Finals Week - College Cowboys Make the Grade

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The College National Finals Rodeo provided the perfect arena.

The two grew up less than 100 miles from each other and started roping before they were teenagers, but hadn't roped in a rodeo together in a couple years, until the week leading up to the CNFR. Ten days later, they rode out of Casper, Wyo., as national champions.

"This is the first place we've roped all year," Roberts said after the college team ropers beat all of their competitors by at least five seconds over four rounds. "We just picked each other up and it worked real good. We grew up real close to each other, but we just got together."

Bramwell and his buddies drove up from Texas to pick up Roberts-who attends Eastern New Mexico University-and they proceeded to a rodeo in their home state of Colorado, the team's only rodeo and practice session before the CNFR. The drive and stops at least allowed them to make up a game plan for the week.

"We just tried to get in and out as fast as we could without doing something stupid," said Bramwell, who goes to school at Ranger (Texas) College. "We tried not to back off any. Just didn't safety up, just go ahead and make a run on them."

Bramwell and Roberts claimed they didn't draw a good steer until the short go, but their times told a different story. They never posted a time of more than 7.7 seconds.

"Really, our first three steers weren't what they were supposed to be, but we just kind of went and knocked them down," said Bramwell, who was on the heeling end of runs of 6.7, 6.0 and 7.7 seconds.

Even though they only placed in the top eight teams in one round, Roberts and Bramwell led Rob Webb and Bo Patzke of Walla Walla Community College by 1.7 seconds heading into championship Saturday.

"I've never been so nervous in my life," Roberts said. "I was pumped up and excited and ready for it, but at the same time I didn't know, I kinda had that feeling you get when you just know and hope everything is going to work just right."

It couldn't have worked out much better. With the benefit of the last run of the night, the duo sat back and watched Webb and Patzke clock in at 11.6 seconds and fall out of contention. Roberts and Bramwell knew they needed a run of 11.7 or better, and with the steer they'd drawn, they were in great shape.

"In the short round, we finally drew a good steer," Roberts said. "It was one of those dream steers that just lopes down the pen."

They made quick work of it, grabbing their second 6.7-second run of the week-giving them a total of 27.1 seconds on four head-nearly 20 seconds faster than the champions from the year before. In fact, seven teams put together better aggregate scores than the 2007 champions, Matt Robertson and Cody Tew.

Arena de la Cruz-wife of Wrangler NFR heeler Cesar de la Cruz and sister of Robertson-and Tyrel Flewelling-an Eastern New Mexico teammate of Roberts-finished second, five seconds back. Arena de la Cruz was also the women's all-around champion.

But the week belonged to the pair that hadn't roped together at anything except jackpots over the past two or three years.

Roberts actually teamed up with Flewelling for the first half of the college season. They decided to make a change, but still both qualified for the CNFR.

Bramwell roped with a couple different partners throughout the season as well, but when they qualified from the Southern Regional individually, the pairing just seemed natural.

"We kind of grew up together and roped a lot when we were younger," said Bramwell, who heeled using Classic's Powerline rope. "We hadn't roped together in a couple years and then he came over here to this region and we both had different partners and we got to team up and it just kind of worked out."

But it wasn't the first time the two had made the perfect combo.

"We won the Southwest Regionals in 2003 together, the shootout," said Roberts, who headed using Fast Back's M-33 rope. "So we've roped off and on."

The two first roped in junior rodeos together, but because they now live in different areas-Bramwell in Stephenville, Texas, and Roberts in Portales, New Mexico-they were resigned to the occasional jackpot.

"We usually do pretty well at the jackpots. During college rodeos and stuff, they have some jackpots and we do well at those. We rope a lot together, just not at the rodeos."

Not surprisingly, both Bramwell and Roberts come from team roping families. Both were introduced to rodeo by their fathers. Bramwell's dad, Dick, roped professionally when he was younger. And Kory roped in high school with his brother, who now mostly competes in jackpots. Roberts' father, Chip, competes at USTRC team roping events.

"He was a bareback rider growing up," Roberts said. "Then, when I was about eight years old, he introduced me to rodeo and since then it's been every weekend."

And it all paid off with a national championship.

"I think my parents were more happy than I was," Bramwell said.

And they may get a chance to add a few more titles if Bramwell decides to return to the college circuit next year.

Bramwell is contemplating roping strictly at the professional level, but now that they've shown they can win despite the long layoff, he and Roberts have discussed teaming up with each other for a full season during the 2008-09 campaign.

And that's a pretty scary thought considering what they did over the span of a week with just one quick practice rodeo.

Bareback Riding
Utah Valley State's Kaycee Feild was one half of a point from a clean sweep at the College National Finals Rodeo.

With a 12.5-point lead heading into Saturday's short-go, he knew when he got aboard Harry Vold's Hypnotic that he only needed a ride of 66 points to win a national championship.

But nothing over the course of Feild's week was conservative and neither was his final ride, as he took Hypnotic to 84.5 points.

The highest score of the CNFR gave him a 19.5-point win.

"I go at it every time to try to win every time," Feild said. "I knew I had the horse tonight. I'd seen him quite a bit and was really excited to see the draw and see what I had."

