BOZEMAN — This year’s Montana State Rodeo will be held outdoors for the first time in 20-plus years, but head coach Andy Bolich is hopeful the change in venue doesn’t take away from the strong season his team has had to this point.
MSU’s men’s and women’s rodeo teams both lead the Big Sky Region standings by large margins heading into the start of the spring season, which spurs into action Thursday at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman.
The event starts with a 6 p.m. performance Thursday, followed by a slack round at 10 a.m. Friday and a short-go championship performance at 6 p.m. Friday. The teams and competitors will start again fresh with a 10 a.m. Saturday slack, 6 p.m. Saturday performance and a 10 a.m. Sunday short-go championship performance.
The rodeos will take place outdoors instead of inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse due to COVID-19 precautions. Bolich expects his team to compete well regardless of location, though.
“Down at the fairgrounds it might be a little chilly, might be a little wet, but we’ll be ready,” he said.
Cody Faulkner and Samantha Kerns lead the men’s and women’s all-around standings. The Bobcat rodeo team also has six individuals leading events in the Big Sky Region, giving Bolich further optimism about the team’s chances of sending a strong contingent to the College National Finals Rodeo in June in Casper, Wyoming.
“There’s several events where MSU kids are first, and I expect them to finish off the spring in good shape and qualify to go on,” Bolich said.
Included on that list are Kerns in barrel racing, Paige Rasmussen in goat tying, Levi Delamarter in tie down roping, Clay Johnson in steer wrestling and Garrett Duncan and Colten Fisher in team roping.
Montana State representatives also occupy several other spots in the top three or five of various events, so the Bobcats could be represented well at nationals once again. In 2019, the program sent 15 people, the most of any school in the country.
“I don’t look to do that every year because that’s a crazy amount of kids,” Bolich said, “but I think we’re going to have quite a few qualify for sure.”
Making it that far, of course, is a process that begins with a strong showing at the team’s home rodeos this week. Because the rodeos will be outdoors, that means some semblance of a crowd will be permitted, for which Bolich is thankful.
“Last fall, the college rodeos were hit and miss depending on the county,” he said, referring to whether spectators were allowed. “A sporting event needs fans. It’s good for the contestants, and I’m glad there will be something that people can come out and watch.”
The venue will be capped at 50% capacity, meaning only 750 tickets will be available daily. Tickets are $10 per person at the gate. No tickets are available in advance.
The rounds of the rodeos will also be livestreamed through the MSU Rodeo website, its Facebook page or the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse website.
After missing out on having a spring season in 2020, Bolich said his team is anxious to get this year’s started.
“Our kids are ready, excited, just want to get rolling and start the spring season,” he said.