BAKER — Thunderstorms began to pelt the Fallon County Fairgrounds minutes after the conclusion of the Montana High School Rodeo Association State Finals. Another obstacle avoided.
After months of dealing with coronavirus-caused delays and cancellations, Montana high school rodeo athletes got a 2020 spring season. For many, the final round of the state finals on Saturday provided a much-needed highlight in an otherwise dreary year.
“We’ve been through so much,” said Manchi Nace, who finished first in goat tying. “Being able to do this and actually having a nationals is really good. It feels great.”
Rodeos have been held in Montana for about a month, and the state entered phase two of its reopening on Monday. Still, reminders of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were easy to find at the fairgrounds.
Only competitors, family members and rodeo personnel were allowed to attend the finals. Fairgrounds staff members took the temperatures of contestants, personnel, volunteers and fellow staff members before they entered the arena. Hand sanitizer was everywhere, as were signs emphasizing the importance of hand washing and physical distancing. The second recommendation was often not followed.
Other than strong winds, the weather cooperated during the duration of Saturday’s events, and 12 competitors captured championships.
The all-around crowns went to three Miles City athletes. Roan Burrows won the boys year-end and state titles, Harley Meged earned girls year-end and Chalee Harms took girls state.
Harms earned her second straight state girls cutting title and won cowhorse for the first time.
“I didn’t think we were gonna have a spring season at all,” said Harms, an incoming junior. “I’m just grateful.”
Nace earned the first state title of her career, despite being sixth in goat tying points entering the weekend. The recent Laurel graduate finished with 129.5 points, 14.5 more than second-place Mylee Welsch.
“I’m kind of speechless about it,” said Nace, who will rodeo at Sheridan (Wyoming) College. “I just wanted to be consistent and keep my goats down, so that’s what I did.”
Luke Murphy won two titles. The outgoing Helena Capital senior edged Cole Helm by nine points in the tie down, and he narrowly placed first in team roping. Murphy finished with 137 points in the event, while his partner, Trace Fuller, had 135. The second-place team of Cole and Clay Helm also earned 135 points each, so Murphy’s two additional points were the difference.
Murphy, who will continue his rodeo career at Montana Western, now has four state titles overall.
“It’s a lot more meaningful being a senior and going out with a bang,” Murphy said.
It was the second career state title for Fuller, a recent Bozeman grad who will join Casper (Wyoming) College’s rodeo team.
“I can’t thank these guys enough for putting on this rodeo,” Fuller said of the fairgrounds staffers. “I was more than happy to come and do my job.”
Whitehall’s Delaney Scafani placed first in her first high school rodeo season. She won pole bending by 14 points, setting personal records in all three of her runs.
“That’s way more than I could’ve asked for,” Stefani said. “I just trusted my horse and knew that she had it in her.”
Another 17-year-old and first-time winner was Gardiner’s Alexis McDonald, who finished 20 points clear of second-place McKenna Schroeder in barrel racing.
“My horse is consistent. Just got to keep the barrels up,” McDonald said. “You can definitely get in your own head. You’ve just got to keep a positive mindset.”
The finals concluded with bull riding, which Cole Hould won by 16.5 points despite coming into the event with the third-most points in the event. It was the first state championship for the outgoing Havre senior who will compete at Odessa (Texas) College.
“I haven’t been on very many bulls just because (many events have) been canceled,” Hould said. “I was pretty excited to finally be able to go and ride bulls. … They made me work for it.”
Meged won breakaway (by one point), Broadus’ Garrett Cunningham won saddle bronc, Helena’s Sam Peterson won bareback (by half a point), Colten Turbiville of Rhame, North Dakota, won boys cutting (by one point) and Belgrade’s Jaden Whitman won steer wrestling.
Montana’s top-four year-end points winners in each event qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which is scheduled for July 17-23 in Guthrie, Oklahoma.