When it comes to team roping, the rodeo club at Utah State has some of the best.
A trio of Aggies dominated the Rocky Mountain Region during the 2010-11 season and qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR). Sophomore Trevor Merrill and senior Garrett Thurston teamed up and finished first after the 10-rodeo season that began in September and finished the last weekend of March. Merrill is the header, while Thurston is the healer. They both won new saddles as event champions.
The third USU team roper to do well was sophomore Jake Wanner, who finished second as a healer. Wanner had four first-place finishes with two different partners, while Thurston finished on top three times during the season - twice with Merrill.
"They have had a real good season," said Dr. Jeff Hall, the club advisor and coach. "... As well as they are doing, I think they will all make it to the finals. They have that capability, unless, God forbid, something goes wrong like a bad draw, which is a part of rodeo. If they can draw well and rope well, it would not surprise me they would make it to the final round."
And that is the goal.
"The goal you go everywhere is to be first place," Merrill said. "Like Garrett says, you practice all you can, put in the effort and hopefully it works out for you. Hopefully you draw some good steers and you are able to use them."
"I go with the goal to come home with first place and be the champion," Thurston said.
The CNFR takes place in Casper, Wyo., June 11-18. The competition begins June 13, with the championship round the evening of the 18th. The top three placers in each event from the 11 regions across the country qualify for nationals.
Wanner said he will approach nationals with a "good attitude" and wants to have fun. The Fairview cowboy who lives in Logan now is currently roping with Weber State's Taylor Christensen. Wanner was teamed up with a different Weber State cowboy during the fall portion of the season, but that partner didn't pass enough classes.
"It was kind of difficult, but we just found all the time we could to practice," Wanner said of changing partners. "... I feel like things are going well now."
Wanner and his new partner did win three of the six spring rodeos. Thurston and Merrill were together for nine of the rodeos and placed at eight of them. In the one rodeo Merrill had a conflict, Thurston found another partner and won.
Thurston, who is from Hyde Park, was the top healer in the region by more than 300 points, while Merrill, who is from Trenton, was the top header by 184 points.
"I was happy with how the season went," Wanner said. "I didn't get first, but I'll settle for second because of Garrett (Thurston). He is a better roper, he deserved it."
Thurston is the club president and will be making his second trip to nationals. The 22-year-old, who is studying business, wants to make this trip more memorable than in 2008,
"Hopefully, this time will be a better than the first time (at nationals)," Thurston said. "It is just another rodeo. You have to go with a good attitude and feel confident, practice before you leave, go and do the best you can."
Merrill and Wanner have not been to the college finals, but did make it to the high school national finals. They both plan to draw from that experience.
Thurston and Merrill proved their ability to adjust on the fly and in a timely manner. At a rodeo in Ogden, the duo drew a steer in the short go that stopped on them after Merrill had caught it.
"We were 4.8 seconds on that steer, so that was probably the funnest one (we roped)," Thurston said. "... He (steer) looked pretty good the first time he went, then he stopped the second time, but we still got him."
"We were not ready for him to stop," Merrill said. "Garrett just pulled a shot on him. You do what you can and if it works out, great, you look like heroes and if not, you look like zeros. It worked out for us."
Merrill liked that run, but also singled out the final rodeo at Heber City. Thurston had already wrapped up the region title in healing, but the 21-year-old Merrill needed a good run to claim the heading crown.
"It's been a pretty good season," Merrill said. ""We had some tough times the first half of the season in the fall, but we still got points. This spring I felt went pretty good."
Merrill, who is studying agriculture business and plans on continuing to rodeo and train horses, is glad he was able to get hooked up with Thurston.
"We've always been friends, roped together and what not," Merrill said. "It just worked out to where we were able to rope together, so we did. Garrett ropes really good, so I was glad to get the chance to rope with him."
Dealing with bad weather is always a concern. They headed to indoor arenas to practice. Now they have plenty of time to get ready for nationals. The nearly two months between the region season ending and nationals is not a big deal for the team ropers, as they will continue to practice and go to various rodeos and team roping competitions around the region.
Wanner, who wants to be a high school Spanish teacher, also competed in the tie-down roping in the fall. His horse was not working out, so the 23-year-old decided to focus solely on team roping.
Many regions have not finished yet, but as the week began Thurston was the top healer in the nation, while Morrill ranked second as a header. Wanner checked in at fourth nationally.
Another Aggie just missed making it to nationals. Freshman Jace Austin had a rough fall, but came on in the spring. He finished fifth as a header in team roping and sixth in steer wrestling.
"The fall did not treat him well, but he did well this spring," Hall said of Austin. "I expect him to go to nationals next year in two events, if not three."