s short go.
“It was pretty neat,” Yates said of the CNFR stage. “The college national finals is your school’s hometown rodeo and I’m just happy to be here and I hope I represent well.”
Once Riley Addington and her horse got around the first barrel, she knew Tuesday night’s run would be special. So she, figuratively, let go of the reins.
“Everything kind of went well,” she said. “It all came together. He fired, he did well, I just kind of sat and let him do his thing, it was really fun.”
Addington posted a 14.39 in her third go to move into third with a 44.32 on average. The Gillette native, riding for her hometown college, took her horse home before returning to the Events Center to cheer on her Pronghorn teammates’ third go-rounds.
With the pressures of performing removed until likely Saturday, she can enjoy the rest of the rodeo.
“I think my stress is gone now so I can just kind of sit back and relax now,” she said. “It will all fall into place. If I make it, I make it, and if I don’t, I don’t. I laid down a good run and I’m happy.”
All the years of experience have led Maddee Doerr to this point. The Cochise College freshman originally from Creighton, Nebraska, posted her best run of the rodeo with a 6.1 in her third go to take the lead on average with 19.3
“It’s just all automatic,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for so long that I just picture it in my mind and go do it.”
Despite the stakes and the size of the rodeo, her nerves subsided when her horse turned toward the chutes. From there the distance to the goat was the same as it always has been.
Also helping with nerves is the momentum she’s built lately.
“My last final region rodeo I had a 6.8 and a 6.6,” she said. “Then I (competed in a) jackpot before I came here and ran a 5.9 so I’m feeling pretty good.”
East Mississippi Community College’s Tristan Martin means business this year.
“I’m a lot more confident and strong,” he said. “I feel good and I’m ready to win.”
And following Tuesday’s performance he’s in line to do just that. Martin scored a 4.2 on Tuesday night for a 12.7 over three on average. Second place sits at 17.1 going into Wednesday’s performance.
The 2016 breakaway champion has returned for her crown.
Missouri Valley College’s Kirbie Crouse’s 2.6 on Tuesday put her in first on the average with a 7.8. She led second place by 1.1 seconds going into Wednesday’s performance.
West Oklahoma State’s Haven Meged took the lead on average with a 9.8 in Tuesday’s third go. That gave him a 33.4 on average.
Through Tuesday’s performance only four competitors have roped three head.