Under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Uhuru Adem, Fresno State’s men’s team enters the event ranked 16th nationally. The Bulldoggers’ 4,866 team points for the 10 events held between October and May also stood second in the West Coast men’s region regular season standings.
Televised action of the final five days will appear on ESPN3 starting Tuesday, June 14.
Three of the men’s competitors are event veterans — graduate student Mitchell Parham (Clovis) and seniors Cole Dodds (Sanger) and Reed Neely (Sanger) — while senior Philip Knierieme (Oakdale) and junior David Stark (Lincoln) will make their debuts.
For the women’s team, graduate student Maren Powers (Occidental) and senior Hailey Wilbur (Lodi) will make their first national appearances.
“We’re taking a very talented group to nationals,” Adem said. “I think they’ll have some success if they can continue to do what they have already done this season. A lot of our qualifiers have done well at this event before, and I am excited to see what our newcomers are capable of after great seasons themselves.”
Looking ahead to his fourth College National Finals Rodeo trip, Parham leads the nation’s bareback riding standings with 1,580 points, ahead of Brice Patterson of Wyoming (1,545) and Cole Franks of Missouri Valley College (1,495).
Two other men’s team members are ranked top 10 nationally in their events.
Dodds stands eighth in tie-down roping and 10th in team roping heeler categories and leads the region in both events. Neely ranks fifth in the saddle bronc standings and second in the region.
Also competing in steer wrestling based on Fresno State’s team bid, Dodds will be scored in the all-around standings and stands 12th nationally and leads the region.
In his first season competing for the Bulldoggers, Stark ranks 13th nationally in team roping heeler and second in the region behind Dodds.
Knierieme will compete in tie-down roping and earned his berth based on the team invite.
In prior national finals events, Parham scored top-25 bareback finishes in 2021 (19th), 2019 (14th) and 2018 (23rd). Neely is the team’s top returning finisher from 2021 where he placed fourth in saddle bronc after finishing 14th in his debut in 2019.
Dodds competed in the collegiate finale in tie-down roping in 2021 (11th) and in team roping header in 2021 (37th) and 2019 (11th).
For the women’s team, Wilbur ranks 14th nationally this season in breakaway roping and third in the region. Powers also stands third regionally in barrel racing.
Two other women’s team members ended the season ranked sixth regionally – Ellie Hilvers (barrel racing) and Machaela Sinclair (goat tying).
The Fresno State women’s team nearly earned its own team berth based on its fourth-place regional finish. The Bulldoggers scored 1,716 points for the season, only 28 points behind the second and final automatic position captured by Feather River College (1,744).
“Our women really fought to make it back to nationals, and it came down to the final event of the season,” Adem said. “I feel confident about the two individuals that are going and hope our team can make it back next year.”
Feather River College won the men’s regional title and ranks fourth nationally with 6,975 points. Fresno State followed with 4,866 points, ahead of Cal Poly (third, 4,170.5).
In past national finals under Adem, the men’s team placed 27th in 2021 and 17th in 2019, and celebrated an all-around national title from then-senior Colton Campbell in Adem’s first season. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The women’s team also scored successful 10th- and 12th-place finishes in their most recent national finals trips in 2016 and 2015, respectively, after second-place regional finishes.
Adem, an Agricultural Business Department alumnus, shares an additional link to the program’s tradition as a two-time, national finals 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.
More information on the sport is available at the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and College National Finals Rodeo websites.
By Geoff Thurner.