MISSOULA — No sport creates a family atmosphere quite like rodeo. Competitors often act like teammates, traveling together and cheering for one other.
That camaraderie attracted the KPAX Athletes of the Week to the arena, and now they are taking their sibling rivalry all the way to the national finals.
Mckenna Schroeder started her love of rodeo a decade ago. Now she spends every chance she gets in the arena. Her family moved to Missoula last summer, and the sophomore immediately attacked the Montana high school rodeo scene. She competed in breakaway roping, goat tying, pole bending and barrel racing at the state finals and had her best finish in Baker in her favorite event.
“Barrel racing, I’ve had a tough year in it previously,” said Mckenna. “It’s just now started to click with me again, and it’s definitely my favorite event.”
Schroeder took second in the state and now gets to circle the barrels at the national finals. She already made the trip to the big stage once before, in junior high a couple years ago.
“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” said Mckenna. “But I also think that just knowing myself, I’m still going to get pretty nervous.”
The oldest of five siblings set the standard of making it to the national finals, and now her younger brother is chasing her down.
“My sister made it there eighth-grade year and I got to go along, but didn’t get to compete,” remembered Zane. “I saw it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that.'”
Eighth-grader Zane will get his wish next week. Hours on the family’s mechanical bull, a great season, and then a strong finals performance saw him finish first in the state in junior high bull riding. Now the thrill-seeker becomes a second Schroeder making a trip to nationals.
“I’ve just kind of always liked crazy sports that are kind of dangerous,” said Zane. “But I don’t know, gives me an adrenaline rush. It’s super fun.”
The two Schroeders ride in different events at different levels, but the competition inevitably follows them home.
“Sometimes we try to argue who does better,” said Zane. “But usually we’re pretty supportive of each other.”
“Yeah, I’ll give him a tip here and there, if he’ll take it,” said Mckenna with a joking smile. “I think Zane has got it handled. He’ll tell me all of the time, ‘Oh, I’ve been to more rodeos than you. I have more rodeo experience.’ So I definitely think there is always a competition, especially between siblings. But it’s always friendly.”
The Schroeders will be joined by several other western Montanans at the national finals. The junior high competition starts this Sunday in Huron, S.D. Cash Trexler of Corvallis made it as the breakaway roping state champ and in goat tying. Stevensville’s Logan Gerhard won a team roping state title and will also shoot rifle at the finals. Ronan’s Ryle Lytle and Polson’s Ryley Knutson pair up in team roping. And Bigfork’s Lexi Murer will compete in pole bending.
The high school national finals take place in Rock Springs, Wyoming in July. Ronan’s Levi McClure in tie-down roping, Taylor Harris of Florence in team roping, and bull rider Caden Fitzpatrick of Polson will join Mckenna Schroeder at the big show.