2023 NIRA Region Champs
A full look into the 2023 NIRA region team roping champions before the CNFR kicks off.
Cade Cowan from East Mississippi Community backing in the box at the Pearl River Community College Rodeo. Alayna Pearle Imagery
Cade Cowan from East Mississippi Community College won the Ozark Region, heeling behind his brother Cooper. Alayna Pearle Imagery.

From early fall through late spring, college kids across the country spend their weekends chasing a goal of winning their respective National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association region. Not only is winning the region an accomplishment worth noting, but it also clinches a spot to the College National Finals Rodeo, held in Casper, Wyoming, in June each year.

These are the 11 teams who wear the crown of region champs as they head into the 2023 CNFR.

Find full results HERE.

Big Sky


  • Cameron Handy — Miles City Community College *Region Champion
  • Daylon Danks — Miles City Community College
  • Jhet Murphy — University of Montana Western


  • Hayden Taylor — Montana State *Region Champion
  • Ty Christensen — University of Montana Western
  • Dawson Jackson — Miles City Community College

At the end of the Big Sky region, which includes colleges and universities in Montana and Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, 10-rodeo regular season, Cameron Handy from Miles City Community College and Hayden Taylor of Bozeman’s Montana State had earned 600 points each and the region’s year-end championship titles.

Handy and Taylor started the year off splitting the win three ways at the second Northwest College rodeo. They went on to win two more rodeos that year and winning rounds throughout the year to come out on top. Their game plan, according to Taylor—a senior from San Luis Obispo, California—was to make smooth, practice-like runs.

“Smooth is fast,” said Taylor, an agriculture business major. “My header has an extremely good and fast head horse, so we could get out on anything and make a quick run and not have to throw all our rope. We could make a smooth run pretty quick, and I think that our main game plan was just go out and make practice runs. Especially in college, that’s what you have to do. Otherwise, you get in your head when you don’t need to be 5 seconds every run.”

After Taylor’s former header graduated last year, Handy, a Clearmont, Wyoming, native, reached out about roping together for the 2022–2023 season. They spent some time together in the practice pen before making it official. 

This year will mark Taylor’s first CNFR appearance, while Handy is making his second, helping them set a plan for the Finals.

“We’re feeling very, very good about it and confident,” Taylor said. “Just go out and rope three clean steers and you’d be set up really good for the championship round. We’re just going to make smooth runs; we’ve been practicing all week. Just go out and make smooth runs, not do nothing crazy and have fun—that’s the biggest part.”

Central Plains


  • Mason Appleton — Western Oklahoma State College *Region Champion
  • Zane Kilgus — Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College 
  • Corben Culley — Western Oklahoma State College
  • JC Yeahquo — Oklahoma State University (tie for third)


  • Nicholas Lovins — Western Oklahoma State College *Region Champion
  • Shane Jenkins — Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College 
  • Rowdy Jones — Western Oklahoma State College
  • LJ Yeahquo — Oklahoma State University (picked up by JC Yeahquo)

In the Central Plains Region, consisting of schools in Kansas and Oklahoma, Mason Appleton from Western Oklahoma State College and Nicholas Lovins from Western Oklahoma State College both accumulated 685 points to take the regional title, the result of consistently making short rounds.

“The year started off pretty good,” said Appleton, a freshman from Copan, Oklahoma. “We made the first two short rounds and placed at both rodeos. And then, at the end of the Fall, the last two rodeos, we had hell; it didn’t go very well. But we had a very good spring. I think we made all the short rounds but one.”

To bounce back from their Fall slump, Appleton and Lovins went back to focusing on completing the task.

“To make the short round up here, it’s not just super tough,” Appleton said. “We were just trying to make the best run we could on our cow without trying to go super fast. You have to just keep your mind set on the roping the whole time. Don’t get distracted with everybody else and what else is going on. Just focus on the roping.”

Both Western Oklahoma State College Pioneers, Appleton and Lovins have an extensive history of roping together. They started their partnership back in eighth grade, roping at the junior high rodeos. They continued teaming up at the high school rodeos until their senior year. When it came time to college rodeo, they partnered up again.

Appleton and Lovins are both making their first CNFR appearances, and they plan to rope their steers for what they are and get them caught. As for winning the region as freshmen? It’s a special feeling.

“It’s pretty cool,” Appleton said. “We went to them all year, and everybody’s out there going to them all, trying to do the same thing. So, it’s pretty cool to say I won the region, especially in my first year to go to them. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment.”

