Lance Creek cowgirl Jordan Thurston-Miller’s horse stomped in the chute Thursday night, knowing full well it was go-time.
The near capacity crowd at the Casper Events Center rose to its feet, raising a collective voice for a Wyoming cowgirl riding for a Wyoming school. The four-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Gillette College didn’t disappoint.
Thurston-Miller regained the lead in the goat tying average at the 65th annual CNFR with time of 6.2 seconds. She and Northeastern Junior College sophomore Hayden Segelke tied for the fastest time in the third go-round, with one more performance remaining.
But Thurston-Miller, who has qualified for her third short-go finals in the past four years, took the outright lead in the average with 18.7. That was four-tenths of a second ahead of Segelke.
“My goat was supposed to turn a little bit. But he didn’t, which was good,” Thurston-Miller said. “It was good and smooth, which was what I needed to do.
“I don’t look at the numbers or who has what, because anything can happen in this rodeo. I just have to go tie another one.”
That will take place Saturday, where Thurston-Miller has a chance to collect her second national championship in goat tying, if all goes well.
“Jordan is on fire. She’s just doing what she is capable of doing and that’s better than everybody else,” Pronghorns coach Will LaDuke said. “She’s really feeling the momentum and she really likes the big stage.”
Thurston-Miller switched horses right before the last CNFR of her stellar college career. The way it’s going, her brother Ace might not get his steer wrestling horse back.
“My horse didn’t work good at one rodeo and I got back on what was working,” said Thurston-Miller, who won the national goat tying championship in 2010. “My philosophy has always been, if there’s a better one, then leave yours home. I felt like ‘Lucky’ was ready and he deserved a chance to be here.”
Gillette College stampede
It was a night when the Gillette College gray vests were up in numbers. Six Pronghorns answered the call Thursday.
Saddle bronc rider Travis Nelson of Philip, S.D., turned in the second-best ride of the night, scoring 74 points on Frontier Rodeo Company’s Cherry Creek.
Cherry Creek squatted coming out of the chute and officials immediately threw the yellow flag, signaling a violation.
Nelson made the ride and officials ended up waving off the violation. His 74-point ride counted.
Nelson had a no-score in the second go, but remains ninth in the average with 140.5 points.
“My horse squatted when I nodded and came around the post. I really didn’t get her spurred out and I saw they threw a flag,” Nelson said. “After that, she was all right. The back judge told them to pick up the flag.
“It was one of those deals where I just wanted to go out and win the round to make sure I scored some points for the team.”
Only the first nine saddle bronc riders covered all three horses, so Nelson has a good chance of returning for the short go-round Saturday night, if his score holds.
“I thought we had a chance to win the round tonight with that horse,” LaDuke said. “Travis made a heck of a bronc ride. It was nice for him to get a horse that let him show off his ability.”
Barrel racer Kristi Steffes of Vale, S.D., just keeps getting faster as the rodeo continues. She turned it loose Thursday for a time of 14.09 seconds, placing fifth in the third go-round and moving to 10th in the average with a total of 43.10 seconds. The top 12 reach the finals on Saturday night, so she has a chance to compete one more time.
Steffes didn’t look a like a freshman as she hit the finish line with an ovation from the crowd.
“I feel a lot better now, after having finally had a good run,” said Steffes, who posted times of 14.61 and 14.40. “It’s fun being here with such an amazing team.
“Jordan’s leading goat tying and that’s cool. It’s nice to know that you can help out the rest of your teammates. It’s been a lot of fun this week.”
As Steffes prepared for her run, the arena announcer gave the crowd the low-down on her bloodline. Her sister, Nikki, was the all-around national cowgirl in 2007 and 2009. She also helped the Wyoming Cowgirls win a national team championship both years.
“She’s used to hearing about her sister, but they’ll be talking about her now,” LaDuke said. “Her horse seems to run a little bit better with the big crowd. He was really jacked tonight and she rode well.”
That helped lift the Gillette College women to third in the team standings with 243.33 points. The Pronghorns are within 127 points of a national title.
LaDuke also is looking at the cup being half full. If things hold up Friday, he will send three of his six men to the short-go. Two of the four Gillette women could very well be there on Saturday, too.
“That’s a pretty big appearance in the short-round,” LaDuke said.
Some bad luck, too
Four-time CNFR qualifier Dane Kissack has been to the tie-down roping short-go twice and finished third in the nation in 2011.
The Spearfish, S.D., cowboy, who won the Badlands Circuit, also ranked second in the all-around standings heading into Thursday’s performance. But his chances of competing for a national title evaporated when he missed his calf.
It wasn’t the way Kissack wanted to end his college career, but he is ranked 42nd in the PRCA world standings and looking at a promising professional career.
“I’ve got to look at the big picture. I don’t have any reason to be upset,” said Kissack, who has earned $10,229 in the PRCA. “I’m healthy. My horse is healthy and I’m ready to go accomplish my goals and my dreams.
‘The Lord has really blessed me and I have to step back from this little situation and be thankful.”
Freshman Emily Faber of Rozet also pushed hard to make it to the short-go in goat tying. The former Gillette High School Rodeo Club president was coming off her best round of the rodeo, and just needed a solid time to earn a likely trip to the finals.
But she earned a no-time when her goat got loose.
“It’s not ending the way I envisioned it, but that's just the way things go,” Faber said. “There’s a lot girls going home disappointed. But placing in the second round with 6.4 was really good. I’ll be back next year.”
Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas is leading the men’s rodeo with 415 points. Gillette College sits seventh with 265.