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A Little WNFR Preview in North Platte

by Jim Bainbridge | Jun 16, 2016
By Ruth Nicolaus/for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. – North Platte is about 1,000 miles from Las Vegas, but a bareback rider at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo got a bit closer to the bright lights of Sin City June 15.

Tim O’Connell rode Beutler and Son Rodeo’s Nodbig.com’s Wonderland for 85 points to take the lead after the first night of rodeo.

A check from North Platte would get O’Connell, who is ranked third in the PRCA’s world standings, a step closer to his third qualification for the PRCA’s world championships, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in Las Vegas Dec. 1-10.

He’s been excited about the horse he drew since he learned his draw last week. He’d ridden her in San Antonio three years ago, and scored 83 points.

“I was nervous,” the 24-year-old cowboy said, “not really nervous, but the excited nervous – that feeling you get when you first start riding bucking horses. Over time it goes away, and when you draw one like that, it all comes back.”

Wonderland comes with her own impressive track record.

“She’s been to the NFR nine years in a row in the eliminator pen,” O’Connell said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself. She’s a great, strong bucking horse, and if you get out of time (with her), she will put you down.”

O’Connell is focused on winning a world championship gold buckle this December, and he’s taken steps to get there. He’s hired a personal trainer, a wrestling coach from his alma mater, Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. The coach knows wrestling but he also knows bareback riding.

“He actually went and learned what bareback riding was, so he could figure out a workout program for me,” O’Connell said. “I didn’t need to gain fifteen pounds of muscle; I was going to gain muscles that I needed. The core stuff, the speed in your feet, the strength in your legs and your shoulders.”

His trainer has designed his workout to be a mixture of weightlifting and Crossfit.

“In fifteen minutes he can wear my butt out,” O’Connell said. “He’s got me to puke a few times, unfortunately. He found a way to push me to my limits and up the bar more and more. I really enjoy it, honestly. I don’t enjoy the puking, but I enjoy knowing that my limits can go farther.”

O’Connell grew up in Zwingle, Iowa, but now lives in Marshall with his wife, Sami.

In the steer wrestling, a Kansas cowboy has the lead in the first go-round. Jule Hazen, Ashland, had a time of 3.7 seconds to set the bar. Hazen, who had celebrated his 35th birthday two days earlier, is in the top 35 in the world standings and looking to make a fourth run for the WNFR, after having qualified in 2007, 2010 and 2013.

He followed his friend Dean Gorsuch’s run of 3.8 seconds and promptly dropped Gorsuch from first to second. Gorsuch, a two-time world champion from Gering, Neb., was happy for Hazen even though Hazen’s time put him into second place.

“I consider him a really, really good friend,” Hazen said. “He was one of the first ones to come over and congratulate me.”

After he makes his second run in the slack on Thursday morning, Hazen will hit the rodeo trail for two months straight, during the busiest time of the season. He and traveling partners Josh Clark, Jon Herl, Blair Jones and Richard Coats will head to Pleasant Grove, Utah, then on to Reno, Nev., Springdale, Ark, Pecos, Texas, Santa Fe, N.M., Greeley, Colo, and Livingston, Mont., by the time the Fourth of July holiday ends.

After the morning’s slack and the evening competition, other leaders are saddle bronc rider Will Smith, Marshall, Mo. (81.5 points), team ropers Adam Rose, Willard, Mo. and Walt Woodard, Stephenville, Texas (6.1 seconds), and barrel racer Taylor Jacob, Carmine, Texas (17.40 seconds). Tie-down roper Marty Yates, Stephenville, Texas, won the first go-round with a time of 9.0 seconds. In the bull riding, Bryce Burnell was the only cowboy to make a qualified ride. The Buffalo, Wyo. cowboy scored 79.5 points.

The 2017 Miss Rodeo Nebraska was crowned, with the title going to Laramie Schlichtemeier of Ogallala. The 22-year-old cowgirl is the daughter of Jeff and Shari Schlichtemeier and is a student at Chadron State College, majoring in business administration with an emphasis in agri-business.

The second of four nights of rodeo takes place Thursday, June 16 at 8 pm. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to show awareness of breast cancer, and proceeds will be donated to the Callahan Cancer Center in North Platte. Tickets are $15 for adult general admission and upper grandstand and $7 for kids. Reserved seating in the lower grandstand is $20 per ticket. For more information, visit NebraskalandDays.com.

Courtesy of PRCA