One, two, three’s a charm
June 19, 2018
One, two and three are the numbers that spelled success this year for the Gillette College rodeo team at the College National Finals Rodeo. One Pronghorn, Kellan Johnson, placed first in the team roping. His teammate, Rickie Engesser, finished second place in the breakaway roping, while Carter Elshere placed third in the saddle bronc riding. Even more impressive is the Gillette College women's team placing third overall.
Kellan Johnson, the freshman from Casper, Wyoming, is the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association champion team roper header. He teamed up with with senior heeler, Trey Yates of Pueblo, Colorado to rope four steers the fastest in the Casper Events Center last week.
The pair had clear goals for their season. Johnson said, "The first part was winning the region. Then we were seeing if we could go in number one in the nation. That became a goal later on in the season. When we won the region, then we wanted to win the nation. I guess you could say we did our plan."
To win the title, Johnson and Yates had to overcome a five-second penalty in round one. "After the first round, it was disbelief. He heeled the steer and right at the very end before he dropped the flag, he slipped a leg," Johnson said. However, they chose to think positively and move forward after a first round setback. "There were 18 catches out of 50 teams, and we were top 12. After the second round, it put us top six on two," he said. According to Johnson, the steer drawn in round three gave them the break they needed, and they roped him in 6.3 seconds. Going into the short round, they were in the third place position. "That's when we knew we had a chance," Johnson said.
“That’s what I’ve grown up around
— seeing the dedication it takes to win a world title and five national finals qualifications. I think it really settled in for us boys. I was so excited when my dad won all the time, that I wanted to have that for myself. When we won the nation, that’s the most excitement I’ve had since my junior year when I won second with my little brother. It’s the excitement and the craving to do so well that runs in our family.” Kellan Johnson, National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association champion team roper header
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Both student athletes have fathers who have been greatly successful in the roping box, as well. Trey's father, J.D. is 21-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, and an NIRA team roping champion himself. Jhett, Kellan's father, holds a world title. His elder partner and their fathers made a huge impact, Johnson said. "Trey and J.D. have really helped out a lot. I went down to their house one day and I came back with a bunch of knowledge."
Johnson's own family has shaped him for success. His grandfather and uncle both made their living training horses. Though his uncle Justin also roped respectably, it was Jhett who took roping the furthest. "That's what I've grown up around–seeing the dedication it takes to win a world title and five national finals qualifications. I think it really settled in for us boys. I was so excited when my dad won all the time, that I wanted to have that for myself. When we won the nation, that's the most excitement I've had since my junior year when I won second with my little brother. It's the excitement and the craving to do so well that runs in our family," Johnson said.
Johnson's goals for the near future include a Ram National Circuit Finals qualification with his father, a Nebraska State Rodeo Association qualification with his little brother, Carson, and a repeat NIRA regional and national championship with his cousin, Jerren. He plans to get his bachelor degree in psychology with a minor in counseling.
Johnson thanks his mother, his grandparents, his girlfriend and his family for their support. He also credits the team atmosphere within the Gillette College rodeo team for his success. "They encourage you to work as hard as you can, because the sky's the limit. It's a matter of putting your dedication and work into it," he said.
Johnson's teammate, sophomore Rickie Engesser, has similar sentiments about the Gillette College's practices and head coach Will LaDuke. These factors helped her achieve a reserve national breakaway roping title and her women's team to place third she said, "It was fun to be a part of such a competitive team. We knew that we had a shot at making history and winning the nation. Coming that close was awesome, but looking back at the practices; that's what got us to where we were.
Engesser qualified to Saturday night's short round in her two events, sitting eleventh in barrel racing and seventh in breakaway roping. She said, "My coach just came up to me and told me that I had to go for it. I had nothing to lose. I actually wasn't as nervous in my short round run as I was for all my other ones. I made it to where I wanted to make it." Her run of 2.2 seconds in the short round of breakaway roping launched her from seventh place to second overall. She finished twelfth in the barrel racing and also clinched the reserve all-around cowgirl award.
Engesser's performance added points to her team's total, making them a dominant quartet in Casper all week. All three of her teammates at the finals contributed by making the short round. "Taylour [Latham] tied goats really well and kept us up in the hunt. Riley [Addington] stepped it up in the barrel racing in her third run which really helped her to make it back and Quincy [Segelke] roped all of her calves. It was awesome to see us all step up and to be able to compete with everyone else. Some people think that Wyoming is less tough than Texas, but we were sitting right up there for the team, and making it back with all of us was amazing to see," she said. Overall, Latham placed 7th in goat tying, Addington placed 9th in barrel racing and Segelke 12th in breakaway roping. The Lady Pronghorns finished third by less than 100 points.
Engesser will transfer to Tarleton State University in the fall to pursue a degree in Animal Science and Nutrition.
Johnson highlights Gillette College's pattern of success, guided by their coach. "Will always has a very group of men's and women's teams. The women's team is always up there in the nation and they seem to always win the region for him. The men's team is very talented. This year you could see we really did have a lot of good roughstock kids." The roughstock riders from Gillette helped the men's team to be one of three main contenders for a men's team qualification in the regular season. The top two teams in each region qualify for the CNFR; Gillette College finished third by just ten points. However, Carter Elshere of Elm Springs, South Dakota qualified on his own. The freshman spurred his way to a third place finish in the saddle bronc riding in Casper.