Howard cowgirl qualifies for CNFR

After a 12-year drought, a Howard College cowgirl will be representing the school at the College National Finals rodeo.Hawk barrel racer Kaci Smith became the first Howard cowgirl to claim a spot in the CNFR since 1999, when Kim Green brought home the Reserve National Champion award in barrel racing.“Kaci is doing what Kaci does best right now,” said Greg Kernick, Howard College rodeo coach. “She’s done a great job throughout the entire season and has peaked at just the right time.”The pint-sized powerhouse came to Howard College from her hometown of Purvis, Miss. After competing in rodeo events since the age of 3, Smith admitted she had reached a crossroads.“I wasn’t sure if I was going to college or going on to find my way in the pros,” said Smith. “Then I met Coach Kernick and found out about the rodeo team here at Howard and decided to make my way to Texas and try something new.”Being a part of a strong rodeo team has been crucial for Smith. “I love my teammates here at Howard,” said Smith. “Everyone is so supportive of each other whether we’re winning or not, and it makes riding a lot more fun that way.”Smith is no stranger to winning and championships — she won the Mississippi high school barrel racing title in two of her four years in high school and placed third during the other two.Currently, Smith is sitting in second place in the tough Southwest Region. She will finish no less than third place in the standings, which will be enough to book the trip to the CNFR in Casper this June.“Right now, Kaci is guaranteed a spot,” said Kernick. “Her performance this coming weekend will determine her final placing in the region but she’s done enough already to make her way to Casper.”Smith will join the rest of the HC rodeo team this weekend as it competes in the final rodeo of the regular season at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. The rodeo will be a crucial one for several other Hawks on the brink of punching their own tickets to the CNFR as well.For more on the HC Rodeo Team and updated schedule and results, visit