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Praus soaking up final chance at National High School Finals Rodeo

Dickinson's Annie Praus competes in the barrel racing at the North Dakota High School Finals Rodeo on June 12, 2016, in Bowman. (Press File Photo)1 / 2
Keenan Pierce competes in the steer wrestling at the North Dakota High School Rodeo Finals on June 11 in Bowman. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

All Annie Praus ever wanted was a belt buckle.

In the rodeo world, the flashy accessory signifies a ride well done, a successful outing. Praus has grown from that modest goal as a junior high schooler, and now she's focused on something bigger.

"My dream was just to get a buckle, and I started getting buckles and getting all my points and then all of a sudden I'm going to nationals," said Praus, a recent graduate of Dickinson High. "It's very honorable, and I'm very thankful to have people in my life that have helped me and push me to get me where I am. It's been my dream to go to the national finals. I made it last year, and I made it this year again."

With 111.50 points in cow cutting this season, Praus placed third in the event in the state to qualify for next week's National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo. Events run from July 16-22.

She recalls being nervous her first time there, performing the cow cutting after her junior year.

"I had never been to a rodeo that big," Praus said. "It was crazy seeing how many people were there."

She remembers having two solid performances, but she ultimately fell short of the finals.

"I definitely think I'll be prepared this year. I was so nervous last year, I didn't know what to expect and I didn't know what the environment was going to be like," Praus said. "This year, I'm so excited to just do it and see how I do. Hopefully it will be great."

To get to this point in her rodeo career, she spent countless hours at Cutting West Ranch west of Dickinson, a property owned by Melissa Chruszch and her husband Broden Porter. They, along with Rex Cook, serve as her cutting coaches.

"I've chosen practicing most of my life over my friends," Praus said. "I barely have a social life, and during rodeo season I try to make it out there once or twice a week."

In that time, in addition to mastering the technique of her event, Praus has built a special bond with her horse, Spider.

"In cutting, my relationship with Spider is very, very strong, because you have to trust him," she said. "You might not get a good cow and you have to trust him that he's going to make the right moves and help you. And you have to make sure you're there for him, but it's a lot of the horse."

Praus will perform first on Tuesday morning and again on Thursday evening in hopes of finally making it to the short go. Her rodeo career will extend beyond next week, however.

She plans to attend Dickinson State and compete in rodeo there while also studying biology. She hopes of making it to chiropractic school eventually.

Still, she wants to make her final time out as a high school cowgirl a memorable one.

"I've learned how to dig deep through the tough times," she said. "Even though you may not get a buckle, you might get second, third or not even place that day, but you're all champions when you enter that arena."

Pierce among talented bulldogging field

Keenan Pierce admits he fancies himself more of a calf roper than a steer wrestler, but he'll take the invitation to the National High School Finals Rodeo any way he can get it.

Pierce, a rising senior at South Heart High School, has made two trips to the junior high nationals, and he qualified his freshman year for the high school finals. He's thankful to be headed back there.

"It's familiar and it's a lot easier to compete when you know what's going on," he said. "It's a great atmosphere. Everybody's friendly and it's a great place to meet new people. It's about friendships and learning so much about roping and rodeoing while you're there."

Pierce was almost on the outside looking in for this event, as he narrowly made the cut into the top four to qualify from North Dakota. He was unable to record a time during the state finals last month in Bowman but still finished with 79 points in the event for the season, just two points more than Justin Dahl of Keene. Ahead of him in the final point standings were Carrington's Bridger Anderson (112), Regan's Justin Inglis (91) and Manning's Riley Reiss (82).

"I think it's a really great group of bulldoggers, and any of us could have been knocked out by other people at state," Pierce said. "It's such an even playing field, but the four that went, I think we can represent the state really good."

Anderson, Inglis and Reiss will all have at least one full day between their runs; Pierce will have just a matter of hours, as he performs Wednesday morning and evening.

"I'd rather just get it all done in one day. It's kind of less thinking you have to do in your mind," he said. "The first group to get two runs done gets the rest of the week off, and if you make the short run, then you can think about that."

Pierce remembers missing the short go in the calf roping as a freshman by just a few spots, but he's hopeful he can break through this time around.

"I'd like to obviously make the short round and try to place in the top five," he said. "That would be my goal."

Around the area

The following is a list of others representing Southwestern North Dakota at the National High School Rodeo Finals:

• Matteah Dworshak, Dickinson; pole bending

• Qwint Stroh, Dickinson; saddle bronc riding

• Karly Bang, Killdeer; barrel racing

• Ryan Walker, Killdeer; bull riding

• Tommy Hall, Dunn Center, and Ty Truchan, Killdeer; team roping

• Riley Reiss, Manning; steer wrestling

• Brendan Butterfield, Richardton; tie down roping and cow cutting

• Jayden Olson, Taylor; bull riding

• Cashae McGee, Rhame; goat tying

• Anna Jorgenson, Watford City; barrel racing, breakaway roping, pole bending, cow cutting and reined cow horse

• Nevada Berquist, Watford City, and Jesse Chase, Mandaree; team roping

• Mason Bice, Killdeer, and Reese Hennessy, Des Lacs; team roping

• Reed Marmon, Bowman, and Colton Carlson, Jamestown; team roping

• Nick Rettinger, Amidon; trap shooting

Parker Cotton

Cotton is the sports editor at The Press, where he covers the area's high schools. He came to The Press as the Multimedia Editor in May 2015 after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with his master's degree in Sociological Practice. He holds undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Sociology from UNC, as well.