On June 12, Soldotna native Colten Jensen got on the back of a bull.
He'd done it hundreds of times before, but never on this stage - the bull-riding portion of the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
He was surrounded by more than 30 other college students each looking for the same thing - a shot at glory.
His only competitor, as he often says, was the bull underneath him.
Although the stage was set, and Jensen ready to do battle, the bull came out on top that night and twice more later on. That left the 21-year-old Montana State University bull rider short of his goal.
"I didn't do very well," he said. "I ended up bucking off down there. It was still a good show, though. I think the guy that won it ended up riding three out of his four bulls and there were a lot of guys that went into the short go only riding one bull. So, they definitely had some pretty good stock down there, that's for sure."
The 2008 Soldotna High School graduate had a hard time placing a finger on just what he could have done better.
"I don't think it was a ‘big stage' thing just because I had been on higher caliber kind of stuff than that with being at the circuit finals and what not," he said. "I think it was that I made some small mistakes that ended up adding up to not being able to capitalize when I should have."
Jensen, an engineering major, wants to become a professional bull rider. He's already started riding amateur circuits in the Northern Rodeo Association and was last year's rookie of the year. Most recently, he started riding in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and went to the Montana circuit finals.
But, for all the success that he had, Jensen had placed the collegiate finals on a pedestal.
"Just because it is such a big stage and there are so many other guys that have done so well in their region ... and so you are competing with the best of the best on the college level," he said. "You know if you do good down there it's pretty rewarding."
Jensen has another year of college eligibility to work at getting back to the finals. Plus, he's got a newfound determination, he said.
"I've definitely still got that championship within shot," he said.
He said he hopes he can keep this year's experiences in his back pocket, drawing upon them next year, if he qualifies.
"Every year of experience for that kind of a thing is just going to benefit you," he said.
Jensen is the first one to admit bull riding is a mostly mental sport. Coming off a loss, he maintains it's important to shake off any negative thoughts as they might hinder his gallop toward becoming a professional.
"Yeah, you know it is disappointing, but it is just one of those things you have to let go of and go on anyways," he said.
"You have to (move on) because if you dwell on it too much, then you get stuck in a rut," he said.
Jensen is still riding well, he maintains.
"I went to a rodeo the weekend before down here in Conrad (Montana) and ended up winning that one, and there was one a few days ago that I ended up getting fourth in," he said. "So, I'm still riding all right, but the college finals didn't go as planned, I guess."
At the finals, Jensen got to meet some of the College National Finals Rodeo's past champions from the 1970s and 1980s. It was a reunion, of sorts, bridging the gap between a rider on the cusp of professionalism and some a little past their prime.
"It was really cool to meet those guys to see where they started and know how much they accomplished afterwards," he said. "It was a good eye-opener to see what can be done by starting at that level."
In early June, Jensen found himself in the reverse role - older, wiser and more experienced than the youths he hosted at a junior bull-riding clinic at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds.
There, he talked to the youths about several aspects of the sport, including working on their form and its various mental aspects. It was a highly satisfying connection for Jensen, he said.
"It kind of felt good to give back how I was hoping to do it," he said. "Pretty satisfying."
He had a message for those kids starting to ride bulls. It's one he has internalized.
"It might sound simple, but what we say is, ‘Just keep going at it," he said.