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'Everybody's pulling for everybody' as Montana Western rodeo sends nine to CNFR

Posted at 11:11 AM, Jun 06, 2024

DILLON — There's a lot happening at any given time on a college rodeo team, but third-year Montana Western head coach JT Robbins has placed an emphasis on creating a culture where all members are invested in helping each other excel — whether you're riding bulls, roping calves or tying goats.

"Just to set a precedent that everybody's pulling for everybody," Robbins said from Western's practice facility located about 10 miles south of the main campus. "Everybody takes some degree of ownership in everybody else's success and failures. I think that's a big part of it. It's a great group and they've done a really great job of that."

That atmosphere of camaraderie has paid off for Western which is now set to send eight cowboys and one cowgirl to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, which is set to run June 9-15.

"These kids continue to work hard, every year's better than the last," said Robbins. "The goal is always to be at the finals, to have a chance to win the last rodeo of the year, so we keep putting ourselves in that situation. And that's a good thing."

The Bulldog men finished the regular season as Big Sky Region reserve champions for the second straight year and are sending freshman saddle bronc rider Cade Costello, junior bareback rider Trevor Kay, sophomore bull rider Gavin Knutson, senior team roping header Jhet Murphy, sophomore team roping heeler Cooper Pavkov, junior header Jake Deveraux, redshirt senior heeler Teegan Leno, and senior heeler Luke Murphy to Casper.

The Western men will be chasing a team title in Wyoming. All eight Bulldog men claimed their spots at the CNFR individually and would have qualified even without the second-place regional finish which guarantees an entire team advances to Casper.

Kay finished atop the Big Sky bareback riding standings and contributed 1,570 points to Western's total. He competed at the CNFR as a freshman, but an injury last year kept him from making a return trip. He said he's excited to be heading back healthy this year and will be leaning on his experience as a freshman as he gets set to compete at college rodeo's crown jewel event.

"It really settles your nerves a lot because it's not as surprising when you get there," Kay said of having been to the CNFR before. "It's a really big stage and a really big rodeo to be riding in."

On the women's team, Tavy Leno — Teegan's younger sister — qualified for the CNFR in goat tying and breakaway roping, finishing in third place in both events in the regional standings.

"It's really cool that it's (Teegan's) last year and we get to go to the college finals together," she said. "And then all the people on Western's team are super supportive and I know I can count on them if I need anything."

With just three go-rounds in each event awaiting each competitor in Casper, Western's team recognizes that bringing home some buckles is going to come down to delivering their absolute best performances of the season.

"I'm just gonna take it one run at a time and just stick to what I know how to do and see how it goes," said Leno.