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Headed to the top Gillette College rodeo athletes head to CNFR

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Gillette – In 2018, seven athletes from Gillette College are heading to the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) for their chance to compete for the title of the champion of college rodeo, and Rodeo Coach Will LaDuke says the commitment of coaching staff and students, as well as the contributions of Gillette College and the community, have supported students in the journey. 

“We’re taking our women’s team of four ladies and three individuals on the men’s side to Casper for the CNFR, and we’re looking forward to it,” LaDuke comments.

Over the last several years, LaDuke notes the addition of rough stock coaching staff has continued to improve their program, and he says, “We’ve also been able to recruit some really great students to our program.”

This year, Gillette College’s women’s team, including Taylour Latham, Rickie Engesser, Quincy Segelke and Riley Addington, and three men, Kellan Johnson, Carter Elshere and Cooper White, will compete on the national stage. 

“We’ve got a pretty young team this year, but I feel like our students are ready,” LaDuke says. “With rodeo, there are always a lot of variables, but if our cards fall right, we could be in the hunt for another national title. We’re hoping for at least a top five finish and possibly another team title like we saw in 2010.” 

From the team

Johnson of Casper competes for Gillette College in team roping and tie down roping. 

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched the CNFR, since the finals is in my hometown,” Johnson says. “This will be my first year competing, and I’m really excited to compete in my hometown.”

The freshman will be traveling to CNFR to team rope and says, “I’m excited about competing against everyone in the nation. We’re going to compete against the top teams in the nation, and I’m excited to have the chance to show what we can do.”

Johnson has been preparing for the finals by attending pro rodeos and jackpots with his father and little brother, working to stay in shape and making sure his horses are at the top of their game.

“I’ve been roping every day, just like I was doing in Gillette,” he says, adding, “I want to make sure I’m tuned up and my horses are tuned up and ready to go.” 

Engesser of Spearfish, S.D. will come to Casper for her second year at the CNFR to compete in breakaway roping and barrel racing. 

“It’s exciting that I qualified in two different events this year,” Engesser says. “It’s always rewarding to know that all our hard work as a team and individually has paid off.” 

She adds, “It’s always fun to compete in the atmosphere that CNFR provides, especially in the night rodeo performances, but I’m also excited to meet new people and reconnect with the people I met last year.” 

In preparing for the rodeo, Engesser says she’s worked to keep her horses in good shape, but she seldom runs the pattern to practice. 

“My horse does much better if I just keep him feeling good and in shape,” she says.

On the roping side, Engesser is working to fine-tune her skills, roping both dummies and live cattle.

“I’ve been doing a lot of slow dummy work, making sure I’m scoring sharp and ready to go,” she says. 

Gillette’s rodeo program

LaDuke notes Gillette College’s support of the rodeo program has been integral to the team’s success. 

“Gillette College considers rodeo a varsity sport, so we’re treated like a basketball team rather than a club sport,” he explains. “We also have a practice facility and indoor arena that helps us to stay competitive and recruit some great students.”

Both students recognize that Gillette’s rodeo program has contributed to their success, mentioning that the facilities and support from coaching staff has been integral.

“We just got a new facility in Gillette, and our indoor barn has really allowed us to practice as much as we want,” Engesser says. 

Johnson adds the facility contributed to his decision to attend Gillette College and rodeo.

“When I decided to come to Gillette, I wanted to get away from home and try some new things, and I’ve enjoyed every second of the experience,” he says. 

Coaching staff

While the facilities are top of the line, Johnson says, “Coach Will LaDuke has also been outstanding.”

“Everyone I’ve talked on our team says Will has helped them – from the horse aspect of rodeo to the mental game,” Johnson continues. “He’s a friend and a coach. Will also encourages us to become a college student first, and he also teaches us a lot about life in general. He’s a big part of our success.” 

“Our coach is willing to help us whenever, wherever,” Engesser says. “The barn is always open, and Coach is willing to help us through whatever we need – whether it’s working through a slump, fine-tuning a skill or through one-on-one coaching.” 

LaDuke credits his coaching team, including his wife Ginger and rough stock coaches Marvin Garrett and Sean Marshell. 

“We have a lot of good people involved in our program,” LaDuke emphasizes.

Engesser comments, “Rodeo at Gillette College is hard to beat.”

Visit for up-to-date results, tickets or more information on the College National Finals Rodeo. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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