Central Rocky Mountain


  • Bodie Mattson — University of Wyoming *Region Champion
  • Rio Nutter — University of Wyoming
  • Kolby Bradley — Casper College


  • Carson Johnson — Casper College *Region Champion
  • Braden Brost — Casper College
  • Reece Wadhams — Laramie County Community College

Expect Casper to get loud when the Central Rocky Mountain Region, covering colleges and universities in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska’s Chadron State College, teams from Wyoming enter the arena. The University of Wyoming’s Bodie Mattson and Casper College’s Carson Johnson will be the No.1 team for the region at the CNFR.

Mattson and Johnson both have two CNFR trips under their belts, as well as Johnson’s 2021 national title that he won heeling for his brother, Kellan. And when these hometown kids rope in Casper, the building erupts.

“I mean, it is an amazing experience,” said Johnson, a senior fire science major from Casper. “It’s awesome because that building is sold out and, when they hear a Casper College kid or someone from there, they just erupt and they support you so much. I have people to this day come and tell me, ‘Oh, you rodeo for Casper, that’s great.’ To have a whole city and community behind you just makes you want to do even better.”

Though Mattson and Johnson have both competed at the CNFR, this will be their first appearance together. The two have known each other nearly their whole lives—their fathers share a history of jackpotting together in the past. When the older Johnson brother, Kellan, graduated last year, Mattson and Johnson approached one another thinking they would be a good fit. They are. 

“We seemed to succeed this year a lot because we were both very disciplined to go fast in certain situations that we needed to and, when we needed to just catch, we were able to back off,” said Mattson, a business marketing major from Sturgill, South Dakota. “And he really fit good with my roping because that was kind of how I wanted to rope: just go be what I had to be and not overdo it or underdo it.”

Mattson finished the year with 775 points in the heading after missing a rodeo for the Badlands Circuit Finals, and Johnson finished with 955. For the CNFR, they plan to stay the course.

“It’s basically like a big jackpot,” Mattson said. “It’s a long week. We’re going to rope whatever they draw us, and we’re going to rope aggressive but not dumb. We’re going to take one at a time and just keep knocking them down and put ourselves in position to have a chance at [the championship] Saturday night.”

Grand Canyon


  • Clay Cherry — Central Arizona College *Region Champion
  • Calvin Taylor — New Mexico State University
  • Adrian Hernandez — New Mexico State University


  • Logan Cullen — Central Arizona College *Region Champion
  • Juanito Montoya — New Mexico State University
  • Clayton Moore — New Mexico State University

The Grand Canyon Region, which is made up of schools in Arizona and a select few from New Mexico, was championed by a pair of Central Arizona College boys, Clay Cherry and Logan Cullen. Cherry and Cullen both accumulated 777 points to take the title.

Just a year ago, Cherry and Cullen finished fourth in the team roping at the CNFR after a broken barrier in the short round stole their chances at a national title. This season, Cherry and Cullen adjusted their mindset and made the most of the year. The pair won four of the 10 regional rodeos, shaping up for a better season than the last. 

“We had a really good year this year,” said Cherry, a junior equine science major from Stanfield, Arizona. “We were really hoping we’d win it last year, but we had trouble, so I guess we kind of came back with a little more fuel in our fire, and we pretty much had it won going into the last rodeo. So, we had a really good year, and it really, really clicked this year and made a lot of good runs.”

Cherry and Cullen have known each other since they were young kids. Cullen is actually from Courtenay, British Columbia, but he’s spent many winters in Arizona roping. When he and Cherry met, they clicked and have been like brothers ever since.

“We grew up roping our whole lives,” said Cullen, a sophomore who studies welding technology. “So, it’s fun and it’s pretty easy. We go practice all the time together and it’s one of those deals that it’s easy to rope with him because we’ve roped for so long.”

This makes Cherry’s third CNFR appearance and Cullen’s second, and they plan to take it steer by steer. 

Great Plains


  • Chasyn Ystaas — Dickinson State University *Region Champion
  • Clay Gerhardt — Dickinson State University
  • Logan DeMontigny — North Dakota State University


  • Riley Staton — Black Hills State University *Region Champion
  • Clayton Backhaus — Black Hills State University 
  • Lathan DeMontigny — North Dakota State University

In the northern part of the United States—the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin—lies the Great Plains Region and, at the end of the year, it was all about Chasyn Ystaas from Dickinson State University and Riley Staton of Black Hills State University.

Both ropers hail from North Dakota and Ystaas, a Dickinson native, and Staton, from Hickson, first connected in high school. After years of roping and jackpotting together, the two fit each other well.

