BOZEMAN — After a strong regular season performance, the Montana State University rodeo team turned its attention to the College National Finals Rodeo in mid-June with the hopes of making a statement. And in front of the country’s finest in Casper, Wyoming, the women’s rodeo team did just that.
The team captured its third national championship — its first since 2011 — as well as an individual title in barrel racing and a share of the all-around title. MSU finished with 590 team points to defeat Southwestern Oklahoma State, with 432.5, and Cochise College of Arizona, with 403.3. The MSU men finished 11th with 415 points. Junior tie-down roper Caleb Berquist finished runner-up in his event, the best individual finish of the Bobcats.
“As a coach, I always have confidence in our team. They put the work in the offseason and regular season, and I thought we had a good chance when we got to Casper,” said Andy Bolich, head coach for the rodeo team. “Sometimes at the finals, it doesn’t go the way you want it to, but I was confident in this group of girls, and they did really well.”
Coming into the CNFR, Tayla Moeykens, a freshman marketing major in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, had won the Big Sky Region barrel racing title and was ranked third in the nation in that event. She had won two of the three rounds in the CNFR but found herself sitting in fourth place entering the championship round on Saturday, June 19. Being down in the standings didn’t faze Moeykens, as she and her horse, Blue, clocked a time of 13.99 seconds, the fastest of the week, to capture the title. It is MSU’s first individual title in any event since 2011 and the first barrel racing title in MSU women’s rodeo history.
Moeykens earned her team 360 points in the event and was also named Women’s Rookie of the Year. Bobcat sophomore Shai McDonald placed fourth in barrel racing with a time of 14.21.
“It’s a dream come true, I honestly can’t put into words the emotion I felt to be able to win the nation,” said Moeykens, who is from Three Forks. “I entered the short-go (round) in fourth and Blue went out there and did what she did to win it. It’s such an honor. And to find out after the award ceremony that I was the first to win the barrel racing title for MSU made it extra special.”
Sophomore Paige Rasmussen, who competes in the goat-tying event, shared the women’s all-around title with Jill Donnelly of Cochise College. Rasmussen is the first women’s all-around winner since Jan Walter in 1971. Going into the final night of the competition, Rasmussen was in first place and clocked a time of 6.3 seconds, appearing to win the national title. However, her goat did not stay tied, which dropped her to 12th place. Rasmussen said she was heartbroken by the outcome, but says it felt amazing to pull off the shared all-around title.
“Everything works out for a reason, and I was excited when I found out I split the all-around,” said Rasmussen, who is originally from Choteau but graduated from high school in Belgrade. “I was so blessed and happy. It’s still sinking in, but feels really good.”
Rasmussen, who majors in psychology and minors in Spanish, said the team recognized their opportunity going into the CNFR and knew they could rise to the occasion. By the fourth day of the competition, the women’s team captured the lead, thanks to points contributions by several athletes. Rasmussen credited her teammates’ well-rounded talents for MSU’s victory and said despite competing against each other in some events, they know the final outcome is to accumulate points for the team overall.
Moeykens added that the depth of their roster and the consistency each athlete brings to their competitions are some of the team’s biggest strengths.
“At every single rodeo we went out and did the best we could,” she said. “We were very consistent and solid in how we performed, and that’s the biggest key factor. We didn’t let the pressure get to us, made our runs, and remained constant.”
The wins were not just personal for Rasmussen and Moeykens but stood for something bigger for Montana rodeo and the university. Rasmussen has been competing in rodeo since the sixth grade. Her mother competed on the MSU rodeo team, and her grandparents are also MSU alumni. Moeykens has been walking the barrel pattern since she was 3 years old and had a role model in her mother, who was also a successful barrel racer in the state.
For Rasmussen, the CNFR win puts MSU on the map as a smaller school that can compete with larger programs, while also showcasing the hard work the team puts in both in competition and the classroom.
“This win says a lot about us, not just about us competing but us as a four-year university,” she said. “Not only are we taking a lot of time to train and practice, but MSU is not an easy school and all of us have to split our time and work hard. Not only are these girls great athletes but great students as well.”
“It was really exciting because I’m born and raised in Montana and it was really cool to bring the title back home,” Moeykens added. “I was born in Bozeman, so to be able to compete for my home school was really cool, and bringing home the title was extra special.”
With the season over and several MSU athletes competing on the rodeo circuit all summer, Bolich said he anticipates the women’s team will continue to be a force on the national scene. Though this year is his last as MSU’s rodeo coach, he said he has faith in the continued success of the program.
“They’re going to be really tough. We got some good recruits coming in alongside our returners and those girls are going to win a lot more in their college careers,” he said. “There’s nothing bigger to win than a national championship and it won’t be their last one.”