BOZEMAN — Between two Big Sky Region championships, two all-around titles and five individual crowns, Montana State rodeo is headed to Wyoming later this week with quite the resume as they prepare for the 2023 College National Finals Rodeo.
A total of 15 Bobcats will be competing on college rodeo’s biggest stage, and expectations are high for the women’s teams specifically as they chase their second national championship in three years.
“You know, honestly, this might be one of the greater women's teams you'll ever see," Bobcat rodeo head coach Kyle Whitaker stated. "Like a lot of women's teams have one or two people they really count on, and we have so many that it's hard to put the right people on the points team because we have so many good options.”
Montana State was in a league of its own this season winning the women’s Big Sky Region championship with an astounding 4,561 points. MSU-Northern earned the reserve title with 2,144 points.
However, of the eight cowgirls that will be competing in the Blue and Gold later this week, only four of them can count towards team points.
Paige Rasmussen, who won the Big Sky Region's all-around title this spring, will be competing in both goat tying and barrel racing for team points.
"This (past) fall I had a minor injury in the goat tying, so didn't quite finish the fall off super strong," Rasmussen shared. "Coming into the spring, I took all that pressure off myself and said, "You know what, this is the last one. Let's just go out there and have fun."
The Bozeman native is heading into CNFR with the same mindset as she prepares for her final rodeo in the Blue and Gold hoping to put a stamp on her college career with one more championship.
“I have high expectations for myself and always have, but I think the difference this year from last year-- last year was the year coming off my national title and all around and there was a lot of pressure I put on myself, and this year, I don't feel that," she explained. "All I feel is I want to go out there and put everything on the table. I feel probably the most prepared that I've felt for a national finals, so I think it'll be good.”
"Athletes like her don't come along very often, so I hope she goes out on top and win or lose, she's still a champion no matter what," Whitaker added.
After starting out the spring season in somewhat unfamiliar territory sitting in second amongst the Big Sky Region men's team standings, Montana State put together a 960-point performance during their regular-season finale to clinch a come-from-behind championship.
The Bobcats trailed Montana Western by only 26 points heading to their final rodeo at the University of Montana but ended up building a 424-point cushion over the Bulldogs with 5,512.
“I'm pretty proud of our men's team for coming back," Whitaker expressed. "They were behind till the last rodeo and we lost Cody Faulkner. He was a senior, but he broke his arm. He was one of our main point earners and we still, I was proud of the team for rebounding and coming back and still winning the region without him.”
In a close battle for the men’s all-around, Bobcat junior Bode Spring took home the honors with 1,375 points. Western's Jhet Murphy earned the reserve title with 1,234.
Spring is one of four bulldoggers competing at CNFR this week for Montana State, including the Big Sky Region’s individual champion Jaden Whitman.
“I still think that even though it's my first trip, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to perform," Spring stated. "I'm really hoping for the best obviously, but I don't see why that wouldn't be able to happen, but it's rodeo again, so it kind of depends on how you draw and how everything works and horses, anything can happen.”
The 2023 College National Finals Rodeo begins kicking up dust on Sunday and will conclude Saturday, June 17.