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Panola College’s Kolt Dement, shown at the 2020 Panola College Rodeo, is headed to nationals this year.

COVID ruined a lot of things for a lot of people last year, including the Panola College rodeo team — which was looking to go back to Nationals for the second straight year.

However, the squad has ponied up and found itself where the pandemic didn’t allow it to go in 2020.

“We have one guy left on the team from ’19 and that’s Macon Murphy, and he actually had the fastest time in calf roping,” Panola Head Rodeo Coach Jeff Collins said. “The fastest run of the week was a 7.7, he won the go-around and secured us a spot for the national championship, so it’s good to have Macon Murphy back. This is his third year of school.

“Last year, we started rodeo and then they shut it down and cancelled the final so all those kids got another year of eligibility. All the rest of the team is freshmen, plus we have a girl going this year and that’s Jayden Gould. Jayden is out of Lufkin. Her dad has been to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) a few times, so we’ve got a good looking team.”

Murphy is one of six members of men’s squad making the trip to Casper, Wyoming in June, and they’ll be joined by Gould who advanced for the women’s side.

“In CNFR (College National Finals Rodeo) you’ve got a team that’s a six-man and four women,” Collins added. “So it’s the top two teams in the region on both sides, the men’s and women’s, but then you get individuals that can qualify like Jayden did without a team, so she’ll be my women’s team. I’m just three girls shy of having a full team. The most I could have was four but we did win the regional on the men’s side so I’m taking a full men’s team, which is six.”

“Macon Murphy will be in the tie-down roping,” Collins said when asked who the other team members going are. “Kincade Henry, he’s from Mount Pleasant, Texas and he’s in the tie-down roping. Kolt Dement, he will be in the bareback riding and he’s from Rusk, Texas. Gauge McBride is from Kearney, Nebraska. He’s my all around. He’s going to be at the bareback riding and the bull-riding. Michael Womack is from Bastrop, Louisiana. He’s in the saddlebronc riding. Then we’ve got Riley Rieken. He will be in the team roping. He’s from Tatum, Texas. We’ve got Jayden Gould in the breakaway roping. She is from Lufkin. Her dad is a three-time NFR qualifier.”

As a coach of a JUCO school, Collins knows his team will have its work cut out for it.

“In college rodeo, it’s two-year colleges against four-year colleges, so a lot of our guys are true freshmen so in a lot of cases, we’re going against fifth-year-grad students but we try not to look at it any other way other than we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re going to do our best,” he said.

The National Rodeo is slated to take place starting Saturday, June 12.

“We’ve got a month out of school before we go to the college finals,” Collins said. “These kids go home and they’re actually rodeoing at other pro rodeos and amateur rodeos. Basically by now, they should be using other rodeos for practice. They should be out there getting battle tested.”

Collins said the experience they’re getting right now will help them at Nationals.

“The guys on this squad have had an extremely good year but guys like Kincade Henry, Macon Murphy, Kolt Dement, Michael Womack — they’re going to pro rodeos right now,” the coach said. “They’re making quite a bit of money and making a living while they’re in college going to pro rodeos, so the main thing I want people to know is these guys have worked hard and they’re out there spending money, getting battle tested and grinding all the time.

“That’s the most important thing I want people to know. I’m putting young men and women out there but in the rodeo world, they’re mature already,” he said. “If you’re not a man by the time you’re 18 in the bull-riding world, you’re going to become one pretty quick. It’s young man’s game. These guys are in their prime or fixing to be and as a coach, I think they’re physically ready. I’ve just got to make sure they’re mentally prepared and keeping small, don’t think outside the box and keep your eyes on what we’re doing here and they do really well.”

All-in-all, Collins is confident in his team’s ability to get the job done.

“I’m so proud of them,” Collins said. “They’ve done a great job. They’ve worked hard. We’re going to go up there and bang it out with some powerhouses and see how it ends up at the end of the week. I think it’s going to be great.”

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