“Chasyn ropes outstanding,” said Staton, a junior business marketing major. “He’s been an awesome partner. We get along great. We fit each other really well, and we’ve spent a lot of time building the run together. He does a great job and makes it easy on me.”

Ystaas and Staton had a solid year, coming out on top with 565 points each. The Fall started strong, giving them a good lead. But soon, they started drawing less than ideal and had to bear down.

“We just were chipping away and making good solid runs,” Staton said. “And then, toward the end of the Fall, we drew pretty good and made some really good runs and kind of pulled ahead of everybody. But it seemed like we drew really good in the long rounds and then we didn’t draw very good in the short rounds. We had a couple strong steers and made some mistakes, but we never lost sight of what our goal was for the year and just kind of kept our heads down, kept rolling.”

For Staton and Ystaas, their plan is to make jackpot-style runs on their first two and see what they need to do on their third.

“We want to really just make good, solid jackpot runs in the first two rounds,” Staton explained. “Then, we’re not up again until Friday night in the last round, so we’ll try to get the first two knocked down and then we’ll know exactly what we have to do. So that’ll be nice.”



  • Zane Taylor — Treasure Valley Community College *Region Champion
  • Cole Garland — University of Idaho 
  • Kennedy Buckner — Blue Mountain Community College


  • Ty Taylor — Treasure Valley Community College *Region Champion
  • Dillon Bahem — Lewis-Clark State College 
  • Taylor Jones — Blue Mountain Community College

Oregon, Washington and parts of Idaho make up the Northwest Region, and a pair of brothers from Burns, Oregon, took the region win.

Zane Taylor decided to go back to school at Treasure Valley Community College—even after graduating—just so he could rope with his younger brother Ty

“It’s pretty surreal, getting to rope with your little brother,” Zane, a rangeland management major, said. “We roped in high school and almost made the high school finals, just didn’t have a good state. So, winning [the region] this year, it made this moment just so much better.”

Ty is only a freshman, which makes the feat even more impressive. It didn’t come as a breeze, though. After the Fall, the Taylor boys were sitting third, but they failed to pick up points at the first two spring rodeos. That’s when they knew they needed to turn things around.

“At Ontario [Oregon], we missed both steers and we didn’t even make a short round,” said Ty, an agriculture business major. “We were sitting like eighth or something in the region, and we were kind of worried we wouldn’t even make it to the College Finals. And then we went to Walla Walla and won both days there, and we we’re like, ‘Okay, we kind of have a shot.’ Then, at Hermiston, the regional rodeo, we won the first day and then got second the second day, and that was plenty to win the region.”

Zane has been out to the CNFR before, but this will be his first appearance in the team roping. Nonetheless, he has a good idea of what it’ll take to succeed.

“I always get nervous,” he said. “That’s just the way the game is, and it makes it a little more nerve-wracking when you’ve got your little brother behind you because the pressure’s on. But I’m just going to go out there and just be solid and consistent. It’s three head, so it’s not like you have to go out there and be a 4- or 5-second run. Just go out there, be smart about it and just get it caught.”



  • Cooper Cowan — East Mississippi Community College *Region Champion
  • Koby Sanchez — East Mississippi Community College 
  • Logan Graham — Southern Arkansas University


  • Cade Cowan — East Mississippi Community College *Region Champion
  • Cole Walker — University of Tennessee at Martin 
  • Tanner Brown — East Mississippi Community College

On the opposite side of the country, it was another team of brothers who won the region. In the Ozark Region, which consists of schools in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and parts of Louisiana, Cooper and Cade Cowan ran away with the year-end title.

The Cowan brothers, both attending East Mississippi Community College, have spent their entire lives roping alongside each other, and it all came together for wins like this one. One of the key things that helps make their partnership so successful is they understand each other’s different roping styles.

“Cade has a style that he likes to go for first,” said Cooper, a sophomore marketing student. “For a long time, I was the safety guy—I liked to place everywhere I go, and I still am kind of reserved like that. I kind of go a little bit farther down the arena, and Cade has the talent to make up for some of my mistakes and get me going a little bit further. So, I think everything just lines up great. And we never get down with each other. If something bad happens, we’re not going to pick each other apart.”

Their chemistry was on display all season as the two were dominant in the Ozark Region, winning five of the 10 averages and making all but one short round. They had the region won by the second-to-last rodeo—Cooper finished the year with 1,140 points and, due to missing the last rodeo, Cade finished with 960. 

Their CNFR game plan? Go for it.

