HASTINGS, Neb. — The Nebraska High School Rodeo season wrapped up with the high school finals in Hastings at the Adams County Fairgrounds. Rodeo athletes from across the Cornhusker State competed in two go-rounds on June 13-14 and the short go-round on June 15. The top four contestants in each of 14 events were determined, and they will go on to compete at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo., July 15-21.
Champions from the 2019 finals: Gauge McBride, Kearney, bareback riding; Grant Turek, St. Paul, tie-down roping; Sage Miller, Springview, saddle bronc riding; Madison Mills, Eddyville, pole bending; Sage Konicek, Ord, boys cutting; Concey Bader, Palmer, girls cutting; Riata Day, Fleming, Colo., goat tying; Mataya Eklund, Valentine, breakaway roping; Gus Franzen, Kearney, steer wrestling; Cameron Jensen, Hyannis and Tanner Whetham, Henry, team roping; Jenae Whitaker, Chambers, barrel racing; Conner Halverson, Gordon, bull riding; Tatum Olson, reined cow horse; Jack Skavdahl, Marsland, trap shooting; and Andrea Meyer, Stapleton, rifle shooting.
The girls’ year-end all-around award went to Mataya Eklund of Valentine, with the reserve all-around to Riata Day of Fleming, Colo. The boys’ year-end all-around winner was Sage Miller, Springview, and the reserve all-around went to Colten Storer, Sutherland. Girls’ rookie of the year was Jenea Whitaker, Chambers, and the boys’ rookie of the year was Cody Miller, Broken Bow. The 2019 Nebraska High School Rodeo queen title was awarded to Molly Paxton, Mullen.
The following are highlights of a few of the champions.
Tie-down roping champion — Grant Turek, St. Paul
Winning a state title is old hat for Grant Turek.
This year was the third year the 18-year-old cowboy has won the state tie-down roping title.
He came into the state finals in first place and never relinquished his lead.
The 2019 St. Paul High School graduate will attend Gillette (Wyo.) College this fall to study ag business and compete in the tie-down and team roping for the college team.
He’s one of a handful of men who have won multiple high school tie-down roping titles in Nebraska, and he knows he’s part of an exclusive group of ropers like Ray Brown, a North Platte resident who competed for years in the regional associations, and Riley Pruitt of Gering, who won the average championship at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“It’s pretty special for my name to be on that list with those guys,” he said.
Turek also competed in the team roping at state finals. This will be his third trip to the National High School Finals.
In high school, he was captain of the basketball team, on student council and the National Honor Society.
He is the son of Jeff and Sheila Turek.
Bull riding champion — Conner Halverson, Gordon
Conner Halverson won the bull riding title last year, and this year, as well.
The Gordon cowboy came into state finals in second place but won the first round (78 points), the second round (83 points) and the average (161 points on two head) to move him ahead of North Platte’s Mason Ward for the win.
Halverson, who is 17, has competed at the last three state finals and at nationals, as well. He will be a senior at Gordon-Rushville High School this fall.
He is the son of Eric and Marika Halverson.
Barrel racing champion — Jenae Whitaker, Chambers
Barrel racing titlist Jenae Whitaker’s mishap 10 days before state finals didn’t affect her barrel racing.
The 15-year-old cowgirl broke her left wrist during practice, but decided competing at state was still possible.
She chose to not compete in the goat tying, which she had qualified in, but continued with the barrels, pole ending and breakaway.
The wrist didn’t bother her in Hastings at all.
“The first few days (after it was broken) it hurt pretty bad,” she said. “After that, I got used to it and it didn’t hurt as bad. It became the new normal.”
However, she won’t be swimming for a few weeks, and “that is kind of rough,” she said.
Whitaker didn’t knock over any barrels during state finals, allowing her to keep her lead even though she finished sixth in the first round, ninth in the second round and sixth in the short round.
“Some of the other cowgirls behind me (in the standings) knocked over barrels, so I knew I needed to be consistent,” she said.
She will be a sophomore at Chambers High School this fall. She is involved in FFA, FCCLA, student council, one acts, quiz bowl, and is on the honor roll.
She is the daughter of Kyle Whitaker and Halie Forre.
Steer wrestling champion — Gus Franzen, Kearney
For Gus Franzen, rodeo is his love, with wrestling a close second.
