By Adam Eisenbarth
Alberta high school cowboys and cowgirls put it all on the line in an effort to qualify for the national championships.
The Alberta High School Rodeo Finals were in Ponoka, June 11 to 13. With the top four in each event advancing to nationals, the competitors were focused and determined to secure their ticket to Gillette, Wy.
Local competitors were well represented in this year’s event.
For most, the weekend was a success.
“It went alright. I won the breakaway and finished second in the goat tying. It’s pretty exciting,” said Gina Flewelling who gets the chance to compete in both events at nationals.
Her hard work and success in rodeo has already paid off.
“Next year I’m going to university in New Mexico on a rodeo scholarship and I’ll be in the college rodeo down there.”
For Lawrie Saunders, this is her final year in high school rodeo. Saunders finished first in the goat tying and advances to nationals. She also qualified in girls cutting, finishing fourth. The success also came with some frustration as she finished 10th in her best event, breakaway roping, but she’ll still advance to Silver State consolation rodeo for that performance.
Saunders says in a way it’s a bit sad to see her high school rodeo career nearing its end. “I guess (it’s sad to be almost done,) but I’ve also been here long enough.”
The talented athlete will shift her attention away from rodeo to another sport in the fall. “I’m going to U of C next year to play basketball.”
Saunders however, doesn’t plan on giving up her rodeo career just yet.
“I’ll come back to it when I can during the summer. I’ll try to rodeo next summer when I’m out of school.”
While the challenges in a rodeo largely involve the relationship of a horse and cowboy or cowgirl, team roping involves person-to-person teamwork as well, something that clicked for Ben Lauweryssen and Flewelling as they just missed a spot at nationals with a fifth-place finish.
“We have a pretty good working relationship. I never made it with my team roping partner last year,” said Lauweryssen.
While they fell just short of nationals, the duo qualified for Silver State in Nevada. The feat is impressive, considering the two had not worked much together in the past.
“This is really the only time that I’ve roped with her. She spun me three really good steers and I roped this one really good, and I did on Friday too,” he said on Sunday afternoon. “On Saturday unfortunately I just roped a leg but we had a pretty good weekend. We came here in the bottom hole and climbed up to fifth place and second in the average.”
Like many competitors, Lauweryssen is dreaming big for his rodeo future.
“I plan on making the pro rodeo in a few years and maybe make it down to the States in the National Finals in a few years, that’s one of my dreams.”
For many, superstition factors into the routine as they prepare to compete.
Going into her final barrel race on Sunday, Jessa Galloway didn’t know where she stood in the standings.
“I don’t know where I am and I honestly just don’t look. I don’t want to jinx it,” she said, adding it helps her to focus.
The tactic helped as she squeaked into nationals with a fourth-place finish. She also placed fifth in pole bending to qualify for Silver State.
She’s a fierce competitor and has been to nationals before. It seems there is a consensus among those who have battled it out in the big event in the past.
“It’s very competitive. Some of the girls (take it to the extreme.) I’m not like that, but it is very serious.”
With so much talent in Alberta, moving on to nationals or Silver State is a large task, but Ponoka high schoolers clearly represented well.
Other local competitors who have advanced to nationals were Sheldon Stretch in boys cutting and Clay Ulleryin in tie down. Tyrell Gordon qualified for Silver State in tie down.