Senior Cole Dodds was balancing a lot of emotions as he walked out of the Ford Wyoming Center after a memorable week at the College Nationals Final Rodeo last month.
The Sanger native enjoyed reserve national champion honors in the all-around category and a third-place finish in the team roping event with his twin brother, Cobie, who competes for Feather River College.
There was also the obvious fatigue from competing 10 times among three events, not counting the extra practice rounds and exhibition events over the course of a week. He couldn’t help but want a little more.
In front of the near-capacity crowd of 5,707 spectators at the short-go final session, the brothers just missed winning the team roping title when Cole Dodds’ attempt in the heeler position snagged only one of the steer’s hind legs, resulting in a five-second penalty.
That adjusted 11.0-second effort in the final round gave them a final combined time of 39.2 seconds for all four rounds — only 4.8 seconds shy of the winning combined time of 34.4 seconds by Jace Helton (Weatherford College) and RIley Kittle (Cisco College).
“It’s such an amazing event, and I was honored to be there,” Cole Dodds said. “As we walked out [of the arena[, he reminded me how lucky we were to be there together and how much he enjoyed roping with me. He said he was proud of how far we made it, and we did the best that we could.”
The difficulty of the event was confirmed by the fact that a quarter of the 46 entries ended scoreless after the three preliminary rounds.
Conversely, the Dodds duo led the field after the first round with their successful time of 5.5 seconds. They followed with efforts of 10.0 and 12.7 seconds to cap the preliminaries.
Their final placing accounted for 175 of his 245 total points combined from all three of his events and only 25 points behind Cole Walker. The University of Tennessee at Martin junior won the overall title with 270 points after he placed fifth in both tie-down and team roping.
Dodds added 18th place in tie-down roping with a combined effort of 47.0 seconds in the preliminary three rounds. In his CNFR debut in steer wrestling, he ended 26th overall, thanks to clockings of 5.4 and 10.2 seconds in the first and third rounds, respectively.
Besides competing with his brother, he was joined at the event by his parents, Melinda and Brett Dodds, who were former rodeo competitors and run the family’s Silver-D-Bar Training Center. Brett serves as the head trainer for the thoroughbred racing and quarter horse operation in Sanger and taught Cole everything he knew about rodeo growing up on the ranch. Mindy serves as the ranch manager, and all three sons work as trainers.
Cole’s grandfather, Al Dodds, a hall of fame mule racer, gave him an early start in the sport by teaching him how to ride horses. The eldest Dodds fondly watched the event from Sanger with Cole’s grandmother, Donna Dodds, who ultimately provided the best advice.
“We kept in touch during the week, and she told me to keep my head up and keep moving,” Cole Dodds said. “I liked how busy I was because it always kept you looking ahead, and it’s really easy to make rodeo more complicated than it really is. My dad also gave me some great tips, and told me exactly what I needed to hear.”
In previous years at the College Nationals Final Rodeo event, the younger Dodds had competed for Fresno State in tie-down roping in 2021 (11th) and in team roping as the heeler in 2021 (37th) and 2019 (11th). His first team roping appearance came with his older brother, Bodi Dodds, who was a senior and a four-time College Nationals Final Rodeo qualifier himself for the Bulldoggers.
Senior Reed Neely (Sanger) also scored well for the Bulldoggers with an eighth-place finish in saddle bronc riding. After not scoring in the initial round, he followed with scores of 77 and 72.5 points in the preliminary second and third rounds, then finished with a final round score of 74 points.
His effort was his third, top-15 College Nationals Final Rodeo finish after he placed fourth in 2021 and 14th in 2019.
Junior David Stark (Lincoln) was the team’s highest-placing newcomer at the event, thanks to his 12th-place finish in team roping. Competing as the heeler partner for Trystin Hooper of West Hills College, the pair logged times of 7.7 seconds, 20.9 seconds and 12.0 seconds in the preliminary rounds, then failed to score in the final round.
Senior Philip Knierieme (Oakdale) also made his debut and ranked 29th overall in tie-down roping. He posted efforts of 16.2 seconds and 14.7 seconds in the opening rounds and failed to score in the third preliminary round.
Graduate student Mitchell Parham (Clovis) made his fourth appearance in bareback riding and finished in 31st place. He failed to complete his rides in the first and third rounds and earned a 66.5 score for his successful second-round effort.
Parham scored top-25 finishes in the same event in 2021 (19th), 2019 (14th) and 2018 (23rd).
Graduate student Maren Powers led the women’s team with a 13th-place individual finish in barrel racing.
The Occidental native clocked times of 14.99, 14.25 and 14.47 in the preliminary rounds for an overall time of 43.71 seconds. That placing earned 60 points to rank Fresno State 19th in the final women’s team standings for its best finish since taking 10th in 2016.
“Maren did great and was on the bubble of making it to the final and only .02 seconds away,” Adem said. “To see where she started out as a freshman to how she performed this year was really impressive.”
Senior Hailey Wilbur (Lodi) made her event debut in breakaway roping and failed to advance past the preliminaries.
With its 325 men’s team points, Fresno State scored its highest finish in more than two decades. Its previous best in that span, a 17th-place effort in 2019, came in Adem’s first season as head coach.
“The team stayed really focused this season and through the pandemic the prior year,” Adem said. “We always aim high as a team and know we could have done even better potentially. When you finish top 13 against the top programs in the nation, you should still be pretty proud.”
Under Adem, the men’s team finished 27th in 2021. In his other season at the helm, both Fresno State teams were top-25 ranked nationally in the spring of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season early and canceled the College Nationals Final Rodeo event.
The college finale capped a successful, 10-event regular season for the men’s team, which ranked second in the region and 16th nationally. The women stood fourth in the regional team standings and just missed their own College Nationals Final Rodeo team invitation. They scored 1,716 points for the season, only 28 points behind the second and final team qualifier from the region.
Adem, a Fresno State agricultural business alumnus, shares an additional link to the program’s tradition as a two-time, College Nationals Final Rodeo saddle bronc qualifier. The program started in 1946 and officially became a club in 1949 — the same year the first College National Finals Rodeo was held in San Francisco.