Tarleton rodeo women dominate region, earn CNFR appearance

STEPHENVILLE (June 5, 2019) — Tarleton women took no prisoners on the way to the CNFR.

Russian-born writer Ayn Rand said, “The question isn’t who’s going to let me, it’s who’s going to stop me.” That could be the credo of the Tarleton State University women’s rodeo team as it prepares for the College National Finals Rodeo, June 9-15, in Casper, Wyo.

The women, led by National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region goat tying champion Lariat Larner and four other transfers, dominated the regional standings, winning six of 10 rodeos in 2018-19 and finishing in the top three in all but one.

“The women’s team really came together this year,” said rodeo assistant coach Brittany Stewart. “Everyone has been striving to accomplish the goals we set early on and work hard. They continually help push each other to the top.”

All five Tarleton team members came from other high-profile programs, and three have already been to Casper, including Larner, a Stephenville High School graduate who qualified for the College National Finals last year in both breakaway roping and goat tying before transferring from South Plains College.

“We all came from different schools,” said Larner, a math major. “We were all friends but never teammates. We all knew we were really good, so it’s nice to be on a team together.”

Larner’s consistency during the regular season was one key to the team’s success. The junior goat-tying specialist was tops in the Southwest Region and second in the nation, claiming five event titles this season and one second-place finish. In addition, she won the women’s all-around buckle at the season-ending Tarleton Stampede.

The rest of the regional championship team features Mary Risse, who ties goats and competes in breakaway roping; Rickie Engesser, likewise a dual-event competitor; and barrel racers Maddy Dickens and Samantha Smith.

Risse, from Martin, S.D., had an impressive goat-tying campaign. She finished the season as the reserve champion, claiming a half-dozen top-four finishes in 2018-19, including a title in Vernon in early October.

She also took a fourth in breakaway roping and was the all-around winner at the West Texas A&M rodeo. This will be her first time at CNFR.

“I’m excited to be able to compete with the best girls in the nation,” she said. “It’s going to be so awesome to see how competitive it’s going to be. Hopefully, we’ll bring a national championship back to Texas.”

Engesser excelled in both breakaway roping — ranking second in the Southwest — and goat tying, in which she finished ninth. Her success in both events resulted in her reserve champion finish in the women’s all-around race.

From Spearfish, S.D., she credits her family for getting her started in rodeo. “Dad was one of my biggest helps. He had me on my first horse when I was 2.”

She is a senior animal production major making her third appearance in Casper.

“Honestly, I look at it as just another rodeo,” she said. “We have a really good support team. We constantly help each other, and I think that’s done a lot to get us where we are.”


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Dickens, a senior business administration major, took second place among the region’s barrel racers with six finishes in the top four during the season, including an event title at Howard College this spring and a reserve championship in the women’s all-around competition at Texas Tech.

“It was pretty cool to be part of a team that was fairly dominant all year,” she said. “The coaches all preached ‘team,’ and I think we do a really good job of that. The team really does come first for us.”

As a second-time CNFR qualifier, Dickens believes her previous experience in Casper can help. “Some of us have already been, so I feel like we can help calm the nerves of the first-timers there so we can win the nation.”

Fellow barrel racer Smith, a graduate student working toward her master’s in agricultural and environmental resources, finished in third place on the final regional leader board. She captured second at the Sul Ross and Vernon rodeos, and third at Howard.

A native of Rimby, Alberta, she’s excited that CNFR is in Wyoming, a relatively short drive from home.

“It’s nice coming from Canada. At least it’s just part way for my family so they can come and watch,” she said. “And it’s not too far for my horses to travel.”

As an undergraduate, Smith competed in the Southwest Region at Eastern New Mexico. After earning her bachelor’s degree there, she accepted an internship at a company near Stephenville and decided to work on her master’s at Tarleton.

A first-time qualifier at the National Finals, she knows how hard it is to get there.

“First of all, it’s the finals, so that’s a big deal. My older sister qualified in 2014 and I didn’t get to go watch her, so I’m looking forward to just getting to go.

“At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, it’s an honor to be there. It means something, especially in a region as tough as ours. My goal is to make the best runs I can and hope it all falls into place.”

The talent and experience of the team make Tarleton one of the favorites in Casper.

“We have a great group going this year, most of whom are veterans to the CNFR,” said Stewart, the assistant coach. “We look forward to them firing on all cylinders and representing Tarleton State University and our rodeo program very well.”

The College National Finals Rodeo runs June 9-13 at the Casper Events Center. All performances will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.


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