Zwiefel delivers as Stampede star

emily edleman

The SDSU men’s rodeo team, lead by men’s all-around champion Justin Zwiefel, claimed an important victory in front of a home crowd against more than 100 contestants during the Jackrabbit Stampede rodeo.

The men’s team claimed 1,740 points this weekend, much in part to Zwiefel, which helped the team inch toward Iowa Central’s regional lead.

Despite the undesirable weather, the team performed for a packed house this last weekend at the Swiftel Center. Zwiefel, a junior agronomy major, didn’t seem phased by the pressure of an intense crowd.

“Friday night’s huge short-go crowd was pretty intimidating,” Zwiefel said. “I just tried to stay focused on my events and my horses, but it was pretty exciting to perform in front of all those people who cheered me on.”

Zwiefel took home the All- Around title, which was determined by accumulative points from both rodeos this weekend. He earned points in all three of the events he competed in, including a championship victory in the team roping event with partner Taylor Miller as well as a championship victory in steer wrestling. He took a second-place finish in the tie-down calf roping.

“The win was pretty comforting, especially after a tough weekend, last weekend, at Black Hills in Spearfish,” Zwiefel said. “It was good to come back and win the hometown rodeo.”

The successful weekend helped ensure Zwiefel’s second visit to the College National Finals Rodeo, in Casper, Wyo. At his first visit, he claimed the Reserve World Champion title in the tie-down calf roping. The top three in each event in the region were then eligible to compete in the finals. Prior to this weekend’s Stampede, he held a lead of over 250 points in the tie-down calf roping regional standings.

“Justin’s points alone are big when others don’t have such a good weekend. He’s not cocky. He’s calm, cool and collected. You’d never know he was a Reserve World Champion,” said Rodeo Coach Ron Skovly.

Zwiefel said he plans to take it one rodeo at a time and stay focused before the finals in Wyoming.

“My plan is to just try to stay focused on my runs and keep track of the standings,” Zwiefel said. “I like to see how many points I need. I’m hoping to make up more ground in Lincoln so it doesn’t come down to the last rodeo. I’d like to take a large lead to take the pressure off in Dickinson.”

According to the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, the country is split up into 12 regions. The Jacks compete in the Great Plains region, which includes South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and parts of Nebraska.

Both the SDSU men and women teams practice daily to ensure victory at the region’s 10 qualifying rodeos. With limited opportunity and only three rodeos left in the season, each performance is important.

“Practice plays a huge part in my success. It gets your horse ready and mentally focused,” Zwiefel said. “I like to use practice runs as if they are rodeo runs. It’s just like any other sport — it takes mental and physical conditioning.”

Skovly attributes Zwiefel’s success to hard work and raw talent.

“He’s out there every night with two or three horses, practicing each event. He practices just as hard as everyone else, but a lot of his talent and focus came before he even got to Brookings,” Skovly said. “A lot of this comes from his hard work at home too.”

Zwiefel is a veteran to the rodeo arena. Originally from Algona, Iowa, he competed in the Little Britches and high school levels as a youth and made it to the National High School Finals in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The Jacks will compete next weekend in Lincoln, Neb., hosted by the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. They will finish out the season with a long trip to Dickinson, N.D., following finals week