The next three performances will determine their 2022 season

By JOE KUSEK

October 18, 2022

Look at the tie-down roping standings.


Cash Trexler of Corvallis leads Glendive’s Ben Ayre by less than $500.

Look again. Closer.


Those standings, one of 11, represent the past, present and future of the Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association.


Trexler, a teenage standout, is just starting to write his rodeo chapter. Ayre, who already has three NRA titles on his resume, is standing on the cusp rodeo history.


They are just two of the many stories that will unfold Oct. 27-29 at the NRA/NWRA Finals at the Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell.


The Finals represent the culmination of the Mountain Health Co-Op Tour held this past summer. The Finals showcases the best of the best, the top 10 competitors in each event vying for the year-end championship for 2022.


How coveted are the gold buckles? Cowboys and cowgirls from 10 different states and Canada competed at 31 sanctioned rodeos this summer, all trying to qualify for the Finals.


From Wilsall to Opheim, from Eureka to Wibaux, competitors rode, roped and raced across the Treasure State in pursuit of rodeo greatness.


Ayre, a former tie-down roping and all-around champion, has a mathematical chance to become the first cowboy in the NRA’s long-storied history to win four titles in a single year. He has qualified for the Finals in tie-down roping, steer wrestling and team roping, giving himself three opportunities to add money to his all-around cowboy total.


He will have to have peak performances in all three events and will need some help, but he has a chance.


All-around cowboy standings leaders Bucky McAlpine of Anaconda and Helena’s Spur Owens are pursuing Triple Crowns, having qualified for the Finals and contending for titles in bareback and bull riding.


Celie Salmond returns to defend her breakaway and all-around cowgirl championships. Salmond has already won more than $12,000 in breakaway roping, barrel racing and team roping, the most for any competitor, male or female.


Salmond’s biggest threat in the all-around cowgirl race sits across from her at the family dinner table. Younger sister Molly is the only cowgirl to qualify for the Finals in both barrel racing and breakaway roping.


Garrett Cunningham of Broadus and Idaho cowboy Trevor Kay had two of the most dominant seasons in recent NRA history. Cunningham was a winner 12 times in saddle bronc riding with 22 top-four finishes. Kay was atop the leaderboard 11 times in bareback riding with 20 top-four finishes.


They look to continue to their winning ways the last three nights of the 2022 season.


So wide-open are the event races that all 10 finalists in steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding are within reach of a title.


Teenagers lead the saddle bronc, tie-down roping, bull riding and barrel racing standings. Joining Cunningham and Trexler in the youth brigade are bull rider Caden Fitzpatrick of Polson, along with high school senior Rachel Ward of Philipsburg who leads the barrel racing. Another teen, Superior’s Darby Haskins, is second in the barrel racing standings by a scant $137, the closest race of the Finals.


On the other side is team roping heading leader Dustin Bird of Cut Bank, who has won NRA titles for team roping, tie-down roping and all-around cowboy. The veteran roper is a four-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo.


Another former champion, Sam Levine of Wolf Creek, returns to defending his team roping heeling title along with partner, header Ian Austiguy of Dillon.


Tyler Houle of Bozeman would like to finish 2022 where he started: in first place.


And let’s not forget the junior events. The NRA/NWRA Finals will also showcase the next generation.


High fuel prices couldn’t keep them off the roads.


Sweltering heat did not slow them in the arena.


Bumps, bruises, long drives, sleepless nights and a steady diet of fast food could not keep them away.


Even historic flooding could not prevent from the show going on.


The competitors have worked hard, traveled hard and competed even harder to get here.


The next three performances will determine their 2022 season.


Eleven champions will be crowned.


They certainly earned it.

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