The Vikings went from 15th place after the first two days of the week-long event, to seventh after Tuesday's show and are now in third thanks to a pair of strong showings Wednesday. Valley has collected 400 points, having gotten 585.3 points last year to finish second to Vernon (Texas) at 682.5.
"We're in good shape," noted MVC's Ken Mason, the 2011 NIRA "coach of the year" after guiding his squad to its fourth straight Ozark Region title. "There are 25 teams here that are good enough to be national champions.
"We have to be blessed with the right livestock, and we have to take advantage of it," he said, referring to the element of scoring in which the strength of the rough stock plays a part.
In team roping, freshman heeler Ben Runyon and his partner -- Southern Arkansas header Justin Johnson -- took the lead in the third "go" with a time of 5.9 seconds, the best thus far of the rodeo, the secure a spot in Saturday's championship performance.
Nearly half the field has yet to complete the final preliminary round, but their score of 22.3 points put them in second place with only six more combos capable of catching them. The top 12 entries in each event make the finals.
Also in good shape is senior Will Crain in bull riding. After being thrown his first two gos, Crain scored a 67.0 in his third mount to sit in second place during the half-completed round. He's ninth overall, but there are 14 riders remaining who are still looking to score -- and need only to exceed Crain's lone tally to pass him, not an easy task given the dominance of the bulls.
Senior David Clapp needed a good score in his final preliminary in bareback, but the horse was unresponsive and he was granted a re-ride -- which had to be put off until today since the lone re-ride horse was already claimed. Clapp is in 13th place with 134.5 points and there are 11 contestants who have already completed their three rides -- although with a respectable score Clapp could pass all but two of them.
Meanwhile, junior Tanner Aus remains in front of the third round of bareback, with Clapp and 19 others still to go. Aus leads the meet and can only be caught by one of them, Vernon's J.R. Vezain, who trails by only 25 points heading into the third go.
Sophomore Cody Metsker finished his prelims in steer wrestling Tuesday and is in eighth place, but will have trouble staying in the top 12 with 13 cowboys left who could pass him with a successful third go.
Senior Will Smith is the only Viking -- other than Clapp with his re-ride -- who has a preliminary round remaining, which will be today. The reserve champion saddle bronc rider can't overcome the eight riders who are three for three, having been bucked off Tuesday, and there are seven more who are two for two -- which he can only pass if they're thrown.
Mason said Smith went all-out Tuesday instead of taking a safe approach and scoring points, but "he was in it to win it. That's the way we roll."
Valley certainly has a chance to take the top prize, with only Sam Houston State (Texas) and McNeese State (La.) both within striking distance at 475.0 and 430.0 points, respectively.
"If the Lord blesses us with the right animals, we'll be the national champions," Mason remarked.