Warrior cowboys in Casper for CNFR

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WALLA WALLA — With seven men and four women qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo this year, Walla Walla Community College returns to the biggest collegiate rodeo this week to defend its men’s national title and take a shot at winning its first women’s title since 1990.

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Walla Walla Community College cowboys are in Casper, Wyo., for the College National Finals Rodeo beginning today. Above, former Warrior Ashley Heinrich on a breakaway run in 2011.

Although he didn’t qualify for the all-around standings, last year’s all-round champion Bryce Palmer returns along with team roping partner Jake Minor to lead the men, and Rachel Richards is returning as well after placing seventh in the goat tying event.

The men are ranked 10th heading into the national rodeo, but regular season points are not factored into scoring at the CNFR, which is held in Casper, Wyo.

“Once we get there it’s a clean slate,” WWCC coach Buster Barton said. “If we have a good week we could do really well I think.”

Along with Palmer and Minor, Cain Smith (bullriding), Brady Ramone (team roping), Koty Kamm (steer wrestling, tie-down roping), Kane Theile and Zack Justeson (team roping) will also represent the men.

“The men’s team is loaded with some first-time qualifiers that are very talented,” said Barton, who is in his ninth year of coaching the Warriors.

Palmer and Minor placed second at last season’s CNFRs, and are currently in third place.”

Although he is currently third in the Northwest Region all-around standings, Palmer did not make the CNFR cut in his second event, tie-down roping, and will not have a chance to win the all-around category this season.

“Bryce will graduate this year with two degrees and it’s just been a pleasure to have him, for sure,” Barton said.

Kamm, who finished seventh in the regional all-around standings, will have a shot however after qualifying in both tie down roping and steer wrestling.

“Ke’s a seasoned kid,” Barton said of Kamm. “He can rope and bullride with anybody.”

Richards is the sole returning Warrior on the women’s side who made it into last season’s finals. After placing seventh last year at the CNFRs, she is currently in sixth in the region.

“She’ll definitely need to lead the pack this year,” Barton said. “She’s the veteran of the group.

“Nationals is a big rodeo,” he continued. “It’s nationally televised and it can be quite a shock for some of these kids. I think they’ll handle it well.”

Brittany Leasy also made the trip to Casper last season, but failed to make the finals after a run of bad luck in the breakaway roping event, Barton said.

“Britany Leasy ropes really tough,” Barton said. “She’s on a new horse, which will help her out a lot. She had some tough luck last year — had some tough draws, calves wanting to turn back in the area, which makes it really hard.”

Also making the trip this season for the women will be Shay Jones in breakaway roping and Kelsey Streeter in barrel racing.

“Kelsey Streeter, she’s really peaked at the right time,” Barton said. “Her horse is running great and we’ll see if she can run with some of the fastest horses in the nation.”

Each team at the CNFRs is able to count up to six men and four women toward its respective team scoring, meaning that both the WWCC men and women have the potential to win team titles.

“I think they’re a very well-rounded team,” Barton said of his women’s squad. “We’re covered in a lot of events. This team is filled with talent.

“If they start off the week well and get some momentum, I think they could do some big things.”

The rodeo kicks off today with “Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway” performances at 1 and 7 p.m. and continues through Saturday.

Each cowboy and cowgirl will compete in three rounds throughout the week, and the top 12 finishers will return for finals on Saturday.

All events after Sunday are held at 7 p.m.

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