CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Bobcat Rodeo Teams Head to CNFR in Casper June 9-15

BOZEMAN, Montana – One dozen Montana State rodeo student-athletes travel to Casper, Wyoming this weekend for the 2024 College National Finals Rodeo, competing for individual national championships as well as men’s and women’s team titles.
Senior Tayla Moeykens, the 2021 barrel racing national champion who leads the nation in that event entering the CNFR, leads a group that dominated the Big Sky Region in 2023-24. Montana State’s men out-paced its nearest rival UM Western 8,252.5 points to 5,510.5 points, while the Bobcat women scored 3,640.16 points to second-place MSU Northern’s 2,988.5. MSU freshman Cole Gerhardt captured region all-around cowboy honors while freshman Wyatt Jensen won the region’s tie-down title and sophomore Jaden Whitman won steer wrestling. Moeykens won the region’s barrel racing crown.
“We’ve got several guys that are going to be competitive nationally,” Montana State head coach Kyle Whitaker said. “If Tayla can do good in the breakaway (roping) that will really help the women’s team, but I like all of their chances. At the CNFR none of your points (from the season) count, so anything can happen in that format.”
A pair of seniors who Whitaker calls “real national contenders” headline the Bobcat women’s crew. “Like Paige (Rasmussen) last year, Tayla has had such a great career, and she has a national championship, but I hope she can go out with another one. And I told Meghan (McGinley) last week that she’s a national champion breakaway roper, she just has to go there and do it.” McGinley ranks fourth nationally in barrel racing, sophomore Breyer Newman is 17th in goat tying, junior Alexis McDonald is 20th nationally in barrel racing, and junior Jessica Stevens finished third in the region in goat tying.
While the veteran women’s team applies its talent across the three events, Montana State’s young men’s contingent is concentrated in roping events. Three Bobcats are entered in roughstock events (sophomore Monte Bailey in saddle bronc, freshman Cole Gerhardt and junior Wes Shaw in bareback), but six of the seven are entered in either tie-down roping or steer wrestling, or both. Gerhardt and sophomores Trav Johnson and Jaden Whitman compete in steer wrestling, while Wyatt Jensen, Shaw and Bode Spring are entered in tie-down roping.
Like their peers on the women’s team, MSU’s men also proved competitive nationally during the regular season. Whitman finished fourth nationally in steer wrestling, Johnson sixth in steer wrestling, Gerhardt eighth in bareback riding, Jensen 13th in tie-down roping, and Bailey 25th in saddle bronc riding.
Whitaker leans into his team’s excellence in tie-down roping and steer wrestling. “Most of the teams that do good (in Casper) have one event they’re really strong in. Everybody says you want to have a balanced team, and that’s what we try for, but it seems like certain schools are really strong in one or two events, and I think that’s where we’re at right now. I think we’re in the process of branching out so we’re good across the spectrum, but I feel good that we’re tough in (steer wrestling and tie-down roping) and if we can rack up the points in those events, that’s gonna be how we win it.”
The CNFR features three go-rounds from Sunday to Friday, June 9-14, with the championship round on June 15 at 7 pm. Five Bobcats launch the proceedings in Sunday’s Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway Matinee. Bailey is up in the saddle bronc, Gerhardt and Shaw in bareback, McGinley and Moeykens in breakaway. Slack runs Monday and Tuesday beginning at 7 am, while evening performances begin at 7 pm Tuesday through Friday.
While Whitaker doesn’t specifically prepare his team for the CNFR format, he said it is baked into every team practice. “At the CNFR everybody runs at least one head in slack, so that’s a different environment. In practice we try to make every run feel like a competition so you have the same mindset wherever you’re at. We try to help the ones who haven’t been there before what it’s like, but really, we’re preparing for the CNFR all year.”
Whitaker says the Wyoming Ford Center arena is similar in size to the Montana State’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, which leads to another key factor that uniquely prepares the Cats to succeed at the CNFR. “It’s kind of funny,” he said, “I’ve had kids on the team, and one just the other day, tell me that our (MSU Spring Rodeo) is probably more intense than the CNFR as far as the crowd and the atmosphere. So that experience really prepares them and I don’t think that’s much of a factor.”
The 2024 CNFR is televised on ESPN3, with the schedule available here. Schedule details specific to Montana State are below.
