The NRA Finals in Kalispell, features the top-10 finishers from the Mountain Health Co-op Tour.
By JOE KUSEK
October 18, 2021
Call them Generation Next.
They might be young but they have grown-up talent.
Three teenagers – Brice Patterson, Alexis McDonald and Caden Fitzpatrick – lead their respective events going into the Northern Rodeo Association/Northern Women’s Rodeo Association Finals.
The event, Oct, 28-30 at the Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell, features the top-10 finishers from the Mountain Health Co-op Tour.
Eleven year-end champions will be crowned.
Along with showcasing the top riding, roping and racing talent, the top bucking stock for bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding will be on display.
The Finals return after a one-year absence. Last year’s Finals were cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.
NRA/NWRA officials promised to come back bigger and better in 2021.
And they delivered.
Entries were up, scores were high and times were fast.
Standings leads changed weekly.
Competing at 28 rodeos across the state, 100 cowboys and cowgirls took money back to their Montana communities. Competitors came from nine different states and Canada to compete at NRA and NWRA-sanctioned events.
Patterson, of Bozeman, leads the bareback standing, is second for the all-around cowboy and fifth in steer wrestling. The sophomore at the University of Wyoming had one of the best of Fourth of July runs in NRA history, pocketing $3,300. He created his own fireworks on July 4 in Choteau, winning money in bareback riding, steer wrestling and team roping.
The bareback field also includes Sam Petersen of Helena, who won the National High School Finals Rodeo all-around title this summer.
Patterson is chasing veteran cowboy Sam Levine of Wolf Creek in the all-around race. Levine and partner Ian Austiguy used a sizzling August and red-hot Labor Day weekend to take a big lead in the team roping standings.
Levine leads Patterson by $408. But not far behind is Belgrade’s Caden Camp who qualified for the Finals in three events – steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping – the most of any competitor.
Fitzpatrick, of Polson, won at Hamilton to jump the lead in the bull riding standings. Kobe Whitford of Cut Bank trails Fitzpatrick by just $270.
McDonald is trying to follow the steps of older sister Shai who won three consecutive barrel racing titles. The Gardiner teen, now a freshman at Montana State, has lead of $648 on Abby Knight of Charlo.
The gaggle of teenagers aren’t the only ones chasing a first gold buckle.
Celie Salmond, a grade school teacher in Augusta, leads both the all-around cowgirl and breakaway roping standings. Her mother Mary is the winningest cowgirl in NWRA history. Celie Salmond has won the most money of any competitor on the Mountain Health Co-op Tour, male or female.
Bella Fossum of Billings is second in the all-around cowgirl standings. And she will have two chances to catch Salmond, having qualified in barrel racing and breakaway roping.
Also wanting to take home a championship saddle the first time are steer wrestler Kolby Bignell of Helena, tie-down roper J Billingsley of Glasgow and Dillon’s Austiguy for the team roping headers.
Billingsley has company. His daughter Brooke leads the junior barrel racing standing, is fourth in junior breakaway roping and is second to Payton Levine in the junior all-around. Bailey Billingsley is also in the junior breakaway roping.
Steer wrestlers from Helena are 1-2-3 in the standings.
Two Dot’s Andrew Evjene chases his second saddle bronc crown.
Levine, who won the all-around title in 2012, is pursuing his fourth championship in team roping. He is joined by wife Whitney and niece Payton who qualified in breakaway roping.
With payouts high, no lead is safe and almost everybody has an opportunity to be a champion. An event sweep is worth more than $4,000.
Former world champions Dan Mortensen, Clay Tryan, Jess Lockwood, Ty Erickson and Haven Meged all showed their skills at the NRA Finals.
There could be another in the Generation Next.