With a top-flight university, a great community college, and an ISD system second to none, Stephenville is used to sports teams of all kinds performing at top levels. You might even say we’re blessed with “an embarrassment of riches” when it comes to sports in and around Stephenville.
Tarleton’s Rodeo Team has always played a major part in that, having garnered many national and individual championships over the years. While they didn’t quite walk out of the arena up in Casper at the College National Finals Rodeo last week with the men’s championship, they came agonizingly close.
“Almost too close,” says team coach Mark Eakin. “It was kind of bittersweet. We had a really rough Friday night but then Saturday night was very good. So we went from thinking we didn’t have a chance to all of a sudden being right back in it. The top three teams were really tight; we only beat the third team by twenty points.”
TSU only missed tying the winning team by 25 points out of totals in the 700s. Tarleton's men's team finished this year's CNFR as reserve champions (second place) with 730 total points just behind University of Tennessee-Martin with 755 points. Panhandle State University was breathing down everybody’s neck all the way and finished third with 710 points, and fourth place Sheridan College finished with 690 points – that’s how close it was.
But Eakin isn’t one to let the disappointments outweigh the gains.
“It was still a great year for everybody. On the men’s team everybody placed but one, so they had a real good Finals; they just had some bad luck during the rounds a couple of times," he said. "Coming up just 25 points shy is pretty hard to take for sure, but we’re really proud of all of them, especially given the quality of the competition.
“We still came out of there second and we had one cowboy, (team roper, header) Billy Bob Brown win the nation again, and (bronc rider) Richmond Champion ended up second by just a point-and-a-half.”
Eakin said he is optimistic about next year, with a lot of his star athletes returning.
“Shay Carroll graduated but I think he’s going to come back as a grad student so he’ll get another year. Billy Bob will make it another year because of graduate school too.”
Eakin doesn’t plan on letting any moss grow under his team’s feet during the so-called off season. “We’re getting right back to work to get ready for next year and I’m sure we’re going to be very strong again. We’ve got some solid new recruits and a lot of our really good athletes will be coming back. It should be another real good year for Tarleton Rodeo.”