Ask Sadie Wolaver if there’s anything that can make a College National Finals Rodeo championship even sweeter, and she my just tell you a taste of redemption doesn’t hurt. A disappointing CNFR in 2021 led the Tennessee native cowgirl to bring the heat and capture the national championship with an aggregate time of 56.86 seconds on four runs for Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
In 2021, Wolaver found herself positioned to win the national championship aboard Im A Sharp Frost, her 14-year-old mare known as Princess or “P,” but a tipped barrel in the short round took that opportunity away.
“I told everybody I got my knocked barrel out of the way last year,” Wolaver said. “This time, I can’t even say I was nervous. I knew P wanted it and that makes it easy for me.”
Wolaver’s confidence showed through in each round. She turned in times of 14.26 and 14.24 seconds in the first two rounds, placing second in both. Round three brought a slip around the third barrel, but P ran hard to run a 14.22 that tied Wolaver for third place in the round with Ellie Bard and women’s all-around champion Bryana Lehrmann. In the final round, Wolaver rallied in the last position on the ground to blaze a 14.14-second run, finding herself tied with Ellie Bard yet again. Princess was also named the 2022 NIRA Women’s Horse of the Year.
“You can’t really ask one to be more consistent than P was,” Wolaver said. “She was just running so hard. I don’t think I’ve ever felt her run as hard as she did over four runs as she did this week.”
Casper’s coliseum is notorious for posing a difficult first barrel, and Wolaver mentioned that she didn’t feel like she nailed her first turn on any of her four runs. Before the barrel racing begins each round, barrel racers are lined up by running order underneath the stands. The ladies then have to walk through the roping boxes in full view of the crowd, around a hard right corner and take off for their first barrel from the heading box. For left-handed horses like P, the first turn can be a breaking point because of their inability to set up an angle and ensure that their horse has picked up their left lead on the way to the first. Having experience in the arena definitely helped Wolaver navigate the setup at this year’s CNFR.
“If I had to pick, that wouldn’t be my ideal alley setup,” Wolaver said “But, I just walked her in, focused on taking my time and taking a small left circle without P getting ahead of herself, and then just let her take off from a dead stop in the head box.
A senior accounting major at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Wolaver is going to be pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and continuing her collegiate rodeo career. She extensively thanked her family, friends and sponsors on a Sunday evening Facebook post, noting that the win still hasn’t completely sunk in for her yet.
Wolaver isn’t giving herself much time to process before the next event. On the morning after the short round, Wolaver packed up and headed south for Reno, Nevada with CNFR reserve champion, Taycie Matthews.
That’s right. The same Taycie Matthews who quietly came into the short round in the No. 8 position riding for East Mississippi Community College and turned heads with her 13.86-second run—the fastest run of the week by nearly two tenths.
Wolaver and Matthews will be hitting the ProRodeo trail all summer long and they’re already off to a great start. Just before the CNFR began, the girls took home the two biggest ProRodeo checks of the week. For Wolaver, it was a win in Woodward, Oklahoma, that gave her much-needed circuit earnings. For Matthews, it was a dub in Sisters, Oregon, that helped her leap up the Resistol Rookie standings.
“I said at the beginning of the week that I just hope Sadie and I pull out of Casper as happy as we pulled in,” Matthews said, laughing.
“And we did,” Wolaver finished.
Both girls noted that their ProRodeo runs helped them in Casper. Wolaver noted that opening P up in bigger outdoor arenas helped her stay free and run hard in Casper. Matthews learned a valuable lesson about her equine counterpart, Heavenly Firewater, also known as “Bud the Stud.”
“We took his tie-down off in those outdoor pens to help free him up,” Matthews explained. “I tried running him without a tie-down in Casper, and he just wasn’t running his best. For the short round, we decided to put one back on him, and I think that’s why he clocked so much better. He needed something to balance on, and that helped him run hard and snap around in his turns for sure.”
As one might imagine, the energy is pretty high in the truck for these collegiate cowgirls, and they are eager to get their summer run underway.
“There will be struggles for both of us, but Taycie and I both want to win as badly as we want the other to win. If we’re both doing good, it sure makes the overnight drives to the next ones a lot easier,” Wolaver concluded.
College National Finals Rodeo Results
- Sadie Wolaver, 56.86 seconds on four
- Taycie Matthews, 57.23 seconds on four
- Bradi Good, 57.27 seconds on four
- Hailey Garrison, 57.30 seconds on four
- Ellie Bard, 57.42 seconds on four
- Victoria Procter, 57.60 seconds on four
- Emma Smith, 57.61 seconds on four
- Abby Hepper, 57.62 seconds on four
- Bradi Good, 14.22-second run
- Sadie Wolaver, 14.26-second run
- Hadley Tidwell, 14.27-second run
- Victoria Procter, 14.41-second run
- Brittney Cox, 14.41-second run
- Emma Smith, 14.18-second run
- Sadie Wolaver, 14.24-second run
- Maren Powers, 14.25-second run
- (tie) Victoria Procter, 14.31-second run
- (tie) Tayla Moeykens, 14.31-second run
- Jaylie Matthews, 14.13-second run
- Hailey Garrison, 14.19-second run
- (tie) Ellie Bard, 14.22-second run
- (tie) Sadie Wolaver, 14.22-second run
- (tie) Bryana Lehrmann, 14.22-second run
- Taycie Matthews, 13.86-second run
- Bradi Good, 14.03-second run
- (tie) Ellie Bard, 14.14-second run
- (tie) Sadie Wolaver, 14.14-second run
- Hailey Garrison, 14.17-second run