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UT Martin Team at the 2016 College National Finals Rodeo


By Ryne Rickman; Photos by Dan Hubbell

CASPER, Wyo. – The 68th annual College National Finals Rodeo was held June 12-18, 2016 in Casper, Wyoming at the Casper Events Center. Widely known as the “Rose Bowl” of college rodeo, the CNFR is a weeklong event where the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association crowns individual champions in nine different events. More than 400 cowboys and cowgirls from over 100 universities and colleges compete at the CNFR each year after taking part in one of the NIRA’s 11 regions for a chance to rope or ride at the national event.

The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s team, competing for its second national championship, finished in 14th place with a total of 315 points in the event. The UT Martin men’s team came off another Ozark Region championship in the 2015-16 season, the team’s 14th since head coach John Luthi joined the program in 1997. The men’s team, which became the first program east of the Mississippi River to win the CNFR championship in 2014, was ranked No. 4 in the nation with 5,965 points and made its 43rd consecutive trip to the CNFR.

Feather River College took home the team title with 1,000 points over the weeklong rodeo. Four UT Martin cowboys competed for a shot at an individual national championship tonight, as the top 12 scorers in each event took center stage to determine the best of the best.

Marcus Theriot of East Mississippi Community College took home the title of Men’s All Around and Men’s Rookie, with 510 total points.

The Women’s All Around champion was Danyelle Williams of Blue Mountain Community College with 340 total points.
UT Martin’s Lane Mitchell and East Mississippi’s Marcus Theriot finished in the top-five nationally in team roping after a solid effort this evening. The duo posted a score of 9.1 seconds to place fifth out of 50 teams with a 22.0 average.

Tanner Phipps competed in bareback riding, but ran into some tough luck and did not compile a score. He finished 12th out of 36 cowboys with an average score of 211.0.

UT Martin accounted for two of the final 12 contestants in tie down roping, but unfortunately neither cowboy would record an official score in the finals tonight. Ben Walker finished 10th nationally with an average of 31.3 while Slade Bronson’s 39.8 average came in 12th place out of 46 competitors.

The 2016 CNFR marked the 43rd straight year that the UT Martin men’s team advanced to the postseason. This season, the UT Martin men’s squad won five of its 10 regular season rodeos and an Ozark Region championship on its way to achieving a No. 4 national ranking heading into the CNFR.

Find more information about the College National Finals Rodeo and full scores at: and on facebook at CNFR: College National Finals Rodeo.

Congratulations to all of the 2016 champions!

Bareback – Wyatt Denny, Feather River College, 311.5 points
Tie-Down Roping – Marcus Theriot, East Mississippi Community College 38.1 seconds
Breakaway Roping – Kirbie Crouse, Missouri Valley College, 10.9 seconds
Saddle Bronc Riding – Wyatt Casper, Clarendon College, 290 points
Steer Wrestling – J.D. Struxness, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, 18.1 seconds
Goat Tying – Shelby Winchell, Chadron State College, 25.0 seconds
Team Roping – (header) Cole Wheeler, Weatherford College & Wesley Thorp, Ranger College, 24.4 seconds
Barrel Racing – Kristi Steffes, Black Hills State University, 56.09
Bull Riding –Cody Hudson, Walla Walla Community College, 159.5 points
Men’s All-Around – Marcus Theriot, East Mississippi Community College, 510 points
Women’s All-Around – Danyelle Williams, Blue Mountain Community College, 340 points
Men’s Team – Feather River College, 1000 points
Women’s Team – Blue Mountain Community College, 595 points
Men’s Rookie – Marcus Theriot, East Mississippi Community College, 510 points
Women’s Rookie – Brittany Dias, California State University – Fresno, 185 points
When UT Martin opened the 2016 CNFR on June 12, it had been six weeks since the team officially competed in the regular season finale at Cossatot Community College. This was also the first time each UT Martin participant competed in an official capacity since their teammate Coy Lutz passed away during an independent competition on May 28. Each of the seven UT Martin team members wore an armband at the CNFR to commemorate the life of Lutz, who had recently completed his freshman season.

Representing the UT Martin men’s team were Tanner Phipps (bareback riding), Slade Bronson (calf roping), Ben Walker (team roping, calf roping), Lane Mitchell (team roping) and Douglas Rich (team roping). Nealey Dalton (barrel racing) and Natalie Fletcher (breakaway roping) competed on behalf of the UT Martin women’s squad.

