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Blue Hawks keep sights on college finals

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State junior Dalton Rixen competes during the Medora Badlands Rodeo on June 7 at Ranch-O-Rama Arena in Medora. Rixen and the rest of the DSU men’s rodeo qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo which begins today in Casper, Wyo.

Rodeo is a highly individualistic sport, but at the college level it helps to compete as a team.

After a successful season, the Dickinson State men’s rodeo team qualified for the 66th College National Finals Rodeo, which starts today at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyo.

The Blue Hawks took the Great Plains Region with 5,477 points as several riders placed in the top five in seven events.

“They had a really good season and they were just consistent through the whole season and honestly paid off for a CNFR qualification for the team,” DSU head coach Eudell Larsen said. “I feel really good about going to the College National Finals … I think our chances are good.”

The team consists of three seniors — Dillon Wickum, Cody Hilzendeger and Jordan Pelton — a junior in Dalton Rixen and sophomore Cameron Morman. Last season, the Blue Hawks placed third in the region, just missing qualifying for the CNFR. Hilzendeger, Pelton and Rixen qualified in individual events.

Despite all the talent and experience returning this year, Larsen knows half of the competition is in the luck of the draw.

“Rodeo is rodeo and as good as a person can be or a team is, we’re still at the mercy of our stock draw,” he said. “Hoping that we drawgood live stock which you should, I really hope to do well this year.”

In his first full season at DSU, Morman turned heads by not only qualifying for the CNFR, but placing in several events. Morman won the men’s all-around for the region (1,345) and steer wrestling (1,055).

The Glen Ullin native goes into today ranked No. 3 in the nation in steer wrestling, but rankings and points are just arbitrary, meaningless numbers when it comes to competing against the best of the best.

“To be honest, I just kind of go out and do as much as I can on every steer that I run,” Morman said. “Wherever I sit, it’s a great accomplishment but at the same time going down there it doesn’t really mean anything. You run the best four steers down there. Where you sit in the nation doesn’t matter at all anyway.”

Once the regular season ended, Morman — like the rest of the ropers and riders — has been hitting the road and getting practice in at some rodeos. Last weekend, he finished in a tie for first at a North Dakota Rodeo Association event in Elgin and placed sixth with a time of 5.5 seconds at the Medora Badlands Rodeo.

While Morman isn’t nervous about competing in the CNFR, he said competing at the professional and amateur level rodeos is a little different when it comes to the competition. Instead of being seen as an enemy, the other competitors see it as a level playing field and are very helpful.

“You kind of realize how all the big-name guys are there to help you just as much,” Morman said. “No one thinks they’re above you they think of you just as another bull rider they don’t think themselves above you.”

Morman will try to make a name for himself in his CNFR debut, while others try to build on what they did last year.

In his final CNFR performance, Pelton hopes to remain healthy and finish his college career on a high note.

Last season, Pelton qualified but was unable to compete after breaking both of his hands. But after finishing third in the region in bareback (1,067) and being ranked No. 15 in the nation, the senior wants to complete what he couldn’t last year.

“I didn’t get done what I wanted to get done,” Pelton said. “I’m excited to go back and give it another shot.”

Four Blue Hawks come ranked into the CNFR ranked nationally.

In saddle bronc, Rixen is No. 15 and second in the region while Hilzendeger comes in at No. 20 as a team roping heeler. He finished runner-up in the region.

Pelton’s expectations for himself in the bareback and the team as a whole are high, yet realistic.

When it comes down to it, No. 9-ranked DSU sits in a good position to raise some eyebrows and take home some championship buckles.

“The biggest deal is for me personally, I just want to ride every horse that I get as good as I can and hopefully that’ll get me into the short round and hopefully win that sucker,” he said. “As a team, I wish the same. I hope everybody does the best they possibly can on the stock they get and try to win it. That’s the No. 1 goal for sure.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.