The 2019 Kearney High School graduate is the 2019 Nebraska High School Steer Wrestling champion.
He came into Hastings leading the steer wrestling pack and never looked back.
“I had a pretty comfortable lead coming in,” he said. “I just had to make three business-like runs.”
In the second round, he broke the barrier to add a five second penalty to his time, but he won the short round, which “put the bow on the top,” he said.
Franzen also competed at state finals in the team roping, saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping, with a fifth place finish in the saddle bronc riding.
This fall, he will attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, where he will compete in all four of his events and work towards a degree in finance. His goal after college is to pro rodeo and work in the real estate investment business.
Franzen competed in high school football and wrestling, qualifying for the state wrestling tournament twice.
He is the son of Amy Messersmith and Luke Franzen.
Saddle bronc riding champion — Sage Miller, Springview
Like Turek and Halverson, Sage Miller is a repeat on the list of champs at state.
The Springview cowboy is a two-time saddle bronc riding champion, having won the title last year and this year.
He got bucked off his horses in both rounds, but won the short round and had amassed enough regular season points to win the event.
He also competed at state finals in the team roping, steer wrestling and tie-down roping and finished third in the steer wrestling, to go to nationals in both saddle bronc riding and steer wrestling.
He will be a senior at Keya Paha County School this fall, where he is involved in FFA, plays football, and is on the honor roll.
Miller has competed at nationals the last three years in the saddle bronc riding. This year will be his first time to compete at nationals in the steer wrestling. He is also the 2019 Nebraska State High School Boys All-Around champion.
He is the son of Will and Jamie Miller.
Goat tying champion — Riata Day, Fleming, Colo.
Last year, Riata Day’s younger sister Wacey won the goat tying title.
This year, the big sister did it.
Riata’s runs at state went well: in the first round, she finished third with a time of 7.6 seconds. In round two, she won second with a time of 6.7 seconds, and in the short round, she broke the arena record with a 6.3 second run to win the round.
The 17-year-old will also compete at Nationals in the pole bending, having finished third in that event.
The Fleming, Colo. cowgirl loves rodeo.
“It’s been my life for the past four years,” she said. “I really love the family aspect.”
She also loves to compete.
“The competition is outstanding,” she said. “These girls push each other to do the best they can.”
A 2019 graduate of Lone Star High School in Otis, Colo., she will attend Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo. this fall, majoring in animal science and competing on the rodeo team in the barrels, goats, and breakaway roping. She hopes to become an animal nutritionist.
She is the daughter of Shane and Heather Day.
Team roping champion heeler — Tanner Whetham, Henry
Last year, Tanner Whetham and his header, Cameron Jensen, finished as reserve state champs.
This year, they finished at the top.
The two had some penalties in the first and second rounds. But going into the short round, they had a strategy.
“We knew what we had to be to win state,” Whetham said. “We went out and made a good solid run and ended up on top.”
They have roped together the past two years.
Whetham also competed at state finals in the tie-down roping, steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding.
He will be a senior at Morrill High School this fall, where he plays football and basketball and is in FFA.
He is the son of Shon and Cathy Whetham.
Pole bending champion — Madison Mills, Eddyville
Madison Mills knew how to handle the pressure when it pushed down on her.
The Eddyville, Neb. cowgirl made a bad run in the first round, knocking down a pole and getting a penalty for it.
But she handled it.
For the second round, “I tried calming down and letting my horse stand in the arena before I competed, and it worked. For the short round, I did the same thing and it worked again,” she said. She won the second round and the short round.
She also let her horse do his job.
“I was having trust issues with him,” she said. “I decided to let him do what he’s trained to do. It worked out, and we clicked.”
Her horse, Dusty, a 10-year-old sorrel gelding, was named the Nebraska High School Horse of the Year. She and her dad trained Dusty, who she knew would be fast.
“I knew from the start that he would be a good horse,” she said.
She has been riding Dusty since seventh grade.
Mills, who is 16 years old, also competed in the barrels, finishing fourth and securing a second event for her at nationals.
Going to nationals is a dream come true, she said: “I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time.”
She will be a junior at Sumner-Eddyville-Miller School this fall.
She is the daughter of Melissa and Matt McTygue and the late Neil Mills.