Like many travelers this time of year, Michael Tash is facing some time crunches at the airport.

Not to get home for the holidays, but to get back to Tarleton State University in time for December commencement exercises.

Tash, a senior about to receive his bachelor’s degree in animal science with concentration in animal production, has qualified for the World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas and finals wind up the night before graduation.

“I’m actually flying back at 2 in the morning to walk and graduate,” he said. “I’ll rope my last steer around 2 or 3 in the afternoon December 14. Then I’ll wait for the airplane that takes me to Dallas, and I’ll walk on December 15.”

His roping partner and fellow Tarleton student Max Ramsey, though, will drive the return trip in the vehicle they’re taking to Nevada.

“We’re driving to Arizona first,” Ramsey said. “We’ll rope in some jackpots there to help fund our trip and we’ll go on to Las Vegas. While he’s flying back, I’ll be driving.”

Tash, a two-year member of the Tarleton rodeo team after a stellar stint at Ranger College, came to Texas from Dinwiddie, Va., where he was a three-time qualifier to the High School National Finals Rodeo in team roping, calf roping and steer wrestling.

As a young rodeo competitor, he sought a way to get to more traditional rodeo country. Tarleton was his preferred landing spot.

“My whole life, I’d never been to Texas,” he said. “I’d heard about Stephenville and Tarleton. If you want to be a roper, this was the place to be. That’s what I wanted.”

Recruited by Ranger College’s Llew Rust, Tash kept his eye on Tarleton.

“Before I committed I asked (Rust) how far it was to Stephenville,” he said. “I got into the NIRA Southwest Region, got noticed by Coach Mark Eakin at Tarleton and came here after two seasons.”

While giving Ranger and Rust credit for getting him to Texas, Tash said Tarleton has helped him realize a path to a professional rodeo career, his ultimate goal.

“As part of the Tarleton rodeo team, I have learned what it takes to become a champion. I know the hard work, the dedication it takes,” he said. “I see my teammates doing what I want to do. You watch those guys; you see their mentality and how hard they practice. You learn a lot from all of them.”

Header Tash and Ramsey, a heeler, earned their spot in the World Series of Team Roping by winning a qualifying event in Hamilton in February, earning almost $19,000 each.

“That really jumpstarted my year,” Tash said. “That cash infusion allowed me to go and be involved in more professional events this year.”

With his eligibility finished at Tarleton, Tash hopes to earn enough in Vegas to allow him a year to practice his craft before becoming a full-time professional roper.

Ramsey’s of a similar mind.

“There’s life changing money at stake,” he said. “Winners at the World Series can make $300,000. To go out there and win with Michael would be awesome.”

Ramsey, a licensed real estate agent from Stephenville, started roping when he was about 10 years old. He was the first in his family to rodeo. In fact, he and his dad began roping at the same time.

He eventually made his way to the Tarleton rodeo team, where he met Tash. The two became friends, as well as roping partners.

“We hang out, hunt together. It’s nice to have that kind of relationship with someone outside the arena,” Ramsey said. “If I’m ever in a bind, I know he’s there to help me. It’s hard to find that kind of people.”

Tash agrees the two have really clicked.

“Max is a great partner,” he said. “We’ve become great friends, too. He’s as serious about this as I am.”

Now working on his MBA, Ramsey graduated with a degree in ag economics in 2016. He has plans if he brings home a fat check from the WSTR.

“I’ll pay off my house and my truck,” he said. “And keep roping.”

Tash admits if he brings home enough, he may even be a little more comfortable on his late-night flight back to Texas.

“We might just upgrade,” he said smiling.

Action starts Saturday, Dec. 9, in Las Vegas, with more than 2,000 team ropers in line for a piece of the record $6 million purse. During the 2012 season, team ropers competed at 125 WSTR qualification events. Ropers from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Italy are expected.

The event runs through Dec. 17, with action from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. A live webcast will run throughout the event at wstroping.com and www.priefert.com.