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Friendly fight for a title

Press File Photo by Dustin Monke Dunn Center's Jake Benson is ranked first in the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association standings coming into Monday's Dickinson High Memorial Day Rodeo.

There will be a few close races to get to the top of the points standings at the Dickinson High School Memorial Day Rodeo, which begins at 9 a.m. Monday at the Dickinson State University Outdoor Arena.

No struggle is as close as the one going on for first place in bull riding.

Currently, senior Jake Benson from Dunn Center is sitting atop the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association leaderboard with 29 season points, but isn't in front by much.

Killdeer senior Riley Blankenship is only one point behind with 28 points. Belfield senior Devin Boltz is in third with 27.5 points.

Luckily, such a close competition hasn't gotten in the way of their friendship.

"Jake, Riley and I are all pretty good friends and we're all there for each other," said Boltz, last year's state bull riding champion. "It's a going to be a battle to the end, but I'd be more than happy to see them take state as well."

Blankenship knows how important the upcoming rodeos will be and has gotten his mind ready. Benson and Blankenship even know how each other prepare for each contest.

"These next few rodeos going into state are going to get pretty intense with those guys," Blankenship said. "(Jake) has been working out hard every day and running and getting his mind right."

Rather than putting more focus into the physical aspect, Blankenship has zoned in on mental preparation before each ride. In order to stop thinking about the tight competition for each rodeo, he has been able to stress only on what he can control as a bull rider.

"I do a lot of mental exercises to block everybody out and keep a positive attitude," Blankenship said. "I'm really big into the mental part of this game. I'm not worried about anybody else, just myself."

Benson has been able to keep the lead going into Monday despite an ankle injury earlier in the season. He has been trying his best to keep his mind off it and keep his attention on his riding.

Not only that, but Benson wants to make sure that he is enjoying each event as the season progresses.

"I just go and have fun with every rodeo," Benson said.

Even though the three of them are such close friends, Benson thinks the friendship that he, Blankenship and Boltz share has only pushed them to become better bull riders.

"It challenges all three of us to compete even harder," Benson said.

Despite the the close race for the state championship, Benson doesn't think there's any added pressure or expectations to the upcoming meets -- a mentality that Boltz holds as well.

Even though he is the returning state champion, he thinks this season is far from over. He has learned to take everything in stride and simply focus on the next event.

"As the new year comes on, you've just got to try not worry about what happened last year," Boltz said. "I'm just taking one rodeo at a time and I'll just see how it turns out in the end."

Though he is in third, Boltz knows there is much more left to the season. His experience winning a state title last season has helped him realize that persistence helps in a long rodeo season.

"Every rodeo is important," Boltz said. "It's important to just take one rodeo at a time and try not to worry about the standings. As you move on to each rodeo, one just has to not worry about what happened in the past and just try to stay confident and positive and see what goes on from there."

As for the rest of the events, Bowman senior Kit Miller is looking to improve her place on the overall leaderboard in her four events. She is currently in the top 15 for all-around points with 79.5.

"I'm sitting pretty good," Miller said. "I'm just trying to take it one rodeo at a time and get points and make it to that spot at nationals."

In the season standings, Miller is sixth in goat tying with 34.5 points, eight in pole bending with 19 points, and ninth in breakaway roping with 26 points. She will also compete in barrel racing. With three rodeos left before the State Finals Rodeo, Miller thinks she will be able to improve on her places in each event.

"These four (events) are kind of the main four," Miller said. "I feel like I've got some good all-around horses that help me so that I'm able to do all of those events."

One advantage Miller will have this season is that the state finals, as always, are at her home arena in Bowman.

With less time spent traveling, more time is left for her to prepare and get ready for her last state finals of her career.

She hopes to use the short trip to the Dickinson High School Memorial Day Rodeo to get momentum going into the final month of the season.

"It's nice to have a hometown advantage," Miller said.