DOUGLAS — Following a successful rodeo season that saw the Cochise College women’s rodeo team finish third at the College National Finals and one of its cowgirls, Jill Donnelly — who has completed her eligigility and no longer is with the team — win two national championships, a new season kicks off this week as the Apache rodeo teams host their annual collegiate rodeo at the Cochise County Fair.

There will be two performances on Saturday with slack beginning at 9 a.m. followed by a 6 p.m. performance. A performance is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. and event winners will be announced.

Donnelly will be honored prior to rodeos Saturday and Sunday. She will also be treated to a brunch Sunday morning, where she will be recognized for her two national championships.

Head rodeo coach Rick Smith was asked how he replaces someone who won two national championships.

“You get another one who can win a national championship,” he answered. “We’ve got the talent. Our women’s team is looking very good. We have three of the four women who went to nationals last year back, and then we recruited a couple of new cowgirls we feel will be productive and really help us.”

Maddee Doerr, Catherine Clayton and Chenoa VandeStouwe are the three returners. Doerr finished third in goat-tying at the CNFR while Clayton placed third in breakaway roping. VandeStouwe also competed in goat-tying, finishing 39th out of 52 goat-tiers.

Joining them will be newcomer Anna Jorgenson from North Dakota.

“She is an outstanding barrel-racer and roper,” Smith said. “We’ve known about her for a long time. She didn’t go to school last year. Lynn (Smith, Rick’s wife, and co-head coach) talked her into coming here. She’s going to be a big help for us.”

Also joining the team are Laynee Gregersen, who breakaway ropes and goat ties, and Jessica Portenier, who will compete in barrel-racing, goat-tying and breakaway-roping.

Rick said this was a tough recruiting year, mainly due to COVID, and they are behind other schools they compete with when it comes to attracting athletes to Cochise College.

“We’re going to have to recruit hard this year,” he said. “That’s always been the strong point of this program.”

Smith noted that as a freshman, Doerr finished second in the nation in goat-tying. As a sophomore going into the finals, she had close to a full-second lead on the second-place cowgirl. She experienced an unfortunate break and messed up her tie on the goat and fell to 10th. Last year, she won the women’s all-around title for the Grand Canyon Region and finished third in the nation.

“She’s right there,” her coach said. “But she’s never won it. We’re hoping this is her year. She’s working hard. I think she’s more intense this year than she ever has been. She’s definitely putting in the work.”

Smith said all Donnelly did in her three years at Cochise was train, practice and go to class. She competed in four events, had five horses at the campus that she worked with daily, and was a 4.0 student each year.

“To be a national champion, you have to be so dedicated,” Smith said. “I’m seeing that in Maddee, Catherine and Chenoa. It takes a lot of drive and commitment to be a national champion, and Jill had that.”

The men’s rodeo team has just two returners, Dawson Davis and Garrett Hershberger.

Hershberger placed 16th in the team roping last year at the CNFR where Cochise finished 47th out of 50 teams.

Garrett’s brother, Gavin, has joined the team along with Lucas Segovia of Bowie, who team and calf ropes.

After the fair, rodeo Cochise will head to Mesalands Community College in Tucumari, New Mexico, in early October for another rodeo before concluding the fall season later that month at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

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