“We don’t safety up very well at all,” said Cade, a senior marketing major. “That is our weakness; we figured that out this year. So, we treated every rodeo like it was a one-header. We didn’t rope for the average. If a team was 17 on two and we need to go be 9 to win the average, we didn’t shoot to go be 9—we shot to go be 5. And that worked a lot better for us.”

Both having CNFR qualifications under their belts, they know what they aim to do in Casper.

“This year, we’re not going to factor in what it costs to get there,” Cade said. “We’re not going to factor in the drive and we’re not going to factor in the time. We’re going to treat it like it’s 10 minutes down the road from the house. We’re going to try to max out every steer and go for first. That’s my game plan. I’m not going to take any secondary shots. It’s going to be pretty aggressive this year.”



  • Slade Wood — Southwest Texas Junior College *Region Champion
  • Tristan Sullivan — Southwest Texas Junior College
  • Jayse Tettenhorst — Trinity Valley Community College


  • Logan Moore — Wharton County Junior College *Region Champion
  • Will Farris — Texas A&M University – Commerce 
  • Kaden Profili — Trinity Valley Community College

In the Southern Region, it was a freshman and a junior who came out on top. Slade Wood of Southwest Texas Junior College and Logan Moore from Wharton County Junior College accumulated 675 points each to beat out schools from East Texas and parts of Louisiana. 

Wood, whose main event is actually the steer roping, said getting to rope with Moore played a huge part in why he decided to even go to school. Conversely, Moore had been roping with his brother at school for two years. When his brother decided not to return, Moore began looking for a header. He realized Wood was of college age but not rodeoing and talked him into it.

“He was really one of the main reasons I decided to college rodeo,” said Wood, a business major. “He is an outstanding run. Last year, he was high call at the College Finals and his brother missed, but he heels really good. He’s one of those guys, I can go one more swing and still spin him to be a long 4 or a short 5 because he throws so fast. He also has a high catch percentage right there. He really rides in and sets it down, and he doesn’t miss very many of them. It makes it easier on me.”

A strong Fall semester set up Wood and Moore for the year.

“It was good,” Wood said. “The first rodeo we went to, we won it and then, after that, it didn’t really slow down. The first semester, I think we placed at every one of them and won a couple of them and won second at some other ones and were winning the region.”

When the spring semester came, they continued to chip along, placing here and there. But their final rodeo in Athens, Texas, sealed the deal when they won the short round and the average.

Moore’s past experience at the CNFR gives the team a leg up in what to plan for. 

“Our plan is to catch all four steers,” said Moore, a junior with hopes of becoming a wildlife biologist. “Our practice run is pretty easy, so if we go and make practice runs on four steers, we should be on the top. That’s our plan. Just knock them down. Having been there the last two years, I see how it is and how it works. It’s not the toughest thing to win, yet it is because you just try not to mess up.”



  • Wyatt Bray — Tarleton State University *Region Champion
  • Korbin Rice — Tarleton State University
  • Will Eddleman — Sul Ross State University


  • Cutter Thomison — Western Texas College *Region Champion
  • Cooper Freeman — Cisco College
  • Dylan Hancock — Cisco College

The Southwest Region champs may sound very familiar. Wyatt Bray of Tarleton State University and Cutter Thomison from Western Texas College are both familiar with the ProRodeo trail, and this year they added a Southwest Region team roping title to their names.

Bray and Thomison finished the year with 595 points each, making good use of the Fall semester.

“We kind of got control of the region in that first semester,” said Bray, a senior business marketing major. “We got points at every rodeo except three of the 10, and I think the first semester we got points at every single college rodeo. We just made every short round. We didn’t capitalize in all the short rounds, but we just caught every steer in every long round, and it was good enough to get some points in the first round. And if we didn’t place in the long round, we placed in the short round at every rodeo.”

For a team that wasn’t initially supposed to rope together, they pair up nicely. After roping together at some amateur and pro rodeos, Bray suggested they team up for the college rodeo. But Thomison had plans to rope with someone else and was sticking to his prior arrangements. Then, fate stepped in and that run fell through. Thankfully, Bray was still able to pair up with Thomison, and the two have been a dominant force since.

“Every run is the same,” said Thomison, a recent college graduate. “If they step right, if they step left, I’m going to get the same look every time. He’s got a lot of really good horses and he rides them really well. He knows what he is doing. He ropes really good and he is really talented, but he gets all the send out of his horse every time. And that makes it easier for me because I can kind of get my rhythm and momentum. Every time I run down the pen, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to see.”

