SCOOBA — With this week's official cancellation of the 2020 College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, East Mississippi Community College's successful 2019-20 rodeo season has come to an unfortunate premature close.
The EMCC women's rodeo team had qualified for June's week-long CNFR for the first time in program history after finishing the shortened regular season as reserve champions of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association's Ozark Region. The 2020 CNFR was scheduled to take place June 14-20 at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyo.
"We are devastated to be making this announcement," NIRA Commissioner Roger Walters announced Wednesday. "We wanted to be competing in Casper this summer, but we have to do the right thing to combat this pandemic and keep our contestants and the State of Wyoming safe."
Coach Morgan Goodrich's EMCC women's rodeo team earned this year's berth in the College National Finals Rodeo by finishing as runners-up in the 13-team Ozark Region women's standings with 1,625 total points through five fall rodeos and two spring events to rank 12th nationally. The top two men's and women's teams from each of the NIRA's 11 regions qualify for the CNFR. The EMCC men's team placed fourth in the Ozark Region standings to tie for 25th nationally with a total of 2,390 points.
Individually, the top three student-athletes in each event throughout the different regions also annually qualify to compete in the CNFR. East Mississippi qualified three women and two men to this year's intercollegiate rodeo championships, highlighted by a pair of nationally top-ranked competitors.
On the women's side, EMCC freshman Jaylie Matthews (Wynne, AR) tops the national standings in barrel racing with 880 points, including three titles in her specialty event during the fall campaign. Matthews is also the reigning 2019 International Professional Rodeo Association's world champion barrel racer.
In men's competition for EMCC, fellow Arkansas native Myles Neighbors, out of Benton, stands as the NIRA's top-ranked collegiate steer wrestler nationally with 770 total points, including three consecutive event wins regionally to begin the fall season.
Also qualifying for this year's CNFR from the EMCC women's team were Kayley Kennemer (Anderson, AL) and Blair Bryant (Hatchechubbee, AL), along with Sam Morgan (Davie, FL) on the men's side. Kennemer tied for third place in the breakaway roping competition (210 points) within the Ozark Region regular-season standings after claiming first-place honors at the EMCC-hosted rodeo held in February at the Lauderdale County Agri-Center in Meridian. Kennemer was also scheduled to compete in the CNFR's barrel racing event, while Bryant was slated to participate in breakaway roping to fill out EMCC's list of women's qualifiers at nationals.
In men's competition for the Lions, Morgan earned a spot to compete in this year's scheduled CNFR by finishing third among the Ozark Region's calf roping leaders and placing 11th nationally with 460 total points. He also recently participated in this year's Jr. Ironman Championship that was held last month (March 13-15) in Guthrie, Okla.
The NIRA previously announced that all regular-season competition had been suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, including last month's scheduled Ozark Region rodeo at Pearl River Community College (March 26-28) and this month's scheduled events at the University of Tennessee at Martin (April 16-18) and Northwest Mississippi Community College (April 23-25).
This year's East Mississippi women's team qualification for the College National Finals Rodeo is three years removed from the 2016-17 EMCC men's squad making the school's first-ever team appearance at the CNFR. The Lions previously posted three straight top-10 men's team finishes at the CNFR, placing fifth nationally in 2016 followed by seventh- and 10th-place finishes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. EMCC's highest CNFR women's team finish was 27th in 2016.
Showcasing more than 400 collegiate cowboys and cowgirls from four-year universities and two-year junior colleges located throughout the country, the College National Finals Rodeo is where the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) annually crowns individual event champions in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping, and goat tying.
Contact: David Rosinski, EMCC Sports Information Director