Three area students have wrangled a trip to the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association finals in Casper, Wyoming, in June – but COVID-19 stopped them short.
Stetson Bierman, Kelsi Haller and Trevor Zerrusen won’t be competing at the event that was scheduled for June 14-20 before it was canceled by the pandemic. They managed to compete in only seven of 10 scheduled competitions leading up to the finals.
Bierman rides bareback bronc, Haller is a barrel racer and Zerrusen a bull rider. They qualified for the finals by being among the top three candidates in their categories in the NIRA Ozark region. Only the first- and second-place rodeo teams in each region are selected to compete in the national finals, in addition to individual competition winners. There are 12 NIRA regions.
Zerrusen, 22, is the son of Kevin and Jennifer Zerrusen of Green Creek. He finished his studies this semester at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, for an associate’s degree in Construction Management.
He has been a member of the Three Rivers Community College rodeo team under the leadership of head coach Chad Phipps as a bull rider for the past two years and has been active in rodeo competition the past four years. Zerrusen graduated from Teutopolis High School in 2016.
Participating in the finals at Casper would have been his last chance to compete at the collegiate rodeo level. Zerrusen finished third in the NIRA Ozark region, qualifying him for the canceled June Casper finals. His team placed fifth in the Men’s NIRA Ozark region standings.
“One of my biggest accomplishments was making the finals, and it was disappointing not getting the chance to compete,” Zerrusen said.
Zerrusen won top honors at the Whippoorwill Rodeo Company finals for bull riding in October of 2019 at Du Quoin. He plans to compete professionally in Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) events starting this year, and does not plan to go back to college at this time.
“I plan to compete after the coronavirus restrictions are over and the rodeos start again,” Zerrusen said. “Right now I just have to wait.”
Bierman, 19, is the son of Bret and Jody Bierman of Hidalgo. He is a member of the University of Tennessee Sky hawk rodeo team in Martin, Tennessee. UTM Rodeo Coach John Luthi awarded Bierman a four-year scholarship to compete on the UTM rodeo team.
Bierman was a 2018 graduate of Newton Community High School. He won the Illinois High School Rodeo Association state championships in 2017 and 2018 in bareback bronc competition.
Bierman just finished his sophomore year at UTM, with the ultimate goal of receiving his Bachelor of Science in Animal Science.
Bierman has two more years of collegiate rodeo competition. The UTM rodeo team finished second overall in the men’s NIRA Ozark region standings.
“Not getting to compete in the final competition was a real disappointment,” Bierman said.
“I hope to do this professionally some day. I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old. I like the adrenaline rush.”
Bierman qualified for the NIRA national finals competition by placing first in bareback riding in the Ozark region, earning a place at the table in Casper. This year would have been his first year to qualify for the NIRA college finals. He is ranked second nationally in the bareback bronc riding for the 2019-2020 rodeo season.
When not competing on the college level, Bierman competes in Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) events and International Pro Rodeo Association (IPRA) events. He took sixth place in a Great Lakes PRCA circuit finals competition. He placed fifth in the average at the IPRA rodeo finals.
Kelsi Rose Haller
Haller, 22, is the daughter of Albert Haller and Dr. Kelly Haller. She became interested in rodeo competition when she was 12. She is a 2015 graduate of Teutopolis High School.
Haller is a member of the Central Methodist University rodeo team under the leadership of coach Amanda Phipps, competing as a barrel racer. She graduates this year with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
She qualified for National NIRA competition this year as the No. 2 barrel racer in the NIRA Ozark region. Last year Haller was the NIRA Ozark region’s No. 1 barrel racer.
Only the top three Ozark region women’s barrel racers advance to the national finals. The Central Methodist University women’s team placed seventh in women’s NIRA Ozark region standings.
Haller has one more year of eligibility at the college level rodeo as she starts her master’s degree classes with a major in Clinical Counseling this fall. Haller said those who were on the rodeo team this year can compete next year as long as they are a full-time college student.
“You have to have at least 12 credit hours and maintain a 2.0 GPA to be eligible,” Haller said.
Haller said this year her horse was nominated for Women’s NIRA Ozark Region “Horse of the Year.”
In years past, she was a member of the Fort Scott Community College team in Fort Scott, Kansas, from 2015 to 2016, participated in rodeo independently without a team at Lake Land College from 2016 to 2017, taking home first place in the 2017 women’s NIRA barrel racing competition, and participated in rodeo independently at Eastern Illinois University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy before joining the CMU rodeo team in 2019-20.
Haller was runner-up in the 2014 Illinois High School Rodeo Association state finals pole bending competition. She finished No. 1 in the 2014 IHSRA state barrel racing event. She won the 2015 IHSRA state finals year-end pole bending contest and was runner-up in 2015 IHSRA state finals barrel racing.
She won the International Barrel Racing Association youth finals in 2016 and WBRA pro rodeo money winner for the 2016-17 season.
Haller’s future plans include competing in more Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) events.
“If you want to rodeo your whole life and want to do it professionally, the PRCA (for men) and WPRA (for women) is where most of the money and prestige is,” Haller said. “It’s like the professional baseball of rodeo.
“Not knowing what we may or may not have reached in the national finals this year was pretty devastating,” Haller said.