By Rick Mauch
Johnny Emmons is still waiting for it all to set in. His Weatherford College women's rodeo team is champion of the college rodeo world.
Not a much larger school or a university, such as fellow perennial powers Texas Tech or Tarleton State. Nope. The 2022 College National Finals Rodeo championship will reside in Weatherford for at least a year.
"I don't think it has really set in yet," Emmons said. "I keep seeing the videos pop up on Facebook, it's fun to read all the comments, receiving calls and emails, etc. It's just been a crazy few days, but so well worth it. I am so proud of our entire team in Casper (Wyoming, site of the CNFR)."
Along with the ladies winning the first team national championship in any sport in WC history, Jace Helton became the fourth individual in school history to win a rodeo national championship. He captured the team roping title along with his partner Riley Kittle from Cisco College.
Weatherford College having success at nationals is nothing new. Previously, Cody Tew won a team roping national championship in 2007, including a national record time of 3.8 seconds. Arena Roberson won the women's All-Around title in 2008 and Cole Wheeler was a team roping champion in 2016.
Emmons, as will any championship coach, will say it's never too early to start thinking about next year - though he does deserve to bask in this championship glory for a bit. But, since next season has been brought up, several who went to nationals this season will be back, including Brie Wells, who was second nationally in breakaway roping; and Bradi Good, who was third in barrel racing. Back for the men will be Helton to defend his title; along with Chance Thiessen, who had a CNFR record of 7.3 seconds during one go-round in tie-down roping; and Cash Enderli, who was 13th in the same event.
Wells accomplished her reserve championship at the CNFR after finishing 13th in the Southwest Region regular season standings. Good also peaked at the CNFR in barrel racing after not being in the top 15 in the final regular season standings, though she was fifth in breakaway in the regular season.
Gone from this season's women's team at nationals will be Kristin Reaves, who placed third in goat tying and had a national record time of 5.5 seconds in the final round. Reaves is transferring to Sam Houston State University. Also, Kodey Hoss placed seventh in the same event; she is moving on to the University of Wyoming.
In all, WC is expected to have about 25 athletes on its roster returning for next season, Emmons said. Among them is Bubba Holcomb, who narrowly missed qualifying for nationals by finishing fifth in bareback in the Southwest Region.
Others who could move up to the "next level" in 2022-23 among the women include Londyn Ross (15th in barrels in region), Sophie Dunn, Gina Cope, Reagan Laney, Lilley Eakes and Harley Meged. Among the men are Trent Sorey, Zaine Mikita, Colton Greene, Cayden Harmon and Brayden Tyrer.
And, of course, there's always the new recruits, which, as always, will feature new talent coming into the fold.
"I think the biggest improvement for us next year will be our men's team. We were able to recruit a few roughstock guys that should improve our presence on that end of the arena as well as some really tough tie down and team ropers," Emmons said.
But, as previously mentioned, the chance to win even more will come soon enough. For now, Emmons and his athletes are enjoying being a part of history and walking taller than any team ever has before in the community.
"It's been awesome, the outreach has been great," Emmons said of public response to the CNFR success. "It makes me so proud to see so many be WC proud!"