They came, they competed, they dazzled
By JOE KUSEK
November 9, 2022
They came, they competed, they dazzled.
The Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association wrapped up a record-setting year with a rousing Finals at Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell.
The culmination of the Mountain Health Co-Op Tour put an exclamation point on a 2022 rodeo season where high fuel prices and historic flooding would not slow competitors from chasing gold buckle dreams.
The annual Finals at the end of October showcases the top 10 cowboys and cowgirls in each event and determines the year-end champions.
The Finals featured high scores, fast rides and stellar performances.
The rough stock events crowned three first-time champions while veterans found themselves back in the winner’s circle in the timed events.
Single-season earnings records were set in bareback and saddle bronc riding, along with team roping (headers and heelers), breakaway roping and all-around cowgirl.
A fantastic finish to a fantastic season.
Bucky McAlpine parlayed third-place finishes in the bareback and bull riding standings for his first all-around cowboy title.
The Anaconda cowboy finished with $10,728 for his 2022. He had eight bareback wins during the summer and won four times in bull riding.
Spur Owens of Helena was second with $9,654, while Cut Bank’s Dustin Bird was third ($9,330) and Ben Ayre of Glendive fourth ($9,025).
Celie Salmond of Choteau repeated as the NWRA all-around cowgirl champion. She earned an NWRA-record $15,173 competing in breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing this past season. Salmond also repeated as breakaway roping champion and was 12th in both the barrel racing and team roping heeling standings.
It was a family affair as younger sister Molly Salmond finished second in the final all-around cowgirl standings with $11,374. Salmond, currently attending Montana State, was the big winner in Kalispell, earning $2,471 in barrel racing and $2,079 in breakaway roping.
Barrel racing champion Cierra Erickson was third in the all-around standings with $9,468.
Trevor Kay earned an NRA-record $14,428 en route his first championship saddle. The Chester, Idaho cowboy also swept the average with rides of 82, 85 and 85 points for 255 across the three performances. The sophomore at Montana Western won bareback titles at 11 rodeos during the summer.
Helena’s Will Norstrom scored 89 points in the second round, the high-marked ride of the Finals.
With an NRA-best 12 victories, Garrett Cunningham spent the majority of his summer atop the standings. And that is where the Broadus cowboy finished, with a record $12,557 won. The Montana State-Northern student had 23 top-four finishes in 2022, including a second in the NRA Finals average.
Qwint Stroh, of Dickinson, North Dakota went 79, 89 and 83 points to win the average. His 89-point ride in the second round was the high mark ride of the event. His father Shaun was a two-time NRA champion.
Caden Fitzpatrick emerged from a tough bull riding pen with both the year-end and average titles.
There were only seven rides in 30 tries, two by the Polson cowboy to win the average with 175 points. The $3,597 won at the Finals accounted for more than 30 percent of his season earnings. Fitzpatrick had rides of 88 and 87 points on the way to his first year-end title.
Kobe Whitford of Cut Bank, the 2021 champion, was second in both the year-end and average standings.
Tyler Houle led from start to finish in 2022 to win his second year-end championship in three years.
The Bozeman cowboy finished with $6,907, winning at eight different rodeos during the regular season and placing third in the Finals average.
Austin Whitehouse of Helena won the average with 17.0 seconds on three runs. Whitehouse, who rocketed from sixth to second in the final standings, put down steers in 4.7, 3.6 and 8.7 seconds. His 3.6 was the fastest run at Majestic Valley Arena.
Dillon Hahnkamp displayed more than his roping skills at the Finals. The Melrose cowboy flashed some hoop skills, leaping from eighth to first in the final standings.
It is Hahnkamp’s second gold buckle, also winning the title in 2016.
Hahnkamp won both the year-end and Finals average during the weekend. He threw out times of 10.8, 14.1 and an emphatic 8.8 in the final round. The 8.8 was the fastest of the Finals and shared first place with former champion Coltin Rauch of Essex.
Ben Ayre of Glendive finished second in both the year-end and average standings.
A record-setting season concluded with both year-end and average titled for team ropers Dustin Bird and Ike Folsom.
It was the second team roping heading title for Bird and fourth NRA championship overall. The Cut Bank roper also won the heading title in 2004, along with the all-around cowboy title in 2004 and a tie-down roping championship in 2011.
It is Folsom’s first heading title. Folsom is from Jackson.
Bird finished with $8,886 for headers while Folsom led all heelers with $7,727. Both are NRA single-season earnings records.
The pair padded their totals with runs of 6.5, 7.1 and 4.3 seconds for 17.9 to win the average. The winning time of 4.3 in the third round was the fastest of the Finals.
Ian Austiguy, of Dillon and Wolf Creek’s Sam Levine, the 2021 champions, were second in the average and year-end standings.
Cierra Erickson closed with 2022 regular season with a win at high-paying Hamilton.
The Helena cowgirl continued galloping at full speed with victories in the first two rounds of the Finals.
The momentum carried her to the year-end title by the slimmest of margins of all the events. Erickson slipped past high schooler Rachel Ward of Philipsburg by just $35 for her second barrel racing crown. Erickson also won the barrel racing and all-around cowgirl titles in 2010 and a breakaway roping championship in 2018.
Abby Knight of Charlo won the NWRA Finals average for the second year in a row. Knight was 44.21 seconds for three runs. The money won in Kalispell lifted her from eighth to third in the final standings. Molly Salmond of Choteau was second in the average at 44.98 second, one-hundredth of a second better than Pray’s Milee Dailey.
Celie Salmond roped with metronomic consistency to sweep the year-end and Finals average titles.
The standout from Choteau threw loops of 3.1, 2.6 and 3.1 seconds to win her second consecutive championship and clinch another all-around cowgirl crown.
She was the only competitor to have three clean catches.
Salmond’s earnings of $11,220 are an NWRA single-seasons earnings record.
Mikayla Witter of Helena, the 2020 champion, was 27.6 on three runs. She also finished second in the final standings. Molly Salmond of Choteau was third in both.