By Kevin Wilson
Even with two-third of his qualifiers going to the College National Finals Rodeo for the first time, Eastern New Mexico University rodeo coach David Browder doesn’t think his team will be intimidated.
“These guys have been to big rodeos,” Browder said. “It’s not going to blow these guys out of the water.”
Browder has three representatives for ENMU in this year’s CNFR, scheduled for June 13-19 in Casper, Wyo. One of them — Kendra Jones, goat tying — is making her second trip to the CNFR, while Royce Lynch (tie-down roping) and Tabor Smith (team roping) are each making their first.
The lack of experience at the CNFR is something that Browder doesn’t think will faze his athletes.
“As far as the individuals, I think they feel a sense of accomplishment making it to the finals,” Browder said, “but they want to go up there and have a good finals too.
“They don’t want to just put their name in the hat … they want to come out as a winner.”
The ENMU men would need national championship efforts from both Lynch and Smith to have a reasonable shot at a team championship. Each one believes they have just as much of a chance as anybody else to take the top spots.
“I feel good, I think I’m roping pretty good right now,” Smith, a 1998 graduate of Elida High School, said after leaving a roping event this weekend in Gallup. “I’m just going to try to catch every steer by two feet. Nothing fancy, I just want to get them caught. If we catch all four, we’ll be all right.”
Smith feels that his partner, Colby Schneman, gives him a great chance at success. Schneman took second in last year’s CNFR as the header. The header ropes the head and tries to get the steer into a position for the healer (Smith) to rope both legs (or one leg for a five-second penalty).
“He handles the steers where it makes it easier for me to rope them,” Smith said. “The headers can make it easier for you if they just slow that steer down right.”
Browder, meanwhile, thinks that Smith deserves a lot of the credit as well. Smith, who never roped in high school, qualified for the CNFR in his senior year by winning the Southwest Region.
“He really didn’t start roping until late in high school,” Browder said of Smith. “He’s another really good athlete. He just picks up on stuff really fast. He’s got good hand-eye coordination.
“Tabor doesn’t know how good he really is. He doesn’t let it go to his head and that’s a good thing.”
Lynch, a 2001 graduate of Deming High School, also gives the credit for his success to many others. His horse was named the Southwest Region horse of the year, and he said he has learned much about roping from Ned and Kurt Kiehne of Portales, who have helped him practice his roping.
Another big factor in his improvement, though, is the shot of confidence he got after a summer on the professional tour. Lynch said he worked through last summer to fill out his permit with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“During the summer, I went to a few pro rodeos,” Lynch said. “It gave me a pretty big confidence booster going into (this year). By watching the top guys rope, I learned about the things a guy needs to do to win.”
And the key to winning this season is consistency. Since there was no regional finals rodeo this season — athletes had to finish in the top three in the region in cumulative season points to qualify for the CNFR.
“He’s made a big leap, maybe not as far as ability, but the consistency,” Browder said of Lynch. “In our region, it seems like the ones who are the most consistent do well, and he’s been really consistent.”
It’s the same way with Jones, who finished second in the Southwest Region in goat tying.
“Her consistency has really improved this year,” Browder said. “She improved from eighth-place in the region last year to second place this year.”
Last year, Jones was able to advance to the CNFR through a good showing at the regional finals. This year, she did enough in the normal season to qualify.
“Last year, she ended up sixth in the nation,” Browder said. “I think at that point, her confidence level really increased. She knows she can compete with all the tougher girls in the nation.”
Jones couldn’t be reached for comment on Saturday.