By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Three members of the Eastern New Mexico University rodeo program have made their way to Casper, Wyo., this weekend for the College National Finals Rodeo.
Competition begins today and wraps up Saturday .
Seniors Dusty Higgins of Roswell and James Gililland of Tularosa and sophomore Brittany Bennett of Portales will represent ENMU in the national event. Higgins was the Southwest Region champion in bull riding, while Gililland and Bennett qualified with second-place region finishes in team roping and barrel racing, respectively.
Fifth-year coach David Browder is confident all three have a chance to do well and reach Saturday’s short-go round.
“Our three kids have the type of experience and the skills and the horses to win their events,” he said. “I expect all three of them to at least be in the short-go. I’m going to be disappointed if they aren’t.”
This is Higgins’ second trip to the CNFR. He went three years ago as a freshman at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs.
He narrowly missed a trip to the CNFR in 2004, his first year at ENMU, finishing third in the Southwest Region.
“The competition should be good, but I feel pretty good about my chances,” Higgins said. “I have as good a chance as anybody.”
Higgins said he has started up a business in Roswell this summer, but wouldn’t mind being able to compete in rodeo for a living.
“If you can make a living doing what you want, there’s no sense working,” he said.
Gililland, a heeler in team roping, will compete with Tarleton State’s Clayton Jackson. He won in two rodeos this spring for ENMU — combining with TSU’s Matt Martin in the Tarleton State rodeo and with Jackson at Odessa College.
Bennett, a Dora High graduate, qualified for the short-go just twice in six spring rodeos at ENMU after placing first or second in all four rodeos during the fall season.
“I had a really good fall, but my winter and spring were pretty much terrible,” she said. “I changed horseshoers before the last rodeo and that helped. I wish I would’ve done that earlier.
“I don’t really know what to expect; it’s obviously a big deal. We all start off on the same ground. We’ve all got three runs, and the top 15 come back for the short-go.
Browder said how her horse does is the key for Bennett.
“She’s got a good shot at winning if her horse is feeling good,” he said.