Members of last year’s Moffat County High School rodeo team, from left, Casey Barnes, Trent Vernon, Cutter Barnes, Taylor Vernon and Gabbi Steele practice during the winter. The team lost just two seniors — Taylor Vernon and Gabby Miller — in May and are looking to build a foundation on returning and new athletes.

File photo

Members of last year’s Moffat County High School rodeo team, from left, Casey Barnes, Trent Vernon, Cutter Barnes, Taylor Vernon and Gabbi Steele practice during the winter. The team lost just two seniors — Taylor Vernon and Gabby Miller — in May and are looking to build a foundation on returning and new athletes.

A program is born

MCHS rodeo has staying power, and a crop of promising young cowboys on the horizon

MCHS rodeo team schedule:

Time Date Place Host

10 a.m. Sept. 4 Away Montezuma-Cortez

10 a.m. Sept. 5 Away Montezuma-Cortez

10 a.m. Sept. 11 Away Gunnison

10 a.m. Sept. 12 Away Gunnison

10 a.m. Sept. 17 Away Hotchkiss

10 a.m. Sept. 18 Away Hotchkiss

10 a.m. Sept. 19 Away Hotchkiss

10 a.m. Sept. 25 Home Moffat County

10 a.m. Sept. 26 Home Moffat County

MCHS rodeo team at a glance:

Returning players: 5

Players lost: 2 (Gabby Miller, Taylor Vernon)

Coach:

Janice Edwards — second year

By the numbers:

Two: Summer 2011 will be the second year Moffat County hosts the Colorado State High School Rodeo. In 2010, the rodeo brought in more than 110 cowboys and cowgirls from across the state.

2,814: Between the fall and spring seasons of rodeo, the MCHS team traveled more than 2,800 miles to participate in other rodeos, not including their own. The closest rodeo was in Eagle — more than 100 miles away, while the one furthest away was in Las Animas, more than 360 miles from Craig.

What does it take to build a successful sports program?

Veteran leadership, a strong will to improve, and a stock of young talent are good places to start.

In that way, it’s check, check and check for the 2010 Moffat County High School rodeo team, sponsor Janice Edwards said.

In addition to returning everyone but Gabby Miller and Taylor Vernon from last year’s team, the first of several promising young wranglers will be entering high school.

This year, the Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School rodeo teams merged, creating what could become a pipeline of state competitors.

Last spring, the two rodeo teams practiced together, and traveled to several events as one team.

The benefits were instantaneous, Edwards said.

As an eighth-grader, Casey Barnes was the all-around state champion for Colorado.

His brother, Cutter, joined him at the national rodeo in New Mexico.

Part of Casey’s success, aside from being a talented cowboy, came from watching last year’s cowboys and cowgirls prepare for events, Edwards said.

“They see all the work they had to put in,” she said. “That definitely helped. They learned the ropes from the older kids who have been doing it for a long time.”

Middle school rodeo is one thing, but the high school variation is going to be taxing for newcomers, Edwards said.

“I think (Casey) will do well,” she said. “It’s a lot tougher moving up. He’s never had to tie-down calfs, the bulls are bigger and team roping is about the same, maybe faster.

“In the spring, I think he will probably start bulldogging. I think he really could do well — he’s a rodeo kid.”

Like Casey was able to do in 2009-10, the next group of Cutter Barnes, Trent Vernon, Denton and Dusty Taylor and Garrett Uptain, could all benefit from starting at the high school level.

“I think it will make them more competitive,” she said. “They have to try and keep up with the older kids.”

Those older kids come back looking strong, Edwards said.

Mainstay Gabbi Steele returns for her senior year after a successful summer campaign.

During the National Little Britches rodeo, Steele was second in the trail course and ninth overall.

“Gabbi has done rodeo forever,” Edwards said. “She’ll be doing even more this year.”

The sophomore tandem of Garrett Buckley and Wyatt Uptain return as well.

“Wyatt and Garrett have been riding horses all summer,” Edwards said. “I know that Wyatt has been practicing saddle bronc riding a lot, and I imagine Garrett has, too.”

Ian Duzik is another cowboy to keep an eye on, Edwards said.

“He should be good this year,” she said. “He had some success in Little Britches, and he hasn’t stopped (participating in rodeo) since last year.”

With young and old team members together this year, Edwards has already seen the will to be better throughout the summer.

The grind of practicing for rodeos on top of ranch work is good for not only tough cowboys and cowgirls, but it also helps lower times and raise scores.

“It helps a ton to do it year-round,” Edwards said. “When you take a break, your horse gets out of shape and you get out of practice.

“It’s hard to get back into that groove.

“You have to just keeping doing it. Rodeo isn’t a sport you can do for a little while then quit and come back to it. You’re not the only athlete out there, your horse is, too.”

Just as muscles atrophy, muscle memory does too, Edwards said.

“There’s so much mentally that goes into it,” she said. “It’s hard to leave it for a little while. You have to get in the right mindset, and the best way to do that is to keep going out there.

“You have to keep moving.”

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