By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
Houston, Texas— Just 21 months ago, Liz Combs' future was very uncertain. The Washington cowgirl lay in intensive care in a hospital in Reno, Nev. Her great horse Skeeter had spooked while she was saddling up for her run, knocking her into her trailer, splitting her head open and knocking her unconscious.
A two-time College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) Champion, Combs was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that she had fractured her skull, severing an artery, and she underwent surgery to relieve the resulting pressure of the brain bleed. Combs was ranked inside the top 40 of the WPRA at the time of the accident and had finished 20th in 2012.
What a difference a few months can make . . . less than two years removed from a serious accident which could have cost her her life, Combs is on top of the rodeo world following Super Series II in RodeoHouston which ended March 8.
Combs, who married her team roper husband Zach Herrin in October, hit the rodeo trail last year following a length recovery process and earned better than $43,000. Liz Herrin, as she is now known, finished the year ranked 27th, punching her ticket to her third trip to Houston.
All 40 competitors in the WPRA approved Houston rodeo compete in one of five Super Series. Each cowgirl makes three runs and the payout is made for each round as well as the three run average. The top four money winners advance to the Semi-Finals.
Waiting at the end of the rainbow for one lucky competitor is a $50,000 payday for winning the final Shoot-Out round on March 21. Beginning with the Semi-Finals, held March 18-19, all competition is sudden death. The top four from each Semi-Final advance directly to the Championship Round while the remaining six move to the Wild Card Round. Held March 20, the Wild Card gives those 12 competitors one last chance to move to the final night as the two fastest advance.
The final night of rodeo, March 21, is made up of the 10 woman Championships and the four woman Shoot-Out. The four fastest from the Championship advance to the Shoot-Out, held later within the same performance.
Super Series II was a bit of a wild card and Herrin punched her ticket to Semi-Final #1 on March 18 by making three consistently good runs aboard Skeeter, who is registered Bogies Lil Skeeter. She began the set with a second place finish in round one with a 14.60 second run. Her 14.68 in round two was one hole out of the money but she returned with a 14.70 for fourth in round three.
Herrin's three head average time of 43.98 is the best of the rodeo thus far and earned her another $2,500 for first. Her total winnings of $4,200 were the best of Super Series II.
“I've never made it past the first round [in Houston] so I am over the moon," said Herrin, noting that Skeeter is turning 12 in April. “I'm so blessed and so thankful. I can't believe it."
Herrin, whose husband was one of her teammates on the Sam Houston State University rodeo team, will compete in rodeos in Marshall and Austin, Texas, before returning to RodeoHouston for a chance at the huge paycheck and a possible trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
2014 Canadian Champion Steff Mather won the opening round of the Super Series with a 14.48 second run aboard her gelding Buck. Though she would not win any more round money, her 44.40 second three run average was good enough for second, pushing her Super Series earnings to $3,700. She will compete in the Semi-Final #2 on March 19.
The win in round two went to Colorado's Sammi Bessert. After taking a costly barrel penalty in round one aboard Terrible Tommy Twist, Bessert roared back with a 14.42 second effort on Saturday afternoon, March 7 for the win. She added a third place in round three for total earnings of $3,300 and a spot in Semi-Final #1.
Rounding out the top four money winners, and the go round winners, is the WPRA's number one ranked cowgirl Sarah Rose McDonald. Riding Fame Fling N Bling, McDonald also ran into trouble on the opening night. Bling went by the first barrel just a bit and came back so hard and fast that the pair tipped it over, their first misstep in two months of rodeo.
McDonald posted a 14.56 in a super tough round two for third place money and really got going in the final round on Sunday afternoon. She and the gutsy little roan mare made the fastest run of RodeoHouston 2015 so far with a 14.41 second effort. The big win moved McDonald's earnings to $3,300 and ensured her spot in Semi-Final #2.
For the second straight Super Series, all eight cowgirls earned at least one check with the money pretty evenly split.
Super Series III begins on March 9. Among the marquee players is the WPRA's richest cowgirl, the only barrel racer with more than $2 million in career earnings, four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi. Cervi and her mare Stingray are perennial Shoot-Out competitors in Houston. 2012 WPRA World Champ Mary Walker and two-time WPRA World Champ Lindsay Sears are also in the draw.
For more information and complete brackets, visit www.rodeohouston.com. Stay tuned to www.wpra.com for continuing updates.
Super Series II
Steff Mather, 14.48, $2,500
Liz Herrin, 14.60, $1,200
Ann Scott, 14.83, $800
Michele McLeod, 15.23, $500
Sammi Bessert, 14.42, $2,500
Michele McLeod, 14.54, $1,200
Sarah Rose McDonald, 14.56, $800
Ann Scott, 14.59, $500
McDonald, 14.41, $2,500
Shelly Morgan, 14.49, $1,200
Bessert, 14.63, $800
Herrin, 14.70, $500
Herrin, 43.98, $2,500
Mather, 44.40, $1,200
McLeod, 45.74, $800
Christy Loflin, 46.73, $500
Semi-Finals Qualifiers (World Rank) / Horse / Money Won
Liz Herrin (175) / Bogies Lil Skeeter / $4,200
Steff Mather (97) / Siksikas Buck / $3,700
Sammi Bessert (63) / Terrible Tommy Twist / $3,300
Sarah Rose McDonald (1) / Fame Fling N Bling / $3,300
Other Money Winners
Michele McLeod / Kellies Chick / $2,500
Ann Scott / Fallin for Fame / $1,300
Shelley Morgan / Will Merada / $1,200
Christy Loflin / Sheza Blazin Move / $500