Champs return to CNFR to defend titles |

Champs return to CNFR to defend titles

Susan Kanode
for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association

CASPER, WY – Men’s all-around champion Wyatt Altoff will be one of several contestants at the 61st annual College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) trying for a repeat victory.

Altoff won the men’s all-around in 2008 competing for New Mexico State University (NMSU) in tie-down roping and team roping. He is a senior majoring in Ag Business. This is Altoff’s fourth CNFR qualification and his last year of eligibility in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), so winning this year’s title would be very rewarding. The Oracle, AZ resident plans on moving up the rodeo ranks into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and hopes to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo one day.

“That’s what I’m going up there (to the CNFR) to do, defend my title,” Altoff said. “Winning it again would make my family proud and it would just be awesome.”

While Altoff has the opportunity to win two individual titles at the CNFR, that has never been his focus. He comes from a family of electricians that would go to rodeos on weekends. His dad rode bulls and his mom is a handy roper. His dad qualified for the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, ID and one of his first rodeo memories is of riding sheep there. As he got bigger, he found a love for the timed-event end of the arena.

“Since I was a little kid, I entered three events,” said Altoff who also competes in steer wrestling. “Winning an individual event has never been as important as the all around. That’s what I work for, doing well in every event, not just one.”

Altoff will return to NMSU next fall to finish his agricultural business degree. And, hopefully, he will bring another championship with him.

“The CNFR was so exciting last year,” he said. “I’m going in there with a lot of confidence. I’m going to try my hardest and let things happen. Hopefully it will turn out the same.”

Also from NMSU is last year’s tie-down roping champion Johnny Salvo, a sophomore business major. Salvo, from Horse Springs, NM, may be Altoff’s competition as the defending tie-down roping champ has also qualified in team roping putting him in contention for the 2009 all-around title as well.

Kobi Olineck’s favorite rodeo moment was winning the goat tying title at the 2008 CNFR. She put herself in position to repeat that by winning the Great Plains Region and qualifying for her second CNFR this year. Olineck, originally from Lacombe, Alberta, is a junior at Dickinson (ND) State University majoring in education.

Another Great Plains Region athlete that was successful last year is Charles Schmidt from Keldron, SD. Schmidt won the saddle bronc title for Black Hills State University in 2008 and is making a bid for the 2009 title. The junior, history major is making his third appearance at the CNFR.

Last year, the team roping title went to Kory Bramwell from Ranger (TX) College and Kyle Roberts from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. Roberts did the heading and Bramwell roped the heels. This year, they are returning to the Casper Events Center, but will be roping against each other instead of together.

Bramwell is making his third appearance and will be roping with Cody Burney, a freshman from Western (Snyder) Texas College. This is Roberts’ second qualification. His partner this year is Jake Cobb, a freshman at Weatherford (TX) College.

Walla Walla Community College is bringing four of the six men that earned the 2008 men’s team championship to Casper, Steven Peebles, Rob Webb, Beau Pazky and Sean Santucci. This was the first men’s team title for the Washington college.

“It would be amazing to win it again,” said coach Buster Barton. “We know that it’s possible. I have a lot of talent on my team but the competition at the CNFR is always tough. We are definitely ready.”

A team that has seen a lot of success at the Casper Events Center is the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) women. They have won the title twice, and finished second three times. The first year they won the title was when the rodeo moved to Casper in 1999. They were atop the leader board again last year and are bringing two of those team members, Jaymie Leach and Kassi Venturacci, in hopes of a repeat championship.

“That’s what we go to do, win,” UNLV coach Ric Griffith said. “Our team is built around quality and I’m confident we have a good chance for another title.”

The 61st annual CNFR gets underway June 14 with the “Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway” performances at 1 and 4 p.m. Rodeo competition continues with slack June 15 and 16 beginning at 7 a.m. Performances start at 7 p.m. and will be held June 16 and continue through June 20 which is the finals. All of the qualifiers compete in three rounds hoping to be among the top 12 that advance to the finals. For tickets or more information visit

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