Craig rodeo athletes fight hard at state finals

Craig's Katie Jo Knez accepts her belt buckle as a breakaway roping national qualifier for the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association State Finals on Monday at Moffat County Fairgrounds.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

With many activities on the docket for Grand Old West Days as part of Memorial Day weekend, young rodeo talent was on display each day at Moffat County Fairgrounds as part of the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association State Finals.

And, among the best of the best of Colorado cowboys and cowgirls were multiple Moffat County athletes.

Local competitors gave their all in the fairground arena, with Northwest Colorado kids making it to the next level.

Katie Jo Knez placed third in the state for breakaway roping, rising up through the event’s season standings to end the spring with 79.5 points.

Scoring each of the three days of competition at home, her opening round Friday was especially good as she caught her calf in 2.87 seconds and third place on the day.

“My first round was great,” Knez said. “Me and my horse have really been getting along lately. I’ve been practicing quite a bit, roping the dummies. At first I couldn’t ride my horse and work, so I just did a lot of ground work. It all just started working, and thankfully I could do it this spring season and keep myself in the top five. It all worked out.”

Having just completing her junior year at Moffat County High School, Knez has been a national qualifier in breakaway as well as a state champion in junior high goat tying.

However, this year almost didn’t happen at all. She injured her ACL during winter basketball practice and was shaky about returning to rodeo.

She wasn’t the only rider who was going through the ailment, though. Jolene Rhyne also was laid up with an ACL mishap — also on her left leg — while skiing.

The two went through the injury almost side by side at the same time.

“It was pretty gradual” Rhyne said. “For a while we were on crutches, then we could walk, then jog and do things like jumping. Little things at a time.”

Knez added they needed to stay patient and help each other.

“It was just about trusting the recovery process,” she said. “It was really nice to have somebody to talk to like that.”

Despite having history in multiple rodeo events, both of them stuck strictly to breakaway this spring as goat tying, barrel racing and pole bending were too likely to aggravate their injuries.

Rhyne, who’s also been at the national level in past years, didn’t have a successful run at state, and was too low in the points count already.

“Missing half the season tends to set you back a bit,” Rhyne said.

In her first season at the high school tier, Myka Grajeda had her best placement with fifth overall in the barrel racing. After placing fourth in Friday’s round, she didn’t gain any points in the next round, which pretty much cut short her chance to rank in the top four riders to go to nationals. Meeker’s Jessy Pelloni became the eventual state champ in the event.

Even so, Grajeda finished the weekend with a win in the short go round Monday, her time of 17.581 seconds the best result of anyone amid all three days of the finals.

“I feel like it was definitely a learning curve for me, as this was my freshman year,” Grajeda said. “I had a lot of competition and lots of ups and downs, but I’m ready for this fall to push to go to nationals.”

In her final year of high school rodeo, Cylee Dunsmore also noted ups and downs.

“It’s definitely been a lot more downs than up, but it’s kind of a luck thing,” Dunsmore said.

With one of her two horses dying, Dunsmore could not compete in pole bending or breakaway, but powered through her remaining events. While she didn’t place in the barrels, she had a first-day success in team roping with partner Rider Linke, of Granby, placing fifth for the round.

“My mentality this year, focusing on the positives through the negatives have turned out a lot better,” Dunsmore said.

At the middle school level, Hayden’s Alexis Vreeman finished the season as reserve champion in barrel racing, while Chance Knez narrowly missed a return to the national event in boys goat tying with fifth place overall.

“The first day was good, but the last two weren’t so great,” Chance Knez said.

Though he wasn’t feeling too confident, he gained points in goats each day, with his best being fourth in the short round, as well as sixth in the average.

After just finishing eighth grade, Chance said he’s looking forward to high school tie down and team roping with bigger livestock.

Though he was hoping for another trip to nationals, he said he’s greatly enjoyed junior high rodeo.

“It’s been super,” he said.

The National Junior High Finals run from June 18-24 in Perry, Ga., while the National High School Rodeo Association Finals are July 16-22 in Gillette, Wyo.

As a familiar competitor by now, Katie Jo Knez said she’s planning to approach the event with confidence.

“Honestly, I’m just going to go out there and rope and do my thing and see where that takes,” she said. “Just have fun with it and do what I know how to do.”

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