Returning to Craig midnight Sunday, Denette Webber said she felt reassured in the foundation she's building for Moffat County High School rodeo.
The first-year head coach of the high school program had four of her cowgirls place eight times at the spring season opening rodeo Saturday and Sunday in Cortez.
What made Webber reassured, she said, was not only having four placers but also having 19 athletes on the team travel to the southern region of the state one of the best turnouts of the year.
She said the increase in numbers is due to the organized winter practices implemented for the first time this year.
"I think the kids not only were able to get themselves and their horses in better condition but became more dedicated to the program through the practices," Webber said. "It was noticeable what the practices did at this first rodeo. We had good numbers and we placed eight times."
Two of the cowgirls are familiar names to Moffat County rodeo fans. Sophomore Kelly White and freshman Tia Brannan placed five times in the two days, with White riding to the team's only first place. She won Saturday's section of pole bending.
Joining White and Brannan in the winner's circle was another sophomore-freshman combination made up of Rebecca Runyan and Nikki Keen.
Runyan, who placed eighth Saturday and seventh Sunday in poles, agreed with her coach's sentiments about the positive affects of practicing in the four off-months between the fall and spring seasons.
"It was important for me to workout because I got a new horse and I needed to break him in," she said. "It was also good because my coach brought in people to work with us on our technique and conditioning."
While the cowgirls worked barrels and poles every Thursday night, the cowboys worked out every Tuesday night with the Rio Caromo Roping Club, which keeps a number of calves at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.
After this first rodeo, the boys' section of the team is still looking for its first placer of the season, but Webber said she is confident that it won't be long before it happens.
In the past and especially in the fall season many of the cowboys are tied up in other high school sports, making it nearly impossible for them to compete in the travel-heavy sport of rodeo.
Already this season the number of boys participating in the sport has increased, with seven traveling to Cortez, an improvement on the fall numbers that were usually no higher than two or three.
"We not only have more boys out this season but guys with more experience," sophomore roper George Raftopoulos said.
The rough-stock riders section of the team is still struggling because of the lack of practice available. To practice saddle bronc, bare back or bull riding, an arena has to be specially outfitted with safety equipment, which the fairgrounds does not have.
Webber did supply a kickboard, a piece of conditioning equipment used to strengthen a rider's legs. While the kickboard did allow rough-stock riders some practice in the wintertime, it is no substitute for a 2,000-pound bull.
"It's just hard for our rough-stock kids to get the practice they need when they only get it during competition," Webber said.
The biggest factor that will enhance the performance of all the high school riders is the opening of the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds, which should happen at anytime, Webber said.
"You just can't get the practice you need indoors," Raftopoulos said.
"Once we get outside, we'll all start improving."