SETTING A PACE: Nebraska native takes it in stride at Wrangler Finals | TSLN.com

SETTING A PACE: Nebraska native takes it in stride at Wrangler Finals

Laura Nelson
for Tri-State Livestock News

North Dakota's Britany Diaz clocked a 13.89 to win round 6 of the WNFR. Dan Hubbell photo

A quick start may be the fastest way to success, but a steady average can save the day at the end of a grueling 10-day-competition.

As regional cowboys and cowgirls turned the curve into the second half of rodeo action at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Dec. 8, steady marks were beginning to make a show as average rankings took shape. For Alliance, Nebraska, native Ryan Watkins, the first five rounds weren't the shot out of the gate he was hoping for, but there's still room to move in the overall ranks as he gets a better feel for the Thomas & Mack Arena.

"It just took a little while to get everything to work," he said as he readied for the sixth round Dec. 9. "I'd really just like to place in the last five rounds and move up in the average. Right now, I just need to keep placing along, and then the money will add up."

As the rodeo turned to the second half of competition, Watkins was in eighth place in the average.

"It's been a little rough – but I've placed in the last two rounds, so it's getting headed in the right direction," Watkins said.

A broken barrier in the first round dropped him to a 13th place finish, but he's been climbing steadily since: he broke into the top ten the next night, and he then took the seventh place spot in the third round. The fourth and fifth rounds each hit paycheck for Walkins with a pair of sixth-place finishes.

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"The biggest thing is these starts – it happens so fast, it's all about getting the feel of the start. I got a feel for how it is and how I need to be at the start," he said. "Things are going good; I'm just ready for the next round. The worst part is, you wait 24 hours before you rope another one."

Watkins now calls Bluff Dale, Texas home, but his western Nebraska roots aren't far away under the lights of Las Vegas. He grew up roping on his family's ranch outside Alliance, where his parents, Larry and Sandi, take turns tending to the cattle so they can split their time cheering their son on. Sandi said it would be Ryan's ability to consistently mark respectable scores down in each round that she hoped would buoy him into a shot at placing in the average rankings.

"Ryan is a real good average roper – he can be consistent like that; he always has been," Sandi said. "He likes that challenge."

And as his father headed back to Nebraska and mother made her way to the big show, another little fan would be joining him for the second half of the WNFR. Ryan's wife, Denver, headed back to Texas Tuesday to bring their four-year-old son back to be there for the second half of competition.

"It's great the family and friends that are all here. I get to see people that I grew up with there in Nebraska that come out and get to visit with them. It's been really fun, everyone has been really supportive," Ryan said.

At the end of the fifth round, here's how other regional cowboys and cowgirls are sitting in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo:

Nebraska

A big first round win in the saddle bronc riding event put Elsmere, Neb., cowboy Cort Sheer in a good spot for the average. A second place finish in the second round, and a six place check for the fourth round has added up to place the north-central Nebraskan second in the event average after the fifth round. In his seventh appearance at the Wrangler National Finals, Mullen bareback rider Steven Dent was holding on to seventh place in the average after the fifth round, just a point and a half behind the money and sixth place. A couple of 83-point rides tied him for third/fourth in the first round, and second/third/fourth in the second round. He bettered that with an 85-point ride for fourth place in the fifth round. Dru Melvin, of Hebron, picked up a sixth place check in the fourth round of steer wrestling. Barrel racer Trula Churchill of Valentine has earned recognition at the round one and round four buckle ceremonies with a second and third place finish, respectively.

Colorado

La Junta, Colo., team roper Shay Carroll started his first WNFR appearance with a bang when he and partner Charly Crawford earned second place in the first round. They also tied for second and third in the fifth round, but two no times in round two and four dropped them to tenth in the average. A trio of Colorado bullriders had tough luck in the first half of the rodeo Super Bowl, but put a couple marks down on the money board. Collbran cowboy Ty Wallace earned third place in the fifth round with an 86.50 ride on "Lincoln's Logs." Tyler Smith of Fruita earned sixth in the fifth round. Other than that, it's been a tough go for the Colorado bullriders, including no scores for Nunn cowboy Josh Koschel in all five rounds. Barrel racers Christy Loflin of Franktown and Christine Laughlin of Pueblo sit at 14th and 15th, respectively, at the mid-point of the competition average. Loflin picked up a fifth place finish in the third round with a 14.08 ride.

Montana

The two-time world champion team roper Clay Tryan, of Billings, Mont., sits second in the average for headers after a hot trio of finishes with partner Jade Corkill. They earned third place in the first round, followed by a fourth place finish in the second round. On day three of the WNFR, Tryan and Corkill tied for third/fourth place. Cut Bank header Dustin Bird and his partner Paul Eaves had two great showings in the third and fourth rounds, placing first and second. But no times in rounds one and five have pushed them down to 13th in the average. Ty Erickson sat comfortably in fourth place in the steer wrestling average at the rodeo's mid-point. The Helena cowboy earned placing times every other night of the competition, placing fourth in the first round, sixth in the third round and tying for sixth in the fifth round. In a bull riding contest where no rider posted a score in all five of the first rounds, two money-earning finishes pushed Beau Hill of West Glacier into sixth in the average. He earned third place in the first round and fourth in the fourth round. And while Power, Mont., bareback rider Jessy Davis hadn't taken home a check yet, he had marked a score on every horse in the first five rounds.

South Dakota

While she was born in Montana, barrel racer Lisa Lockhart now calls Oelrichs, South Dakota, home. She was on the winning stage four of the five first nights in Las Vegas, winning the second round, earning fourth in the third round, second in the fourth round and tying for third/fourth in the fifth round. With that impressive lineup of wins, she leads the barrel racing average as the competition enters into the final stretch. Saddle bronc rider Chad Ferley also calls Oelrichs home, and he was also good for a check in the fourth round of the finals, grabbing fourth place on an 81-point ride. Cole Elshere, from Faith, also marked down two money-winning rides in the saddle bronc contest, including a fifth place finish in the second night of competition and a tie for third/fourth the following night.

Wyoming

A big 3.6-second run for first place in the fourth round boosted Wheatland, Wyo., steer wrestler Seth Brockman's earnings. And while Cowley bareback rider J.R. Vezain hasn't broken into the top six yet in his first trip to the WNFR, he's marked a score each of the first five nights in the contest.

North Dakota

The sole representative from North Dakota, Britany Diaz, has represented her hometown of Solen well in the barrel racing. At the mid-point of the rodeo, she sat in fifth in the average after taking home a tied third/fourth place in the fifth round.