With four riders winning six different categories, the Fresno State Bulldoggers tied for first in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association West Coast Region competition at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds March 6 and 7.
The competition kicks off the NIRA West Coast Region season. The Bulldoggers rode in to the outing hoping to begin the year with a solid start.
Dirt flew and a few cowboys endured hard falls on the day of the championship round, but after the dust settled the Bulldoggers Men’s Team emerged with 700 points, tying with Feather River College for first place.
The Women’s Team came in third place with 165 points. Cuesta College’s Women’s team came in first with 295 points, followed by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in second with 165 points.
Four of Fresno State’s contestants — Reed Neely, Mitchell Parham, Rylee George and Cole Dodds — won the top spot in their categories.
Rylee George came in first in the Women’s All Around category with 150 points.
George, a first year college rodeo student, hopes the win will give her the momentum to compete in the NIRA national finals in Wyoming.
“It feels pretty cool to have won, especially since this is my first year with college rodeo,” George said. “I definitely exceeded my expectations and our team did well, everyone was there to help out and I think we did great.”
Neely earned a first place buckle for staying in the saddle longer than any of his competitors in the Saddle Bronc category, scoring 154 points.
“My dad had sponsored our buckle, so he was really wanting me to win it,” Neely said. “I was happy because I have always wanted to win this one. The past two years I was unlucky but this year I’ve been working really hard at it, and it paid off for me.”
Neely, an experienced cowboy, has rode broncos since he was 16 years old. He competed in the NIRA’s national finals last year in the Saddle Bronc category. But this season marks the first time Neely won Fresno State’s collegiate competition.
Michael Parham won first in the Bareback Riding category with 130 points, marking the second year in a row that he has won the competition
“It was very special to win that, it was really nice to win that back-to-back,” Parham said.
Parham is confident that his strong showing will put him on track to make it to the national finals.
“Going into the college national finals in June, I would love to be ranked in the top five in the nation and I’d love my team to be with me so we can start looking towards a national championship for Fresno State,” Parham said.
Dodds was the rodeo’s biggest winner, taking first place in the Calf Roping, Tie Down Roping and Men’s All Around categories. He roped in 280 points over the two days.
Dodds could not be reached for comment for this story, but his teammates said they were proud to see him dominate the competition.
“It’s the hometown rodeo so obviously we wanted to do good, but seeing four of us at the bus trying to pick up our checks and our buckles, that was pretty exciting to see,” Neely said.
Neely said he believes the team will take what they learned from the competition to do better in future rodeos.
“After seeing this rodeo… I interviewed a couple kids and they all said that they see what they need to work on now and now they know what things that they need to fix,” Neely said.
The Bulldogger’s next rodeo is slated to take place at West Hills College in Coalinga, March 20 and 21.