(Story by Justin Lee, Odessa American)
It must have been a long winter break for the Odessa College rodeo teams.
The Wranglers were riding high at the end of the season's fall schedule a few months ago. The OC men had just won the team all-around competition at Texas Tech in October, and the women's team stood 60 points out of first place in the region standings, poised to gain even more ground.
But that Texas Tech meet marked the fall finale, and all of the Wranglers' momentum was halted — until now.
Now, finally, Odessa College can get back in the saddle and pick up where it left off five months ago. The Wranglers' season picks back up and the spring schedule begins all in their own backyard.
The 31st Odessa College Wrangler Rodeo is set for this weekend, with the first performance at 6:30 tonight in the covered arena behind Ector County Coliseum. Performances will continue at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as part of competition in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association's Southwest Region.
Odessa College rodeo head coach C.J. Aragon said the Wranglers wouldn't want to kick off the spring slate anywhere else but at their own hometown rodeo.
"Basketball, baseball and everybody else, they get to compete in front of their home crowd several times a year. We get to do it once," Aragon said. "It means a lot to those kids to have the crowd pulling for them."
With the hometown advantage on their side, the Lady Wranglers could end the weekend atop the women's team standings. The Odessa College women are opening the spring schedule in third place with 952.00 points, but they're within striking distance of first-place Eastern New Mexico (1,012.00).
The Lady Wranglers' Rylee Jo Dick is in first place in the region's individual barrel racing standings (460.00), and will be looking to build on her 40-point cushion between her and second-place Shelby Herrmann of Tarleton State.
She's also in sixth place in breakaway roping
"The women's team is probably one of the most talented teams I've ever coached," Aragon said of a group bucking recent women's program trends. "I have had some teams that placed in the top five in the nation, and these girls are right there with them. It's just a matter of them going out and doing their jobs. If they take care of their business, I don't think there's very many people that can beat them."
Meanwhile, Aragon's men's team sits in fourth place in the region standings.
After a slow start to the season last fall, Aragon said the Wranglers peaked when winning the overall competition at Texas Tech. Now, it's just a matter of competing at that level again.
The Wranglers boast two region-leaders in Hawkins Boyce and Chet Boren, with Boyce leading the saddle bronc by 120 points. Boren is in a tight race atop the steer wrestling standings, with just 10 more points than second-place Cutter DeHart of Western Texas College.
"We started off the year real slow. We had a lot of injuries. We're healthy now," Aragon said of his men's team. "We've got a lot of guys riding really well. Our guys are bulldogging well. They're roping well.
"We practiced hard all winter and it should start to show this spring that the guys have put in the work. I think there's going to be a big improvement in our performance this spring."
There'd be nowhere better for the Wranglers to showcase that improvement than in front of their hometown supporters.
"Here is the only place where the crowd will actually get behind them and get the adrenaline going," Aragon said. "They're trying hard every time, but here they're really wanting to do well in front of their home crowd. All of the kids and administrators come out from the school to come see them.
"They really want to do well here. We hope that it'll be a big advantage."