The University of Wyoming meats judging team placed within the top five of all contests but two this season despite setbacks from COVID-19.
The honors included winning the American Royal contest, held virtually this year.
Members include Grace Corrette of Brighton, Colo., Hunter Valasek of Savannah, Mo., Abby Vogl of Elizabeth, Colo., and Sam Wolf of Biggsville, Ill.
Practices this past spring looked a lot different than their traditional practices, said coach Sierra Jepsen, an assistant lecturer in the Department of Animal Science. Instead of meeting at the meat lab at 5 a.m. during the weekday and the traditional six-hour long Saturday practice, the team met via Zoom for virtual practices.
Jepsen shared the team missed some of the traditional team building components, like traveling together in the van to get to contests, team dinners and other team building activities, but the team was still grateful to have some normalcy and consistency meat judging provided.
“It was something normal for them to base their semester around,” said Jepsen. “When the rest of the semester was turned on its head, our practices, our team unit and competing was all very consistent for them. They knew what they were getting, they knew what to expect and it gave them something positive for a semester that was very non-traditional and challenging.”
The team attended four contests in person during the spring, including the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, Iowa State Invitational in Ames and Houston Stock Show in Texas. They finished the season with three virtual contests during the fall, including the virtual South Plains, virtual American Royal and virtual High Plains contest.
“This has been one of the most resilient meat judging teams we’ve had in recent history,” said Jepsen. “They were extremely competitive in the spring, and then they had to continue on with that success in an untraditional way.”
At National Western Stock Show they placed seventh overall, fifth in pork judging, sixth in reasons and sixth in specifications. Valasek was 12th overall, 12th overall beef, 13th total placing, 13th beef judging, 14th beef grading and 15th reasons. Corrette was first in pork judging, ninth reasons and tenth specifications.
At the Southwestern, the team placed fifth overall, fifth beef grading, fifth pork judging, fifth beef judging, fifth reasons and fifth total beef. Corrette was seventh overall, third pork judging, seventh reasons, ninth lamb judging, tenth specifications and 11th placings. Vogl was 13th pork judging.
Overall, the team placed fifth, first in processed meats, first in placings, second in pork judging and fourth in reasons at Iowa State Invitational, with Vogl taking first in pork judging, third in total placings and fourth in processed meats.
The rounded out the spring semester with Houston Shock Show at which the team placed fourth in pork judging and fifth in beef grading and Corrette was fourth overall, third total placings, fifth pork judging, seventh beef grading, eighth total beef and 15th specifications.
They team improved greatly despite the challenges of going virtual, shared Jepsen.
At the virtual South Plains, the team was third overall and first in placings. Valasek was fourth overall, first in placings with a perfect score, sixth in reasons, highest quality grade score and highest set written in the whole contest for beef carcass. Vogl was fifth overall, first in specifications and fourth in reasons. Corrette was third reasons, fourth specifications, and highest set written in the contest for pork loins.
During the virtual American Royal, the team placed first overall, first beef grading, first reasons and first specifications. Corrette was high individual, first reasons, first specifications, fifth placings and highest set written in beef carcass, beef ribs and pork loins. Valasek was second overall, first placings, third beef grading, third reasons and third specifications. Vogl was ninth overall, second specifications and fourth reasons.
“This was the first time, as a coach, that I had a team win a contest,” said Jepsen.
At the final contest of the season, virtual High Plains, the team finished second overall, second specifications, second reasons and third beef grading. Corrette was high individual, first specifications, second reasons, seventh beef grading and made the All-American Team. Valasek was third overall, first placings, second specification, third reasons, highest set written for beef carcass and hams. Wolf finished fifth in beef grading, and Vogl received the Rachel Hamilton Spirit Award.
“I was wildly impressed with their work ethic and their continuous desire to keep improving,” said Jepsen.
There was a lot of unity among team members and great team moral, she said.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve had the pleasure of coaching,” said Jepsen. “They were always positive, always having fun, always willing to work hard.”