Whitsett cowgirl and Southwest Texas Junior College freshman Rylie Smith almost missed the news.
At the end of the Trinity Valley Community College rodeo on May 8, Smith, a team roper, was loaded up and heading to another rodeo. She thought the college season was over and it was time to focus on hitting the trail to rake in some money during the summer run.
She got a call from Almand an hour later to tell her otherwise. SWTJC finished second at TVCC and jumped Sam Houston State and Texas A&M in the team standings, meaning their whole team qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo on the final day of the season.
“My coach [Joey Almand] told me the team had a chance to make it, but it was a slim one,” Smith said. “We had to do really well in the short round and the other teams had to not get any points.”
Smith, who heels for Texas A&M’s Cord Kohleffel, is the only female team roper to qualify for the CNFR out of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Southern Region. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling in the male-dominated sport.
A few years back, Smith recalled getting some funny looks from a professional while roping at an amateur rodeo. That moment has helped fuel her fire to succeed.
“Then I placed second at that rodeo,” Smith said. “It just fueled me from there. I was supposed to be there, but I had to prove that I’m meant to be there.”
Smith has followed in the footsteps of her mentor Whitney DeSalvo, one of the best female ropers in the sport, to blaze a trail for herself. In February, while heading for Hope Thompson, Smith won $90,000 and the WPRA World Championship. In the buildup to the CNFR, she made stops at PRCA rodeos in Deadwood, S.D. and Fort Smith, Ark., and numerous places between.
She’s hoping that momentum carries her to the top in Casper.
“Being a girl and being able to heel at the college finals is a pretty big deal, especially coming out of the Texas region,” Smith said. “One of the people I look up to, Whitney DeSalvo, made it to the College National Finals heeling, as well. Doing well at the College Finals can set you up in your career, whether it’s going down the road and pro rodeoing, or training horses or selling outside horses, things like that.”
Winning is the goal for everyone going to Casper. Smith hopes she and Kohleffel can block out the atmosphere to come back to Texas with a championship.
“I’m just hoping everything goes my and Cord’s way,” Smith said. “We just need to make good clean runs.”