After a year of cancellations and halted travel, two of the University of Arkansas at Monticello rodeo team members found their way to the College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming, where they found inspiration for the fall rodeo season.

Katelyn Danzy

Sophomore Katelyn Danzy of Russellville competed in the barrel racing, while freshman Aubrey Lee of Mount Vernon, qualified in the breakaway roping event at the finals held June 13-19 at Casper, Wyoming.

While neither woman won a gold buckle, the experience was invaluable, said UAM Rodeo Coach Rusty Jones. Both athletes had to contend with some less-than-ideal circumstances.

However, “by the third round, they all came around.” Jones said.

Danzy’s horse was sick with colic on the first two nights of the nationals, but recovered by the third round, Jones said.

After runs of 14.8 and 14.7 seconds in the first two rounds, Danzy and her horse scored a 14.2- second run, in the third round — just a tenth of a second off the winning run — which earned her seventh place.

Aubrey Lee

Jones said Lee “drew some tough calves. All three were drifting and stepping off to the right.”

“In my first two rounds, I got out pretty late and didn’t score,” Lee said “I figured I had nothing to lose in the third round and just went at it, and it worked. The calf drifted hard right, and that’s not my horse’s favorite thing.”

Despite the difficulties, Lee ended up ninth in the third round.

“I’m proud of Katelyn and Aubrey,” Jones said. “They had done well. It set the groundwork for next year.”

Competition nerves

“I feel like I was pretty prepared for the competition mentally,” said Danzy. “I knew many barrel racers because I had run with them and against them in the past, so I felt confident going into the College Finals. I had a lot of friends back there. Everyone cheered each other on in the back.”

“I did get nervous in the first round, but after I got the first round out the way, I was pretty good,” said Danzy. That changed going into the third round.

“It’s the most nervous I’ve been in a long time, just because I wanted to really do well and have one good run in the end,” she said.

Rodeo competitions are nothing new for Lee, who’s been roping since she was eight. Her parents have run rodeos for more than 60 years, so it’s all second nature to her. Lee started in barrel racing but eventually found her calling in breakaway roping.

Monticello seemed like a natural destination for Lee. She followed her sister there, already had friends who lived near campus, and she liked the coach.

Lee, whose high school graduating class size was 36 students, thought UAM was a big school. UAM has an enrollment of about 2,500 students.

Despite her long experience, the scale of the Casper rodeo came as a bit of a shock, Lee said. More than 400 athletes and nearly 100 teams competed in what amounts to the Super Bowl or World Series of college rodeo.

“I downplayed Casper big time. I knew it was a big deal, but not that big of a deal,” Lee said. “When I got there, it was ‘oh my, this was a lot bigger than I was expecting!’”

Jones said both Danzy and Lee are extremely talented. They qualified in one event in the nationals but work three events in all the regional rodeos. They want to win, which makes it easier on a coach.

“They work hard in the classroom and the arena,” he said.

Jones has been coaching 11 years and has taken team members to the collegiate finals nine times.

“It’s fun; it’s a big rodeo with lot of fans in the seats,” he said. “I always enjoy taking the kids out there. It’s a reward for a long season.”