Monte Bailey (So., Lakeside, Nebraska) –Entered in saddle bronc riding in the CNFR… scored in saddle bronc in seven of the Big Sky Region’s 10 rodeos… enters the CNFR ranked 3rd in the region in saddle bronc.
Cole Gerhardt (Fr., Mandan, North Dakota) – Entered in bareback riding and steer wrestling… capped a sensational freshman season by qualifying for the CNFR in bareback riding and steer wrestling… finished 2nd in the Big Sky Region in bareback, 3rd in steer wrestling, 12th in team roping as a heeler… won the region’s top all-around honors, standing 7th nationally… finished 1st or 2nd in bareback in nine of the region’s 10 rodeos… seven top 10 finishes in steer wrestling… 8th nationally in bareback.
Wyatt Jensen (Fr., Blackfoot, Idaho) – Entered in tie-down roping… won the Big Sky Region tie-down roping title, standing 13th nationally… won both MSU spring rodeos in tie-down, with two other top five finishes in the spring to go with three top fives in the fall.
Trav Johnson (So., Eltopia, Washington) – Entered in steer wrestling… the nation’s 6th-ranked steer wrestler entering the CNFR… top five finishes in nine of the region’s 10 rodeos, winn UMW in the fall and UM in the spring… five top five finishes in tie-down roping, winning MSUN #1.
Wes Shaw (Jr., Dietrich, Idaho) – Entered in bareback riding and tie-down roping…  finished 3rd in the region in bareback, tie-down roping and steer wrestling in the Big Sky Region… 9th nationally in all-around, 2nd in the region.
Bode Spring (Jr., Bozeman, Montana) – Entered in tie-down roping… finished 2nd in the region in tie-down roping, 7th in steer wrestling, 8th in team roping and 5th in the all-around… at least four top 10 finishes in three different events.
Jaden Whitman (So., Belgrade, Montana) –Entered in steer wrestling in the CNFR… finished 1st in the region and 4th nationally in steer wrestling… seven top 10 finishes in steer wrestling, four in team roping, three in tie-down… won all-around honors at two rodeos and 3rd at another.
Meghan McGinley (Sr., Belgrade, Montana) – Entered in breakaway roping at the CNFR… ranked 4th in that event in the nation after finishing 2nd in the Big Sky Region in breakaway… won MCC #1 in that event, with six top 10 finishes.
Alexis McDonald (Jr., Gardiner, Montana) – Entered in the CNFR barrel racing… finished the season 2nd in barrel racing in the Big Sky Region… won barrel racing twice in the fall, and all-around honors at NWC #2.
Tayla Moeykens (Sr., Three Forks, Montana) – The nation’s top barrel racer entering the CNFR, and also entered in breakaway roping… won the Big Sky Region in barrels, 4th in breakaway… won barrels three times in the spring season, twice in the fall… 2021 National Champion barrel racer… won the third and short go-rounds in barrel racing at the 2023 CNFR, finished 10th at the 2022 CNFR… 2021 NIRA Scholar American honoree.
Breyer Newman (So., Rigby, Idaho) – Entered in goat tying at the CNFR… 17th in the nation and 2nd in the Big Sky Region in goat tying, 14th regionally in barrel racing… won MSU #1 and MCC #1 in goat tying.
Jessica Stevens (Jr., Creighton, Nebraska) – Entered in goat tying at the CNFR… finished the fall 3rd in goat tying and 7th in breakaway roping in the region… placed in breakaway once and in goat tying three times in the spring.
SUNDAY, June 19: 1 pm – Bulls, Bronce and Breakaway Afternoon Session; 4 pm – Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway Evening Session
MONDAY, June 10: 7 am – Slack
TUESDAY, June 11: 7 am – Slack; 7 pm – 1st Performance
WEDNESDAY, June 12: 7 pm – 2nd Performance
THURSDAY, June 13: 7 pm – 3rd Performance
FRIDAY, June 14: 7 pm – 4th Performance
SATURDAY, June 15: 7 pm – Championship Round
All Competition in the Ford Wyoming Center, video streaming on ESPN3
SUNDAY, June 19: Monte Bailey (SB Go 1/Sect 2), Cole Gerhardt (BB Go 1/Sect 2), Wes Shaw (BB Go 1/Sect 3), Meghan McGinley (BKR Go 1/Sect 3), Tayla Moeykens (BKR Go 1/Sect 5).
