The East Mississippi Community College women’s rodeo team has made program history by claiming this year’s National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) Ozark Region team title. The school-first regional team championship earns the EMCC women an appearance in this summer’s (June 13-19) College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper, Wyoming.
This season marks the second straight year that head coach Morgan Goodrich’s EMCC women’s team has qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo. A year ago during the abbreviated 2019-20 rodeo season, EMCC finished as Ozark Region women’s team reserve champions and Goodrich claimed Coach of the Year regional honors. Unfortunately, the 2020 CNFR did not take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s EMCC women’s team bested 11 other schools to capture the 2020-21 NIRA Ozark Region championship with 2,898.33 total points compiled over 10 rodeos evenly split between the fall and spring seasons. Highlighted by team titles earned at the Southern Arkansas and Arkansas-Monticello rodeos as well as their own annual event held in Meridian this past March, the EMCC women finished 435 points ahead of reserve champion Missouri Valley College.
In this year’s Ozark Region men’s standings, the EMCC Lions narrowly missed qualifying as a team for the CNFR by finishing just 140 points behind reserve champion UT Martin (4,910-4,770). The nationally top-ranked Missouri Valley men out-distanced the Ozark Region field by amassing 8,605 total points during the 10-event season.
The East Mississippi rodeo program was also bidding to make school history this year by attempting to have both the men’s and women’s teams qualify for the CNFR during the same season. Though the EMCC men came up just short this season, the Lions previously qualified for the 2017 CNFR as a team by finishing the Ozark Region regular season as men’s reserve champions in the midst of their three-year run with successive top-10 national finishes.
For their collective regular-season Ozark Region performances, the EMCC men’s and women’s rodeo teams currently rank eighth and 11th, respectively, among the NIRA’s national team standings.
Based on the teams’ regular-season regional success, EMCC has also set a new program standard this season by sending a school-most eight student-athletes – four women and four men – to compete in this year’s College National Finals Rodeo. On the women’s side, EMCC features two of the nation’s top barrel racers with the sister tandem of Taycie and Jaylie Matthews, who claimed champion and reserve champion regional honors, respectively, by combining to win nine of the 10 Ozark Region barrel racing events this season. Taycie and Jaylie, from Wynne, Arkansas, are currently ranked second and eighth, respectively, among the top collegiate barrel racers in the NIRA’s national standings with 1,110 and 890 points. Taycie won five regional barrel racing events this season as a freshman, while her older sister followed close behind with four titles this year to give Jaylie seven regional wins during her two-year EMCC career. Jaylie was the NIRA’s reigning top-ranked barrel racer from a year ago before the coronavirus shut down the 2019-20 season in March.
The EMCC women will also have two student-athletes competing in the breakaway roping event at this year’s nationals. Blair Bryant (Hatchechubbee, AL) claimed the Ozark Region individual title by totaling 588.3 points to rank fourth nationally, while Mikayla Joh Almond (Olin, NC) also qualified in the event as a result of EMCC’s upcoming CNFR team appearance.
In men’s competition at the upcoming College National Finals Rodeo, Marcus Theriot, a former national collegiate champion and six-year veteran of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), looks to again lead the way for the EMCC Lions as he finishes out his collegiate eligibility. The 2016 CNFR all-around champion cowboy and tie-down roping national champion earned his third NIRA Ozark Region tie-down roping title this year with 815 points to rank fifth nationally. The Poplarville native will also compete with teammate Cole Curry (Liberty) in this year’s team roping event at nationals after finishing third within the region. Theriot previously led the EMCC men to a fifth-place national team finish in 2016 and a seventh-place showing the following year.
This year’s EMCC contingent headed to Wyoming in June will also feature regional reserve champions Myles Neighbors (Benton, AR) and West Smith (Emmet, AR) in the steer wrestling and tie-down roping events, respectively. Neighbors was rated as the NIRA’s No. 1-ranked steer wrestler a year ago before the pandemic hit after he had claimed three consecutive regional event wins to begin the fall season. Smith finished runner-up to Theriot in this year’s tie-down roping regional standings.
Showcasing more than 400 collegiate cowboys and cowgirls from four-year universities and two-year junior colleges located throughout the country, the College National Finals Rodeo is where the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) annually crowns individual event champions in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping, and goat tying.
The top two men’s and women’s teams from each of the NIRA’s 11 regions qualify for the CNFR. Individually, the top three student-athletes in each event throughout the different regions also annually qualify to compete in the CNFR.
This year’s College National Finals Rodeo is scheduled to take place June 13-19 at the Ford Wyoming Center, formerly known as the Casper Events Center.
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