COLLEGE RODEO: Odessa College starts spring trek in hopes of making national finals

Three of the nine events in collegiate rodeo showcase female competitors.

Breakaway roping, goat tying and barrel racing are their time to shine and that was no different Thursday night during the first performance of the 33rd annual Odessa College Wrangler Rodeo at the Ector County Coliseum.

It’s the competition’s second straight year competing at the venue instead of inside the smaller 1,000-seat arena behind the coliseum, giving the Lady Wranglers a chance to show their skills in front of a broader audience.

This year’s rodeo is the first of five spring rodeos in the Southwest Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, with the top three competitors in each discipline advancing to the national finals in Casper, Wyo. in June.

Twelve of the 42 Wranglers are female and each dreams of making it to Casper one day. A trio of them made their feelings about the event clear.

Maddy Dickens, of Loveland, Colo. said there’s no feeling like competing. Hallee Hitt’s parents are driving 19 hours to see her compete. And Cassidy Clark, of Thorsby, Alberta, Canada, was pumped to be competing in two events during the first performance.

Clark started off her night the right way — taking the lead through the first performance in breakaway roping — getting the rope around her cattle’s horns in 2.6 seconds.

About 45 minutes later, Clark competed in goat tying and finished the event in 9.8 second despite not getting a clean dismount of her horse.

“I’ve been doing it for a long time. At the high school rodeos, we did about five events in a day, so it is something that I’ve gotten used to over time,” Clark said before taking to the dirt Thursday afternoon. “But it’s definitely tough; you really got to change your mental game. If you do bad in the first event, change your mental game, get over it and kick butt in the next one.”

Hitt and Dickens both didn’t compete in their first events Thursday. Hitt will first take to the dirt today as a part of the 9 a.m. in breakaway roping.

“My parents drove 19 hours to see me, yeah no pressure. It’s just like $800 in diesel, no pressure,” Hitt said with a laugh about her family’s trip from Rupert, Idaho. “The community is involved and my teachers come. A lot of people are in town seeing me and I don’t want to disappoint them. It does mean a lot to me.”

Dickens will first compete in tonight’s second performance starting at 7 in goat tying. Dickens was also a part of Odessa College’s basketball team at the start of the 2016-17 season, but is no longer with the team so she could take better care of her animals, school work and “bad knees.”

“With any sport, it’s what you put into it is what you get out of it,” Dickens said. “Honestly, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

Other Lady Wranglers such as Stormi Pitman and Jackie Kennedy also competed during the first performance to loud reactions from the home crowd.

>> LOTS OF NEWCOMERS: The Wranglers’ roster boasts 30 freshmen, making the 33rd annual Odessa College Wrangler Rodeo the first home event for more than 70 percent of the team.

“It’s tough to keep track of them all sometimes,” Odessa College head coach CJ Aragon said. “We have so many people in every event. There are going to be a lot of nerves as well.”

That might be because Ector County Coliseum is a little more than a mile down Andrews Highway from Odessa College’s campus or it could be to meet the high expectations set out for one of the largest junior college rodeo teams in the country.

“Every single person on this team has different buttons,” Aragon said. “There are some guys that I know I have to get them fired up and other people I have to calm them down. You got to get to know them individually and handle them individually. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do with a group this large.”

>> MESSIER HARD AT WORK: Odessa College freshman Cameron Messier is used to having to balance school and rodeo.

Messier competed in the saddle bronc riding event Thursday night — scoring a 68.0 — nine points behind the leader. Messier didn’t even stay in Odessa to see how his score held up.

He immediately left for Fort Stockton where he met up with two friends and fellow rodeo cowboys. That trio then planned on driving through the night to Tucson, Ariz. to compete in another rodeo.  Then Messier and friends planned on making the return trip to Odessa in case Messier makes the short-run in saddle bronc Saturday night.

If Messier makes the short run in Arizona, he’ll make that 600-mile trip back before returning to Odessa for class on Monday.

“It’s just staying really on top of your work as far as school work,” Messier said. “As far as rodeo, it’s just taking care of yourself and managing your time and knowing what you need to get done and work hard at everything your doing.”

Messier comes to the Wranglers from Herald, Calif. where a year ago as a senior in high school, he won the California high school saddle bronc championship, then won the state’s amateur title and the California circuit Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s saddle bronc title.

“That was something I never dreamed of doing this last year,” Messier said. “All three of them are just a really big blessing in my life.”

Messier wouldn’t be the first accomplished athlete in the family should be turn professional. His dad’s first cousin is 15-time NHL All-Star and Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier.

Regardless, Aragon’s expectations of Messier are high.

“I think I’ve got three or four kids on the team that have a legitimate shot at that could win a national championship and he’s one of them,” Aragon said. “That’s pretty exciting as a coach to know that I’ve got guys that can get it done no matter who they are competing against.”