BOZEMAN — With Friday night’s portion of the Montana State spring rodeo wrapping up, Will Powell was having trouble shaking off his missed chance in team roping earlier in the night.
The Montana State cowboy had already qualified for Saturday’s short go in steer wrestling and tiedown roping, but he’s no one-trick pony. He’s an accomplished all-around rodeo athlete, and having his steer slip free wasn’t sitting well.
“That was kind of tough, we had a great steer drawn,” he said in the bowels of Brick Breeden Fieldhouse Friday night. “Got a good start and wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been. I ended up splitting the horns.
“When you miss in the team roping, it’s like gosh, you want to get down on yourself but you can’t really. You’ve got more runs to go, more money to win more points to win. By the time I got from that end of the arena to this end of the arena, you just gotta let it go. You’ve gotta have a short memory in rodeo.”
You might need a short memory in rodeo, but Powell could do well to reflect on his time as a cowboy for Montana State. He was sixth in the nation in steer wrestling as a freshman, but injuries have marred what has otherwise been a fruitful career so far for the junior from St. Ignatius.
After the fall session, Powell entered the MSU rodeo second in the Big Sky Region standings in all-around, second in steer wrestling and team roping, and sixth in tiedown.
He put together those numbers fresh off an injury that kept him out all summer. Then in January, an MCL injury put him on the sideline again with the spring and a shot at returning to nationals looming. Bobcats coach Andy Bolich said he was only able to start roping again in practice a week before competing at his home rodeo.
“He’s just really mentally tough and he’s really focused and I think that helps him,” Bolich said. “Where he hasn’t been able to put in the time … he’s actually competing well, he’s keeping horses in shape. He’s mentally tough and it’s showing right now. He’s winning a lot and doing well for sure.”
The mental game might rival the physical aspect for Powell, whose stout frame’s only apparent weakness is a brace worn on his injured knee.
He contends approaching multiple events at one rodeo is about compartmentalizing each event, so he’s moved on from his rope slipping off the steer’s horn earlier on.
“You’ve got your steer wrestling head, you take that, put that on right when the event starts. You do that and then once it’s calf roping time you change heads then go to the calf roping. It’s just, you try not to think about the whole picture, it’s just things you need to do individually to make it the best run you can.”
Powell doesn’t hesitate when considering his bread and butter in rodeo. He says steer wrestling is what he loves and what he craves, but he’s got a head for the other two events as well. He wants to be back at nationals in Wyoming come June, and it’s all three that he hopes to be on the performance list for.
Bolich believes, too. He says between all the injuries, Powell has stepped it up. He’s always had the athletic ability, the coach says says, but this year he wields a mental edge.
“Last year he didn’t qualify, so I think he’s hungrier than ever and looking to make a return trip,” Bolich said. “He’s going to make it I think, I’m confident in that and he’s a good competitor. He has a chance once he gets there he can win on the national level for sure.”
Powell’s not writing off the chance at an all-around buckle either, but the road ahead this spring is tough. Caleb McMillian of Northwest College in Wyoming currently leads the Big Sky, and he works with five events against Powell’s three.
Still, Powell returns to the mindful approach to his intense sport. He’s focused on getting that run back in team roping, but as he prefers to describe his mindset for each rodeo, he’s got to put on the right head.
“I do three events and he does five, and he’s really good in all of them,” he said. “So that’s tough for me, it makes me not want to make any mistakes like I did in team roping. I don’t think about ‘I’m going to beat Caleb today,’ and you don’t wish he does bad. You do the best you can and let the chips fall where they do.”