Kynzie and Kenna McNeill are both Oklahoma State University students. They are both on the OSU Rodeo Team; one a graduate student and assistant coach, the other a freshman. Both admit to being highly competitive, especially with one another.
“Yes, we compete in the same events: barrel racing, goat-tying and breakaway roping,” said Kynzie, the older sister and assistant coach, who still has a year of intercollegiate eligibility remaining. “I will be riding for OSU this season, though I had a pretty good year as a senior at Texas Tech before coming to OSU for my graduate assistantship.”
Most definitely: Kynzie rode her way to the 2018 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association barrel racing championship in June. Not that Kynzie’s accomplishment puts off competitive Kenna, who admits to being very proud of her elder sibling.
“Kynzie has always set the bar high,” Kenna said. “It’s always given me something to shoot for, and an advantage in that I’ve seen what she had to do to accomplish what she has. Now it’s like the old days before she went off to college. I have my big sister to help me again.”
Besides, Kenna finished sixth in barrel racing at the 2018 National High School Rodeo finals, a significant accomplishment in its own right.
One might assume it was Kynzie who recruited Kenna to OSU, but it was the younger McNeill sibling who decided to become a Cowboy first.
“The former OSU Rodeo Team graduate assistant, Alexa Major, convinced me to come to Stillwater and explore my opportunities with the university,” Kenna said. “Once I toured here, I fell in love with CASNR – the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources – the campus, everything, and decided to attend OSU even though I had been a Texas Tech fan forever.”
Kenna said she is looking forward to being a “part of something with teammates who have a shared interest.”
“My sister is four years older than me so I have been practicing by myself and going to school by myself for much of the past few years,” she said. “It will be good to branch out, work with other people and have a new experience beyond just it being me and my horses.”
Yes, horses plural. Kenna has three competitive equine partners, each of whom she rides in different events. Having three events helps keep her interest high, she believes.
“We work and work but are able to shift practice onto another event when we reach a point of near burnout,” Kenna said.
Once Coyotes, now proud Cowboys
The daughters of Paige and Lisa McNeill, the sisters claim Hobbs, New Mexico, as home. Kynzie graduated from Tatum High School in May of 2014, while Kenna graduated in May of 2018.
“Our mascot was the coyote,” they responded in tandem when asked. “Now we’re Cowboys,” Kynzie added as they brandished the pistols firing gesture Cowboys Nation has come to love.
As the OSU Rodeo Team graduate assistant, Kynzie is looking forward to helping other competitors on the team.
“I like being in a coaching position where I can help them improve, give them new ideas and play a role in helping to make the best team possible,” she said. “Coaching is something that interests me as a potential career.”
A veteran of the highest levels of intercollegiate sports competition, Kynzie believes one of the many positive benefits of competing in collegiate-level rodeo is that it gives team members a much-needed outlet during school.
“As college students we’re stuck inside for long periods studying and doing bookwork,” she said. “It’s nice to have something that you love as a counter, allowing you to get out and be active. Also, in some places rodeo can help pay for your schooling. That is nice. It builds connections in the horse industry that you might not have otherwise.”
Then there are the friendships. “As teammates, we go through shared struggles and work to help one another overcome whatever challenges are in front of us,” Kynzie said. “One of those challenges is time management. You have to juggle classes, studying, out-of-class projects, rodeo practice, relationships and just life in general.”
Kenna said the most daunting challenge about being a freshman is that everything is new.
“I attended a small junior college in my hometown so I am used to talking to professors and attending classes, but the classes were not as big as they are at OSU, the campus was not as big and I’m in an entirely different state,” she said. “But I have my teammates and my sister.”
A personalized approach
The OSU Rodeo Team began in 1946, with representatives of the team competing in the first of many National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association rodeos in 1948. Today, OSU Rodeo competes in 10 rodeos each year within the NIRA Central Plains region.
“Our program features event-focused practices to help ensure team members get the most out of each session,” said Cody Hollingsworth, OSU Rodeo Team coach and program and facilities coordinator, who competed for the team when he was a student from 1996 to 1998. “We also provide practice livestock including timed-event cattle and rough stock at no additional cost to our students.”
A part of CASNR, academic success is given as much emphasis as participation in rodeo team activities. Team members are routinely recognized as Dean and President’s Honor Roll recipients, OSU Top Freshman honorees, University Seniors of Significance, OSU Research Scholars and NIRA All-Americans.
“OSU awards Rodeo Team scholarships each year,” Hollingsworth said. “In addition to team scholarships, the university awards approximately $320 million in scholarships annually, including $1.7 million directly through CASNR.”
CASNR Associate Dean Cynda Clary added the goals and mission of the college are readily evident in the ways in which the OSU Rodeo Team helps each of its student competitors achieve in both the classroom and the arena.
“We have always placed a great emphasis on a student’s collegiate experience helping them to find and build upon their life’s passion,” Clary said. “Ask graduates what they remember most about going to college and the answer is never limited to favorite classes. They cite specific teachers and advisers, friendships made, study abroad opportunities, internships, participation in clubs and other university activities. It’s always personal, and it always revolves around being part of what we like to call our extended OSU family.”
From the start, Kenna has been impressed by how helpful CASNR faculty, staff and students have been.
“People are willing to go out of their way to help you get situated,” she said. “The transition has been much easier than I thought it would be. This is a great school, and the rodeo team is on the rise. I think we’re going to do well and make OSU proud.”
Currently, Kenna is majoring in animal science with a production option. Her long-term goal is to one day raise horses and perform artificial insemination transfers. Big sister Kynzie hopes to eventually earn a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition and work in the animal agriculture industry.
Anyone seeking additional information about the OSU Rodeo Team can contact Hollingsworth directly by phone at 405-744-5167. Online information also is available about the team and CASNR at http://rodeo.okstate.edu and http://casnr.okstate.edu, respectively.