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Wyoming People

To The Top - Rodeo athletes, student leaders prepare for CNFR

Written by Natasha Wheeler

Casper – After a grueling year, the Casper College Thunderbirds Rodeo Team will send 9 members of their team to the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) to compete with the top student athletes from around the nation.

“This year’s team is an amazing team,” says Jhett Johnson, assistant coach for the rodeo team. “They are so diversified.”

At this year’s CNFR, Casper College will be represented by Lacey Camp, Dantan Bertsch, Dylan Wahlert, Justin Harrell, Jake Fulton, Neil Williams, Drew Antone, Cawl Braithwaite and Joseph Barquin.

Thunderbirds rodeo

The Casper College Men’s Rodeo Team will be competing at the CNFR after taking the top spot in the Central Rocky Mountain Region at the end of the season, and Lacey Camp, who ended at second in the region’s breakaway roping, earned the spot to compete on the women’s side of the event.

Individually, Casper College’s men also performed well, with Dantan Bertsch winning the bareback riding and Cawl Braithwaite winning the bull riding.

Justin Harrell took reserve champion in saddle bronc, and Drew Antone also took reserve in the bull riding. In the steer wrestling event, Jake Fulton came out as reserve champion. Dylan Wahlert took the third place title in bareback riding, and Neil Williams ended third in bull riding. Williams was also the reserve champion all-around cowboy.

“The timed event guys are really strong,” Johnson says. “The rough stock guys are amazingly strong. They held steady and dominated all season this year.”

“We have had a really good team,” he continues. “They get along really well, and they are full of talent.”

Inside the season

Rodeo Coach Tom Parker notes that the men’s rodeo team started out strong, took a dip and then recovered.

“When we look at what we got done, these young men performed to the very best of their ability, and they performed to the top of anyone’s expectations,” he says. “It has been an opportunity and an honor for me to coach this group.”

The season started at Central Wyoming College, where the Thunderbirds finished fourth. They continued to Chadron State where they placed second.

“Right in the middle, we just took a nosedive, and I thought we were in for a long season,” Parker continues, mentioning that the team took sixth at the Sheridan College rodeo and fifth at Lamar’s event. “We went to Laramie County Community College, picked it back up and won.”

In the spring, the men’s rodeo team took second at the first rodeo of 2015 in Gillette, following the performance with a second place finish at Eastern Wyoming College, a first place finish at Colorado State University and a second place title at Casper’s rodeo.

At the final rodeo of the season, the University of Wyoming, the team took the top spot, and Parker comments, “When we got all done, we probably had as good a rodeo at the University of Wyoming as we have had for many years.”

With a total of 4,125 points, the team handily took the top spot in the region, earning them the rights to compete at CNFR.

“This team has some outstanding talent that was very apparent,” Parker says. “This was a very rewarding year. We started out strong and continued to improve throughout the entire rodeo season.”

Student leadership

As CNFR prepares to head to Casper for its year-end event, student directors of the event are also preparing themselves for a busy week.

“I’m excited about the buzz that surrounds CNFR,” Lane Santos-Karney, student at California Polytechnic State University, comments. “Everyone who shows up has worked so hard to get there – both in the arena and in school to stay on top of their studies. It is a huge reward to have the chance to compete for a national title.”

Santos-Karney jumped into a student director position this year and is currently serving as president. He notes that serving in the capacity of National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association President has given him the chance to meet a number of students and create lasting memories.

Shelbie Weeder, student vice president of Oklahoma Panhandle State University, adds, “This is a very cool opportunity for me. As student directors, we oversee everything that happens during the event. We make sure people are where they are supposed to be and that all our bases are covered.”

Rodeo benefits

But CNFR is more than just competing for these students.

Weeder comments, “I’m really excited for CNFR this year. The atmosphere is really great.”

She further notes that CNFR brings the best of college rodeo together for a week of competition and celebration.

“It is really fun to hang out with a group of people our age who are so determined to accomplish their goals,” Weeder adds. “CNFR is a fantastic experience.”

“Rodeo has such a heritage,” Lane notes. “There are a lot of kids who won’t go on to professionally rodeo, but college rodeo gives those who are going to school a chance to take that route.”

While they have the opportunity to compete in an event that matters to them culturally, Lane notes that it also allows them to pursue a career pathway.

“College rodeo is one of the greatest organizations,” Lane continues. “We see so many generations and so many great memories from college rodeo. It brings a lot of memories and creates a bond that ties us all together.”

Learn more about CNFR or purchase tickets for the event at cnfr.org.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..