After all, Coach Mark Eakin has taken at least one team to Casper, Wyo., for the past nine years.
This year eight Tarleton riders and ropers will compete against the best in all 11 of the National Collegiate Rodeo Association regions, and national championships will be on the line at the June 8-16 CNFR.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Eakin, in his 10th year at the reins of the Tarleton rodeo program. “I’ve been coaching for 19 years, and I know things happen.”
“We’ve been blessed to have really great students,” he said. “Like a lot of things at Tarleton — there’s a lot of tradition. It doesn’t hurt that we’re in the Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Eakin said student athletes’ competitive natures keeps raising the bar.
“Once you get a great group of students in here and they set the standard, then it seems like every year the next group ups it a little bit. They feed off each other. We’ve created a student-led team, so they take a little bit of ownership, constantly trying to do better every year.”
This year’s CNFR roughstock qualifiers from Tarleton are Brody Cress, a three-timer to Casper who won the Southwest Regionsaddle bronc title for the second year; Linden Woods, a two-time CNFR qualifier who captured the regional bareback crown; and Tyler Berghuis, the reserve champion bareback rider in the Southwest.
Timed-event qualifiers, who make up the rest of the regional champion men’s team, are tie-down specialists Kyle Parrish, who won the region, and Wyatt Williams, along with team roping header Ky Bray, Southwest Region reserve champion.
Two members of Tarleton’s women’s team also qualified for Casper. Regional goat tying champion Baili Collins will make her fifth appearance at the CNFR, and breakaway roper Rylee Dick is making her third run at a national title after placing second in the region during the regular season.
“Both ladies had a great year,” said women’s coach Brittany Bell. “From the first rodeo, they were determined and had goals. They know what they need to do and I have no doubt that they will represent Tarleton very well.”
Counting this season, the eight Tarleton Texans headed to Casper have a total of 17 College National Finals appearances, making experience the hallmark of the team.
“Experience is huge when you’re going to the college finals,” Eakin said. “For most of them, it’ll be the biggest stage they’ve been on. None of them have won the nation before, but they know what to expect.”
He likes their chances in Casper.
“We have high hopes. Students have worked hard and put all they’ve got into it,” he said. “They have a great chance.”