CNFR: Casper College makes return trip to college finals

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After a one-year absence, the Casper College men’s rodeo team is back on the national stage.


The Thunderbirds finished just behind Gillette College in the final Central Rocky Mountain Region team standings to qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo for the third time in four years.


“I’m really excited about this team because I think we have as good a shot as anybody to come out of here as one of the top 10 teams in the country,” longtime Casper College coach Tom Parker said. “These kids have worked so hard this year that they deserve everything they get.”


The T-Birds made a late run at Gillette before finishing less than 42 points behind the Pronghorns.


But with two regional champs in steer wrestler Riley Krassin (Lander) and bareback bronc rider Zachariah Phillips, along with four cowboys with CNFR experience, the T-Birds could make some noise at the Casper Events Center.


“The thing that really excites me is that we’ve got guys who have been here before so they know what to expect,” Parker said. “I think this team has the opportunity to be as good as the team we had here three years ago.”


Casper College finished seventh in the final standings in 2011, with four T-Birds making it back for Saturday’s short go-round.


Krassin, who placed sixth as a freshman, is the only T-Bird remaining from that team. He also made it back to the CNFR the following year but missed last year after tearing his ACL during the season. This season Krassin won three of the final four rodeos to run away with the CRMR bulldogging title and enters this week’s CNFR sitting No. 7 in the national standings.


“Riley can take a bad steer and make it a good one and he can take a good steer and make it a great one,” Parker said. “I really think if he draws well he can do some good things here.”


The same holds true for Phillips, who finished ninth in the all-around two years ago. He scored 82 points to win the final rodeo of the season and claim the bareback title, just edging out Wyoming’s Wyatt Clark and Gillette’s Devan Reilly.


“Zach has just been solid all year,” Parker said. “And I think we’re going to see Zach at his best this week.”


Joining Krassin and Phillips in the familiar red vests at the CNFR are bull riders Tyler Williams and Neil Williams III (Natrona County), bareback rider Calvin Ophus and tie-down roper Logan Murphy (Torrington).


Neil Williams III, who was Casper College’s lone entrant last year, and Tyler Williams are both looking for their first qualified ride at the CNFR. Tyler failed to cover a bull while riding for Central Wyoming College in 2012. Tyler finished just 20 points back of regional champ Randy Schaapman of Lamar Community College, with Neil just 10 points behind Tyler.


Ophus and Murphy, meanwhile, made it based on the T-Birds’ second-place finish. Parker added that both deserve to be competing this week, though. Ophus scored points in each of the final six CRMR rodeos and placed fifth in the regional standings while Murphy was fourth in the calf roping.


“Logan is riding a new horse and (Casper College assistant coach) Jhett (Johnson) said he’s roping really good,” Parker said. “If he can get the first-time jitters out of his system he’ll be OK.


“And Calvin is just Calvin. He’s probably not going to win a lot of rodeos, but he’s dang sure going to place in a lot of them.


“And I’ve told these kids that they don’t have to be first every time. If they’re consistent and are in the top five or six then they’ll make it back to Saturday. And once you get to the finals it’s anybody’s rodeo.”


Also competing for the T-Birds on the women’s side this week is freshman breakaway roper Lacey Camp, who placed in three of the final five rodeos to finish second in the regional standings.


“We don’t want to forget Lacey,” Parker said. “She’s been real consistent all spring and she might surprise some people.”


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