This year, Derek Weinreis and Levi O’Keeffe are ready for the challenges of the College National Finals Rodeo.
Competing in the Casper Events Center for the first time last year, the Eastern Wyoming College team ropers finished 15th overall despite having a no-time in the second go-round. With a 13.0-second run in the first go and a solid 6.0-second run in the third go, they would have made it back for the short go with a timed catch in the second go.
“We panicked last year,” O’Keeffe, the heeler, said. “[The Events Center] is a tough arena because it’s narrower than what you’re used to.
“But we’ve been practicing with a similar set-up, so we’re ready this year.”
That showed during the Central Rocky Mountain Region season. After failing to place in the first two rodeos, Weinreis and O’Keeffe dominated the region, winning three rodeos and finishing in the top four in seven of the final eight CRMR rodeos.
“It just seemed like we were more focused this year and more positive toward each other,” O’Keeffe said. “And if something did go wrong, we didn’t let it bother us.”
O’Keefe and Weinreis helped Eastern Wyoming win the CRMR and solidify a team berth to the CNFR for the first time in six years. They’ll be joined there by three-event qualifier Troy Wilcox and his team roping partner Cotey Hanson, along with steer wrestler Dustin Dailey.
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Wilcox and Hanson finished second in the team roping, while Wilcox was fourth in steer wrestling and fifth in tie-down roping to claim the region’s all-around title. Dailey tied for sixth in bulldogging.
“We’ll definitely be focusing on the timed-event end of the arena,” EWC coach Jake Clark said. “I was talking to some other coaches and we can’t remember a team winning the region with only timed-event guys, but that’s just the way it worked out for us this year.”
With so many talented timed-event cowboys -- EWC had two other teams finish in the top 10 in the region -- O’Keeffe said the Lancers’ practice sessions paid dividends throughout the season.
“It was a lot of fun practicing with those guys because they made us work harder,” he said. “And this year’s [CNFR] is going to be way better with having teammates around.”
While Clark believes Weinreis and O’Keefe will definitely benefit from having been here last year, he expects his three first-timers to be ready as well.
“It always helps to have some returning experience,” Clark said. “But I think the other guys will be ready. And I know Troy is such a competitor that I don’t think it being his first time here will hinder him at all.
“I’m just anxious to see how these guys perform.”