DILLON — The Montana Western rodeo teams are in the final stages of preparation to compete in the 67th Annual College National Finals Rodeo to be held June 14-20 at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyoming.
Seven men and three women will represent the Bulldogs at the CNFR after the teams each earned an invitation to the event by finishing in the top two for the Big Sky Region. The men claimed the team title by holding onto the top position throughout the 10 rodeos of the fall and spring seasons. The women overcame a slow fall season to pile up points in the spring, moving them into second place in the year-end standings. Montana State University claimed the other invitations to the CNFR from the Big Sky Region.
Bulldog rodeo coach Iola Else is looking forward to another trip to Casper and has her eyes set on bringing home championship hardware.
“We are ready to go and really looking forward to the week,” Else said. “The kids are looking forward to great competition as well as a number of extra activities.”
The contestants will have the opportunity to participate in softball and golf tournaments and host a morning of rodeo activities for individuals of all ages with special needs. Monday night of the CNFR week also features a scholarship awards banquet.
“A number of our Montana Western athletes have been nominated for scholarships,” Else reported. “The academic success of our student has been recognized by the board of directors, and I am really hopeful that we will be rewarded during the scholarship presentations.”
These annual events are worked in around three full rounds of competition leading up to the short-go in which the top ten contestants will compete for the national championship saddles. Both team and individual points are accumulated over the four rounds to create the final standings.
The Montana Western men’s team underwent a slight realignment in the past week after junior tie down roper Jade Gardner suffered serious injuries while participating in a branding. Gardner will be unable to participate in the CNFR this season, but the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association allowed Else to name a substitute to round out her team.
“I am disappointed and heartbroken that Jade will not be able to compete at the CNFR after earning that right with his performance this year,” Else said. “Jade really stepped up his game this year and was a team leader in making positive choices that really paid off.
“We are pleased that we can take J2 Bridges in Jade’s place, he is a seasoned competitor who will represent Montana Western very well,” Else said.
The following Bulldog rodeo athletes will participate in the 2015 CNFR:
Phil Shields, a junior from Philipsburg, won the Big Sky Region All-Around Cowboy award by claiming titles in both the bull riding and saddle bronc riding. This is Shields’ second trip to the CNFR, where he the first competitor of the 2015 event as he opens up the saddle bronc competition in the rough stock matinee Sunday afternoon.
Tyler Friend, a junior saddle bronc rider from Tetonia, Idaho, will kick off his first CNFR on Sunday afternoon. Friend finished the regular season in second place in the standings of saddle bronc riding and third in the all-around competition.
JD Bridges, a senior from Melrose, will represent the Bulldogs in the bareback riding. Bridges finished the season fifth in the Big Sky Region standings, but has a solid history at the CNFR as qualified twice for the event prior to transferring to Montana Western.
Newt Novich, a senior from Twin Bridges, earned the right to compete in the steer wrestling event after placing third in the Big Sky Region. Novich earned a qualification to the 2013 CNFR while competing for Northwest College.
Kane Cartwright, a senior from East Helena, will be competing in two events for the Bulldogs at this year’s CNFR. Cartwright will be competing in steer wrestling and team roping as a header, he finished second and third respectively in the Big Sky Region standings. This is Cartwright’s second straight trip to Casper, where he finished fifth in the 2014 CNFR short go.
Holden Garrison, a sophomore team roper from Dillon, will heel for Cartwright. Garrison finished third in the final Big Sky Region heeler standings. This will be Garrison’s first trip to the CNFR, but he brings with him a family legacy of success at the event. Garrison’s father and uncles represented the Bulldogs at the CNFR during their college rodeo careers.
Ian Austiguy, a senior from Bozeman, Mont. will also compete in the team roping event at the 2015 CNFR. Austiguy finished fourth in the Big Sky Region as a header, and will head for Montana State University heeler Jesse Brown during the CNFR.
Connlee Gray, a sophomore from Liberty Lake, Wash. will represent the Montana Western women’s team in the barrel racing event. Gray finished the Big Sky Region barrel racing competition in eight place, but is no stranger to running in big events as she claimed a championship saddle in the Pro-West Rodeo Association this past summer.
Justinn Marshall, a senior goat tyer from Saco, looks to end her Bulldog career on a high note after finishing seventh in the Big Sky Region this season. Marshall, a team captain, will be competing in her third and final CNFR.
Tess Turk, a sophomore from Elko, Nev. is looking to continue her outstanding season. Turk finished fourth in breakaway roping, and fifth in both goat tying and all-around standings for the Big Sky Region. Turk will represent the Bulldogs in both the breakaway and goat tying during the CNFR.
To follow our Bulldog Rodeo athletes click here.
— Montana Western Sports Information