The Southern Arkansas University Rodeo Team enjoyed another successful season and finished the year strong at the College National Finals in Casper, Wyoming, earlier this month.
Hannah Springer, a native of Lavaca, Arkansas, won the Reserve National Champion Breakaway Roper title in the Finals, and the Women’s Team finished with a Top 10 National Placing, said Rusty Hayes, coach of the rodeo team. “This is our third consecutive year for an individual National or Reserve title and Top 10 team placing,” Hayes said. It is the 11th straight year for the team to go to Finals in Casper.
Student-athletes representing SAU at this year’s Finals included Springer; Michaela Caudle, of Horatio, Arkansas; Ashton Glascock, from Ashland, Missouri; Jacie Sullivan, from Mount Vernon, Arkansas; Cooper Lee, from Quitman, Arkansas; Britt Driggers, from Hot Springs, Arkansas and West Smith, from Emmet, Ark.
The Women’s Team finished 2016-2017 as the Reserve Champions of the Ozark Region while the Men’s Team placed third in the Region. Hayes said he thought this year’s team was “the strongest I’ve seen” and expressed little surprise at its success on the national level.
“It was not unexpected with the amount of talent that we have,” Hayes said. “This is one of the most talented teams I’ve ever taken to Finals, particularly on the women’s side.”
Though Springer graduated in May with a bachelor’s in Agriculture Business, Hayes said the remaining women on the team “are extremely talented and I feel that one of them at least will win a national title before she’s done.”
For Springer, the trip to Casper was an emotional experience and hard-earned.
“I made it to College Finals my freshman year,” she said, “but then I had a couple of tough years and I didn’t make it my sophomore or junior years. I decided to come at it from a different angle, really work at it, and do it my senior year.”
“That was the goal she set,” Hayes said of her determination to qualify for Casper this year. “Well before our regular season ended, we talked about her winning the Region and making it to Finals. She prepared hard for it. She was in the zone at Finals, quietly going about her business.”
Springer has been participating in rodeo since the seventh grade, starting in barrel racing and then learning to rope. “My dad is a state trooper and mom barrel raced,” she said. “I got into roping on the same black mare I ride today.”
The mare, Jet, is an important part of her life and rodeo success.
“We basically taught ourselves to rope,” Springer said. “She’s very special to me. A man who didn’t like to keep mares let me take her home one day and then years down the road, I bought her. She’s been a blessing and is definitely my best friend. People know her; they always ask about her.”
Springer made national rodeo finals throughout her junior and high school years, winning the junior high finals in Gallop, New Mexico, in 2009, and placing third in the high school finals in her junior year.
“I knew I wanted to college rodeo but I didn’t know where,” Springer said. “I really wanted to stay in Arkansas. My dad, who serves in the U.S. Navy, got deployed to Afghanistan, and I wanted to stay close to home. I had heard of SAU Rodeo, it’s the only large rodeo team in the area. Rusty called me about February of my senior year and offered me a really good scholarship. I couldn’t pass it up. I’m very thankful for it.”
Just prior to leaving for College Finals in Wyoming, Springer joined the SAU team that traveled to Paris, France. “I graduated May 5, flew to Paris on May 9, got back on May 15 and left on June 7 for Casper,” she said. “Paris was amazing. You always dream about seeing the Eiffel Tower, but standing in front of it is unbelievable. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I truly loved it.”
While in France, Springer made sure that Jet kept in shape. “I basically sent her for a spa week,” she laughed. “She swam every day, she got massages and cold wraps. She needed to be ready (for Finals). When I got back we had two full weeks before we had to leave, so I rode her every day and practiced two or three times a week.”
At Finals, Springer had a few ups and downs but finished on a high note, winning reserve breakaway roper. “I knew my mare was in the best shape she could be, but there was a little doubt. I was just trying to enjoy it. I thought, ‘This is it, I might not get to ever do this again.’”
Though she “drew some really great calves” during competition, “you want your calf to run strong and straight, and not stop.” The calf she drew for her final event did stop, preventing her from winning the national championship by four-tenths of a second. “I’m thankful to have won Reserve,” she said.
Now that she’s back in Magnolia and has some time to breathe, Springer is contemplating her next steps.
“I haven’t totally decided what I want to do yet,” she said. “I am going to pursue A Masters of Business Administration at SAU and I might return to the College Finals next year. If it’s what God wants, it will happen.”
She said the rodeo team “is very close, we like to see each other do well. They are encouraging me to come back next year.” Springer also had high praise for her coach. “Everyone loves Rusty. He’s a really good father figure. He’s always there, no matter what.”
She is the new manager of Story Arena and is working to book events into the arena. “The town is very supportive of the team, and this is a great facility,” she said. “We’ve got a really good program going on.”
“When you go to the Nationals every year for 11 years, that’s what you come to expect,” he said. “The competition is tough. We go up against Sam Houston University, the University of Oklahoma, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and a hundred others, and we’re going out and winning.”