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CNFR - day 1

Tegan Smith of Clarendon College competes in bull riding during the Bulls, Broncs & Breakaway competition at the College National Finals Rodeo on Sunday at the Casper Events Center.

Frontier Rodeo’s County Line swung its 1,500-pound frame against the metal chutes surrounding it, sending repeated beats throughout the Casper Events Center. The volume and sheer force of the bull sent surrounding cowboys flinching. Announcer Boyd Polhamus’ voice gave way to a guitar-driven song, adding more decibels to the chaos of the 2019 College National Finals Rodeo.

Colten Fritzlan didn’t notice. On other days he’d be able to hear the music, but once he straddled County Line he visualized his ride. His unwavering gaze stared over the bull’s horns and he imagined which way the bull would break. And then the next move. And then he caught himself.

It’s just man versus animal.

“Just don’t think about it too much,” he said. “I mean, s***, it’s just bull riding. Do your job, that’s all there is to it.”

Fritzlan’s visualization gave way to realization. He didn’t anticipate the skip out of the chutes but stayed calm and fell into his rhythm by the second corner. He covered County Line and happily dismounted, showing a wide grin before the audience knew his ride tied him for the lead after Sunday’s Bulls, Broncs & Breakaway with an 82-point ride. The crowd watched multiple cowboys get bucked, some even ending in gasping wrecks, and excitedly applauded the freshman’s ride. He heard that.

“It’s hard not to smile when you get one like that and you make it work,” Fritzlan said. “That bull’s a dream, right there.”

At the time the ride put him in sole possession of first. Panola College’s Daylon Swearingen tied that 82 on the very next ride but no one else cleared 78.5. Those two stood above the rest as the other 38 riders of the day dealt with problems. Man versus animal sometimes isn’t so easy.

Casper College’s K’s Thomson, who sits 11th, stalled in the chutes before covering Fontier Rodeo’s Festus for a 70-point ride. Festus, a rodeo veteran, sat and jumped in the chutes enough to prolong the build-up. Thomson’s hand, tightly bound to his rig, started to fall asleep.

“I wanted to nod as fast as I could but he’d been bucking some guys off,” Thomson said. “I hadn’t seen anyone ride him. It didn’t look like he bucked too hard so I knew there was probably a trick to him and I thought that might be it.”

Thomson nearly joined the long line of riders who couldn’t handle the bull when his body started to fall off Festus’ right side. The Sheridan College transfer admitted that the stage of the CNFR and the glory on the line made him straighten to the bull’s back and barely cover before being thrown.

“If it was a little rodeo somewhere, maybe I’d get off that one somewhere. Little more chances of getting yourself hurt putting yourself out there,” Thomson said. “I don’t know, four-header like this, it’s going to be four to get it rode, even with a low score. And I knew it wouldn’t be a great score hanging on him like that but wanted to go for it.”

They were just a few of the 14 successful rides during the day. Sometimes, in the battle between bull and man, bull wins. Just ask Montana Western’s Kelly Murnion, who was left face down in the arena dirt by a bull named Juicy Fruit.

The bull circled back toward the chutes on the first corner and tucked its head, throwing the cowboy forward. Murnion’s helmet banged off the chutes and he promptly fell off the bull. That came just before 2 p.m. Judges awarded him a re-ride, which he took 4 hours later. He was thrown once again, albeit less violently.

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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