MONDAY, June 10: Monte Bailey (SB Go 2/Sect 1-slack),  Bode Spring (TDR Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Wes Shaw (TDR Go 1/Sect 1), Wyatt Jensen (TDR Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Trav Johnson (SW Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Jaden Whitman (SW Go 1/Sect 2-slack) Cole Gerhardt (SW Go 1/Sect 2-slack), Alexis McDonald (BAR Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Tayla Moeykens (BAR Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Tayla Moeykens (BKR Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Jessica Stevens (GT Go 1/Sect 1-slack), Breyer Newman (GT Go 1/Sect 2-slack).
TUESDAY, June 11: Cole Gerhardt (BB Go 2/Sect 3-slack), Wes Shaw (BB Go 2/Sect 4-slack), Wes Shaw (BB Go /Sect 1-perf), Bode Spring (TDR Go 2/Sect 1), Wyatt Jensen (TDR Go 2/Sect 2-slack), Wes Shaw (TDR Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Cole Gerhardt (SW Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Jaden Whitman (SW Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Trav Johnson (SW Go 2/Sect 2-slack), Tayla Moeykens (BAR Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Alexis McDonald (BAR Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Meghan McGinley (BKR Go 2/Sect 2), Tayla Moeykens (BKR Go 3/Sect 1), Breyer Newman (GT Go 2/Sect 1-slack), Jessica Stevens (GT Go 2/Sect 2).
WEDNESDAY, June 12: Wyatt Jensen (TDR Go 3/Sect 2-perf), Bode Spring (TDR Go 3/Sect 2-perf), Cole Gerhardt (SW Go 3/Sect 2-perf), Jaden Whitman (SW G 3/Sect 2-perf), Meghan McGinley (BKR Go 3/Sect 2-perf).
THURSDAY, June 13: Monte Bailey (SB Go 3/Sect 3-perf), Cole Gerhardt (BB Go 3/Sect 3-perf), Trav Johnson (SW Go 3/Sect 3-perf), Jessica Stevens (GT Go 3/Sect 2).
FRIDAY, June 14: Wes Shaw (TDR Go 3/Sect 4-perf), Alexis McDonald (BAR Go 3/Sect 4), Tayla Moeykens (BAR Go 3/Sect 4), Breyer Newman (GT Go 3/Sect 4).
SATURDAY, June 15: 7 pm – Championship Round
MONTE BAILEY: Sunday – Saddle Bronc; Monday – Saddle Bronc slack; Thursday – Saddle Bronc performance.
COLE GERHARDT: Sunday – Bareback; Monday – Steer Wrestling slack; Tuesday – Bareback slack; Steer Wrestling slack; Wednesday – Steer Wrestling performance; Thursday – Bareback performance.
WYATT JENSEN: Monday – Tie-Down slack; Tuesday – Tie-Down slack; Wednesday – Tie-Down performance.
TRAV JOHNSON: Monday – Steer Wrestling slack; Tuesday – Steer Wrestling slack; Thursday – Steer Wrestling performance.
BODE SPRING: Monday – Tie-Down slack; Tuesday – Tie-Down slack; Wednesday – Tie-Down performance.
WES SHAW: Sunday – Bareback; Monday – Tie-Down slack; Tuesday – Bareback slack; Bareback performance; Tie-Down slack; Friday – Tie-down performance.
JADEN WHITMAN: Monday – Steer Wrestling slack; Tuesday – Steer Wrestling slack; Wednesday – Steer Wrestling performance.
BREYER NEWMAN: Monday – Goat Tying slack; Tuesday – Goat Tying slack; Friday – Goat Tying performance.
ALEXIS McDONALD: Monday – Barrel Racing slack; Tuesday – Barrel Racing slack; Friday – Barrel Racing performance.
MEGHAN McGINLEY: Sunday – Breakaway; Tuesday – Breakaway slack; Wednesday – Breakaway performance.
TAYLA MOEYKENS: Sunday – Breakaway; Monday – Barrel Racing slack; Breakaway slack; Tuesday – Barrel Racing slack; Breakaway performance; Friday – Barrel Racing performance.
JESSICA STEVENS: Monday – Goat Tying slack; Tuesday – Goat Tying slack; Thursday – Goat Tying performance.

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