LINCOLN, Neb. — Football is king in Heppner when it comes to sports, but two high school rodeo athletes are helping put their small town on the map this week at the 73rd National High School Finals Rodeo at the Lancaster Event Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Jett Stewart and Blane Mahoney, along with Lauryn Riney of Milton-Freewater and Alyson Terry of Hermiston, will compete this week among the nation’s best.
“This is my first high school nationals,” said Mahoney, who is a steer wrestler. “I just try to keep calm and go after every one of them the same.”
Terry, who is competing in pole bending, is the only one of the four who has been to nationals before, going in 2019.
“I kind of have it figured out,” she said. “I have a game plan to have a shot at the title.”
Stewart will compete in team roping with Brayden Schmidt from Benton City, Washington. The two have been working together since they were 9 years old. They both will be seniors in the fall.
“We drive to each other’s houses once or twice a week, or meet in Hermiston. Stewart said. “We work well together. This is pretty cool. I don’t usually get very nervous.”
Though it’s the first trip to nationals for Stewart, he is no stranger to the big stage.
His first big win came in the fall of 2017, when he won the WestStar Ranch and Arena’s Pro/Am roping with Junior Nogueira.
Jett then won almost $12,000 during Wrangler BFI Week in Reno on June 20, 2018, roping with Schmidt.
He also has a pretty good mentor at home. His dad, Jason Stewart, is a longtime fixture on the PRCA circuit, and won the 2019 Pendleton Round-Up team roping title with Calgary Smith.
Jason Stewart, who was roping in Wyoming over the weekend, will join his son in Nebraska this week.
Stewart is the header of the group, while Schmidt is the heeler. They will compete Tuesday, July 20, and Thursday, July 22, with hopes of making the short go July 24.
“I like it better and I’m better at it,” Stewart said. “My dad taught me that first.”
Stewart also got a piece of advice from his dad before they headed out in two different directions.
“Score, ride, rope,” Stewart said. “Let the cards fall where they will.”
Like Stewart, Mahoney gets a few pointers at home from his dad, Mike, who used to compete in the Columbia River Circuit. NFR steer wrestler Blake Knowles lives just down the road and also has helped Mahoney hone his craft.
“I go out to some of his (Knowles’) practices,” Mahoney said. “He comes out to the house. We are pretty good family friends. Blake bulldogged a lot with my dad when he was young and has taught me a bit.”
At 165 pounds, the steers have a bit of an advantage on Mahoney. The steers weigh in around 400 to 500 pounds.
“It’s more about the technique, I guess,” Mahoney said. “They are about 400 pounds or more. You are going to see a lot of variation (in weight) at nationals.”
Mahoney, who will be a senior, also plays football at Heppner. He is a running back and linebacker, which fits right in with steer wrestling.
“I just like contact sports, that’s why I like football,” he said. “It’s kind of fun.”
Mahoney competed July 19 and will be up again July 23.
Terry had a good run during the fall rodeo season, and was sitting first in pole bending heading into spring.
Her horse, Sharp Shooting Annie, contracted EPM, which causes neurological issues, and their times in the spring were not as good.
“We got her treatment, and at the state finals I made three clean runs to bump from seventh to fourth,” Terry said. “We ran a 20.8 (seconds) two weeks ago in Powell Butte and qualified for the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas during the NFR.”
Terry, who will be a junior in the fall at Hermiston High School, also competes in barrel racing, but her barrel horse was hurt this year, putting them out of the running.
Terry will compete July 20 and 22, aiming to make the final 15 on July 24.
Riney, who will be a senior at DeSales High School in Walla Walla, finished second in the poles at state, and was third in barrel racing.
Between her two events, she competed July 18, and will continue with her events on July 20 and 22.
“I was hoping to win the barrels, but I didn’t have a good state finals,” Riney said. “In the poles, I lost by one point. It was crazy. I won every single round at state and I still lost. Going into state, the girl who was ahead of me (Gwyneth Cheyne) had a pretty big lead.”
Riney admitted that she is a little nervous about her first trip to nationals, but she has plenty of family — dad Brian, mom Anne and sister Brooke — to keep her company, and events to keep her busy.
“There is tons of stuff to do down here,” Riney said. “I’m super excited and a little bit nervous. I have a ton of friends here and it has been fun so far.”