This will be both Bray’s and Thomison’s first appearances to the CNFR, and they’re set to stick to the plan they had all year.

“Wyatt, he called me, and said, ‘Well, same plan as always,’” Thomison said. “He said, ‘I’m just going to go get out of the barrier, maybe take one more swing, just make sure I get him caught and set him up and let you do your thing. I’m going to set them up where you can wear them out, and we’re going to win this thing. We’re catching four steers in Casper.’”

Rocky Mountain


  • Jace Hanks — Utah Valley University *Region Champion
  • Brodee Tebbs — Southern Utah University 
  • Will Cutler — Idaho State University


  • Wyatt Ahlstrom — Utah Valley University *Region Champion
  • Trey Roundy — Southern Utah University 
  • Colt Ramsey — Idaho State University

The Rocky Mountain consists of schools in Utah and parts of Idaho, and it was a Utah Valley University team that came out victorious for the region title.

Jace Hanks and Wyatt Ahlstrom, a junior and senior at UVU, finished the year with 970 points each—360 points over second place. The construction management majors saw the year start off strong, and that momentum was good enough to continue their lead in the standings.

“It was a pretty good year, we had a good Fall,” Hanks said. “I think we ended the year with almost 1,000 points, and I think 600 or 700 of it came from in the Fall; our Fall was really kind of what started it. Then we had a pretty good lead. Our spring really wasn’t the best, but we got some points. It was kind of the Fall, really, that did it.”

Hanks and Ahlstrom are very familiar with each other’s roping styles, having been partners in high school. When Ahlstrom got to college a year before Hanks, he roped with his sister, but when Hanks joined the college scene, they paired back up.

Their chemistry is a recipe for success, given they were the 2022 Rocky Mountain Region champs as well. 

“I feel like me and him are kind of on the same page and stuff,” Ahlstrom said. “He knows my style of roping—I like to throw as fast as I possibly can—and his style is catch everything. So, it was a pretty good partnership the last two years because he’d run up, be clean on the barrier and catch them. And I would throw as fast as I can to try to make up time. It’s a pretty good little mix.”

For the CNFR, Hanks and Ahlstrom plan on staying aggressive but being smart.

“We’re just planning on being safe, but taking our first shot,” Ahlstrom said. “We’re not going to hold back at all and be late on the barrier or track them across the arena. We’re definitely going to take our first good shot we have and, if we get a strong steer, we’ll get him down. If we get a slow, good one, then we’ll just try to make up some time, too.”

West Coast


  • Cobie Dodds — Feather River College *Region Champion
  • Kolton King — Feather River College 
  • Tyler Jones — California State University-Fresno


  • Quintin McWhorter — Cal Poly *Region Champion
  • Cole Dodds — Feather River College
  • Caden Grisedale — Feather River College

The West Coast Region, consisting of California and Nevada, saw a split for the win. Cobie Dodds from Feather River College headed for his twin brother, Cole, all year, but the heeling end was won by Quintin McWhorter, a graduate student at Cal Poly.

McWhorter, who is primarily a saddle bronc rider, roped with three different partners this year, hence why the region was split. McWhorter thinks switching it up, partner-wise, may have helped him in the long run.

“I think that kind of helped me a little bit,” McWhorter said. “Not roping with the same partner and kind of just not having a lot of pressure on it. I just kind of was like, ‘Oh, I’ll see who I rope with this time and, then, try to do my part.’ It kept it fresh.”

For Cobie, on the other hand, his run was consistent and has been his entire life. The Dodds twins have roped together since they were kids, which is something Cobie values.

“It’s pretty nice,” said the fifth-year ranch management student “You get to practice every day together, and we get along great. [Cole’s] been a partner ever since we were kids. It’s pretty easy, too, because it’s like you’re never nervous to try something new. We’re wombmates.”

Cobie and McWhorter have both been to the CNFR in the team roping before, so they have an idea of how to approach it for their respective partners.

“[My partner] knows how to throw it over the latch and turn him fast,” McWhorter said. “And I don’t think he ever gets nervous, so I think I’m just going to try to match his level of excitement. We’ve only roped together once—he came down and practiced—and so I think, hopefully, it’ll be good that I haven’t heeled a bunch of steers behind him before. I won’t put pressure on it, pretty much just go out there and have fun.”

For Cobie, he plans to use the stock he draws and make smart runs.

“Hopefully, we’ll draw good stock and just be aggressive,” Dodds said. “College Finals is just another one of those deals you don’t have to throw two coils and throw on the corner. You just get them caught.”

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