Experience, Relationships Aid Tarleton State Women in Run to CNFR

Tarleton State University’s women’s rodeo team will compete for a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championship at the annual College National Finals Rodeo, June 9-15 in Casper, Wyo. Tarleton State qualifiers are, from left, Tori Brower, Jordan Driver, Hadley Tidwell, Rayme Jones, and Coach Brittany Stewart.

STEPHENVILLE — Two noticeable aspects bode well for the Tarleton State University women’s team as it prepares for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), June 9-15 in Casper, Wyo.

Hadley Tidwell and Jordan Driver, both barrel racers, and goat tyers Tori Brower and Rayme Jones are very experienced on collegiate rodeo’s biggest stage. Add to that, they are an exceptionally tight-knit group.

As a team, Tarleton State has qualified for nine CNFR appearances — three each from Tidwell and Driver, two for Brower and one for Jones.

Head coach Mark Eakin said the team’s experience is a definite plus in their drive for a national crown.

“Any time you’ve been there before, you kind of know what to expect,” he said “Then they can look at it just like another rodeo and take care of business.”

Brower, a goat tyer an animal science major from Stettler in the province of Alberta, Canada, is making her second appearance in Casper. She finished the 2023-24 campaign as regional champion, taking finals slots in six rodeos and winning four.

“I definitely think the experience will help me with a different mindset going in,” she said. “Last year I thought too much and made it harder than it needed to be. This year I’m planning on relaxing, having fun and doing what I know how to do.”

Jones, a kinesiology graduate student from Lamesa, finished third in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region this season, making the finals in eight of 10 rodeos.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get there my whole college career. I’m so blessed to get there on my last try.”

Tidwell, Southwest reserve champion barrel racer, and Driver, third place in the region, each appeared in the finals of five 2023-24 rodeos, and each earned two regular season championships.

Tidwell said being familiar with the Casper logistics will lessen her anxiety.

“Now I know where to park, how to get inside the arena,” she said. “Those small things can really stress you out. I won’t have to worry about those things. I can concentrate on just doing my job.”

Driver concurs. “Experience made my second year, last year, a lot easier. I know what to expect, and this year I’ll be even more relaxed and ready to compete.”

With the team’s experience comes a certain closeness, the result of successes enjoyed through competing together over two semesters.

“We all haul together, and we all know how tough this life can be,” said Driver, echoing her teammates’ views. “With this team, there’s always somebody there who has your back, someone you can count on to be there for you.”

Eakin knows the four cowgirls are close and he credits the team members’ participation in the organization’s leadership council with bringing the members together.

“This is a very high character team with lots of talent,” he said. “They are very tight and they have each bought into the culture. That’s unique, and it’s special when they have a great year like this one.”

Tarleton State rodeo is seeking to add to its 37 national titles. Team members are acutely aware of the traditions of excellence that follow CNFR qualifiers.

“It’s not so much pressure as motivation,” Driver said. “It’s always there, and it kind of keeps me on my toes to know about the people who went before me. Wearing that purple vest gives us a sense of pride.”

Perhaps the team’s confidence is justified. After all, Tarleton State dominated the regional standings, winning five rodeos during the season. Atop the leaderboard from start to finish, the women captured the region by more than 1,000 points.

“We know we’ll perform well,” Jones said. “We’re going in expecting to win this thing.” 

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