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A Conversation with Champions

By Caitlin Hofen

 

With the blazing lights, the roaring crowd, and the millions of butterflies in every competitor’s stomach, the Casper Events Center: Home of the CNFR, in Casper, Wyo., was the place to be Saturday evening, June 15.

 

The College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) is the best of the best in college rodeo. It’s where the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association crowns individual event champions in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping, and goat tying.

 

Northwestern was represented well by its five CNFR qualifiers, including breakaway roper Taylor Munsell, heeler Tanner Nall, tie-down roper Riley Wakefield, and steer wrestlers Bridger Anderson and Bradley Ralph. Each competed for the title of their respected events, and two Rangers came out on top. Munsell was crowned the 2019 National Breakaway Roping Champion and Anderson took the 2019 National Steer Wrestling Champion title.

 

Bridger Anderson

A native of Carrington, N.D., Anderson grew up around the rodeo lifestyle.

 

“My mom and dad both rodeoed,” he said. “I’ve just always been involved in rodeo. When I was three years old, my mom asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a professional steer wrestler at night and a paleontologist during the day. I’ve since given up on the dinosaur digging gig, but I’ve always kept with steer wrestling.”

 

With long hours both on the road and in the arena, dedicated athletes hardly ever get any down time.

 

 “It’s a full time job, never any time off,” Anderson confirmed.

 

With the Finals being the very ‘best of the best’, Anderson felt positive in his abilities going into the championship round.

 

“I was probably more nervous on my first three runs than in my final round. I was feeling pretty confident. I had a pretty good steer and I thought I’d do well on him. I got a good start, but as I was going to him, I lost the left horn and that’s when I became really nervous. I grabbed his nose and just went to wrestling him down to the ground. I grabbed anything I could and started pulling.”

 

Anderson’s quick thinking paid off.

 

“When I looked up and read 6.7 seconds, I fell back in the arena and threw my arms up in huge relief. Thought I might have just laid in the arena forever.”

 

“I had a lot of faith in myself and Bridger; he bulldogs better than most kids who are in college rodeo. He’s a great athlete and he has the right mindset and the right tools; he’s putting them to use,” Munsell commented.

 

Taylor Munsell

An Arnett, Okla. native, Munsell brings great pride to Northwestern as she is the first Lady Ranger to bring home a national title in Northwestern’s rodeo history. 

 

Munsell accredits her family in her decision to pursue rodeo.

 

“One side of my family ranches and the other side rodeos, so I grew up in it and it’s just something I’ve done all my life.”

 

Starting at a very young age, Munsell competed in many junior and youth rodeos before she found her niche in team roping. As she continued her career, Munsell was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the nerves and blood vessels pinch off in between the top rib and pectoral muscle. Having gone through a severe reconstructive surgery and countless hours of physical therapy, Northwestern Rodeo Head Coach Stockton Graves wasn’t sure team roping would be the best action for Munsell on the collegiate level.

 

“Stockton sat me down and said ‘let’s focus on breakaway roping instead and see if we can’t do something with that.’ It’s a lot easier on my shoulder and I just kind of took off,” Munsell explained.

 

When going into the final round, Munsell knew that going back to fundamentals was all she needed to do to secure her title.

 

“Going into it, I knew I didn’t have to be fast. I just had to go make a smart run – a normal practice pen run – which is almost harder sometimes. I made sure to see my start and took a couple extra swings over him and got the calf roped really sharp around the neck. That was pretty much all I had to do.”

 

“I was pretty confident that I was going to win it going into the final round, so in my head I already had it wrapped up before I even ran my calf. It was a great feeling; when they ask you to do a victory lap, it kind of sets in.”

 

“Taylor is very talented and is one of the best breakaway ropers in the nation right now. She’s an awesome cowgirl and a really great person,” remarked Anderson.

 

With such success this year, the possibilities are endless in not only what these two athletes can accomplish, but what the entire Northwestern rodeo team can do in the upcoming season.

 

For more about Northwestern’s rodeo program, look for the next issue of roundUP (due out later this summer).

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