This year marked the third career CNFR appearance for Phipps, Walker, Mitchell, Dalton, and Fletcher, while Bronson and Rich made their second career CNFR appearance.

As the 68th annual CNFR began June 12th, a pair of University of Tennessee at Martin veterans took part in the opening day of college rodeo. Senior Tanner Phipps registered 66.5 points in bareback riding, which ranked him 21st out of 36 cowboys in the event. Senior Natalie Fletcher began her third career CNFR appearance by compiling a time of 3.1 seconds in breakaway roping, ranking 16th out of 54 participants.

The weeklong national championship continued on Monday, June 13, with slacks beginning at 7 a.m. local time. Ben Walker (tie down roping/team roping), Slade Bronson (tie down roping), Lane Mitchell (team roping), Douglas Rich (team roping) and Nealey Dalton (barrel racing) made their 2016 CNFR debut for UT Martin.

Five different University of Tennessee at Martin participants made their 2016 College National Finals Rodeo debuts on Monday, June 13 as the team shot up the team standings in the second day of the national championship. UT Martin ranked 16th out of 45 teams in the men’s standings, amassing 85 points on Day 2. Panhandle State University was first on the men’s side with 210 points overall.

Ben Walker’s time of 9.3 seconds in tie down roping ranked in a tie for fifth out of 46 competitors. Slade Bronson also took part in the event, compiling a time of 16.3 to rank 28th in the first go.

In team roping, Lane Mitchell teamed with East Mississippi’s Marcus Theriot to post a time of 6.2 seconds. That performance ranked fourth out of 50 teams after the first round of the CNFR. Walker also joined forces with Douglas Rich, generating a time of 11.5 to rank 23rd after the first go of the event.

Nealey Dalton made her 2016 CNFR debut, amassing a time of 14.53 seconds in barrel racing. After that performance, she was tied for 17th out of 48 competitors in the event.           

Tanner Phipps was set to compete in the second round of bareback riding on Tuesday, June 14. Bronson also tool part in the second round of tie down roping, while Walker completed his second and third rounds of tie down roping on Tuesday. Walker and Rich were scheduled for two separate performances in team roping, while Mitchell also participated in team roping. Dalton (barrel racing) and Natalie Fletcher (breakaway roping) competed to round out the participation for UT Martin.

The University of Tennessee at Martin accumulated 130 more points during Day 3 of the 2016 College National Finals Rodeo. UT Martin compiled 215 points over the first three days of the weeklong CNFR. That mark tied with Ranger College for 10th place out of 58 teams, while Feather River College continued to lead the way with 465 points.

Tanner Phipps posted a score of 74.0 in his second round of bareback riding, which was the third-best score of the 36 competitors in the event. He ranked 16th overall with a 140.5 average.

Ben Walker shot up the individual standings in tie down roping thanks to a pair of solid performances. He started with a
13.7 time in the second round before coming back with an 8.3 in the third round, which was the fourth-best time in the entire event so far. He was second out of 46 cowboys with a 31.3 average. Slade Bronson also competed in tie down roping, shaving nearly seven seconds off his first score with a 9.4 to rank 24th in the individual standings (25.7 average).

In team roping, the UT Martin duo of Walker and Douglas Rich amassed a time of 10.5 in the second round, but did not compile a score in the third round. Walker and Rich were in seventh place out of 50 teams with a 22.0 average. Lane Mitchell completed his second round with an 11.4 time alongside East Mississippi’s Marcus Theriot. Mitchell and Theriot were in 22nd place with an average of 17.6 after the third day.

Nealey Dalton racked up a 14.64 time in the second round of barrel racing. She ranked 29th out of 48 cowgirls with a 29.17 average in the event.

In breakaway roping, Natalie Fletcher did not compile a score during her second round performance. Her 3.1 average was tied for 38th place out of 54 cowgirls in the event.

University of Tennessee at Martin senior Nealey Dalton vaulted into ninth place after an impressive barrel racing performance on the fourth day of the 2016 College National Finals Rodeo, June 15, 2016.

A native of Adamsville, Tenn., Dalton was the only UT Martin representative to compete this day. She responded with her best score of the 2016 CNFR, posting a time of 14.35 seconds during her third round performance. Her average stood at 43.52 seconds, just 1.02 seconds behind the leader in the event.

Lane Mitchell and Natalie Fletcher were each in action for UT Martin on Thursday, June 16. Mitchell joined forces with East Mississippi’s Marcus Theriot for their third round performance in team roping, while Fletcher had her third go in breakaway roping.

Find more information about the College National Finals Rodeo at:

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