There were just five rides of 79 points or more during the entire week and Feild - the son of three-time world all-around champion, two time world bareback riding champion and Utah Valley State's coach Lewis Feild-logged four of them, winning the second, third and short rounds and dominating the field as just a freshman.

Tennessee-Martin's Matt Smith tied for second in the round with a 77.5-point ride and finished second in the aggregate with 305.5 points on four.

Steer Wrestling
It was hard to tell who was more excited, husband or wife.

Sharlee Wade let out a roaring scream after hazing for her husband, Cody, who threw down his final steer in 3.9 seconds.

Moments later, winning the national title finally sank in for Cody when Northwest Oklahoma State's Kody Woodward came up one-tenth of a second short.

"It feels awesome," Cody Wade said. "(Having Sharlee) haze means a lot to me. I couldn't have done it without her. She's been awesome."

Wade wrapped up the week with a total of 16.2 seconds on four head, topping Woodward by the slimmest of margins and edging Walla Walla Community College's Sean Santucci by 0.2 seconds.

Bull Riding
The bull didn't even have a real name, but Dustin Jenkins knew what Byron Juma's F43 could do.

Jenkins, a bull rider for the University of Montana, watched Vernon College's Cody Gardner ride Byron Juma's F43 to 89 points, the highest score of the week early on at the CNFR.

In the short round, the bull was Jenkins' ticket to a national championship at the Casper Events Center.

"I've never won (a national title) before but right now it feels pretty awesome," Jenkins said. "I'm pretty excited. I just thank the Lord."

Jenkins was the only cowboy to ride four bulls in four attempts over the course of the week, piling up 303 points on the four rides.

On Saturday, it was all about putting the pressure on Central Arizona College's Craig Begay-who qualified to the short go on three as well.

Jenkins trailed Begay by seven points after the first three rounds, but was only worried about one thing - one more qualified ride.

"Craig Begay is a real nice kid and he rides good," Jenkins said. "I knew that they had 89 points on (F43) earlier this week and that was the highest mark ride of the week.

"I was pretty excited with the draw because I knew he was good."

Begay settled for second as the only other cowboy to ride at least three bulls on the week.

Saddle Bronc Riding
Chuck Schmidt was feeling the pressure so much he said he needed a brown paper bag before the short round.

Turns out, he felt more pressure during the day than he did in the chutes. In first place in saddle bronc riding heading into the short go, Schmidt watched the second- and third-place competitors falter before simply taking Mossbrucker's Silver Moon to 74 points and a national championship.

"I was nervous and I don't usually handle pressure too well, but it worked out today," Schmidt said. "I calmed down and got done what I needed to get done. It was a little lower score than I was hoping for, but I guess it'll work."

The 74 was all that he needed.

Schmidt led by just one point in the average after the second round, but by the time he got in the saddle, knew he didn't need to bite his nails.

Montana-Western's James Irish, who sat in third place by four points heading into Saturday, did all he could to hold on for 66.5 points and wound up falling all the way to fourth place.

Then, Montana State's Cort Scheer, who had been in second by a single point, couldn't make the whistle aboard Harry Vold's Boogerhead.

That meant Schmidt only needed 64.5 points to catch West Texas College's Cody Angland for the national title.

"It worked out pretty good-I'm glad," Schmidt said. "I came here thinking 'I hope I make the short go, hopefully I make some good rides and turn some heads.' I never really in my wildest dreams expected to be in the first position and have all that pressure taken away."

Tie Down Roping
Johnny Salvo might have just completed his first year of college, but in the arena, he never considered himself a freshman.

Maybe that's why the New Mexico State rookie handled the pressure so well.

Salvo entered the short go in first place and knew he needed to be faster than 11.3 seconds to win a national championship.

He promptly finished his run in 9.5 seconds, his fastest time of the week, to run away in the tie down roping competition.

"I just feel so blessed," Salvo said. "I was just nervous that (the calf) was going to get up, but I knew I was fast enough."

Salvo finished with a total of 41.6 seconds on four runs, 1.8 seconds faster than Wyoming's Jake Pratt.

"I rope with these guys at pro rodeos and stuff, so I don't really feel younger than them," Salvo said. "But it feels great."

Barrel Racing
Bailey Gow saved her best for last.

The New Mexico State cowgirl turned the cloverleaf pattern in 14.22 seconds-her best and the second fastest time all week at the CNFR - in the short round to win the barrel racing title by just three-tenths of a second.

Gow lowered her times with each and every run and finished with a total of 57.92 seconds through four trips, topping UNLV's Nellie Williams.

Other champions included Dickinson State's Kobi Olineck, New Mexico State's Megan Albrecht, McNeese State's Hope Thompson and Panhandle State's Krista Johnson.

Thompson and Johnson shared the breakaway roping title by pulling off four runs in 11.9 seconds, besting Texas A&M's Juba Kyle by 0.4 seconds. It was the first of three ties on the night.

Olineck and Albrecht took home the honors in goat tying, wrapping up four runs in 27.6 seconds to win by one-tenth of a second.

Walla Walla freshman Jordan Crossley later shared the all-around title with Weatherford's Arena de la Cruz, while New Mexico State's Wyatt Althoff won the men's all-around.

Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College won the men's team title while the University of Nevada-Las Vegas took the women's.