The Mid-Plains Community College rodeo team will have a new assistant coach beginning this summer.
Aukai Kaai, a former bull rider for the team, has been transitioning into the role for the past several months. He will officially take over the assistant title July 1, after the current rodeo season is over, and will work primarily with the team’s roughstock competitors.
“It feels awesome to be able to give back to the program that opened so many doors for me,” Kaai said. “After Mid-Plains, I transferred to a university. Altogether, I did five years of college and got all my school paid for because of rodeo. I’m looking forward to helping others succeed through rodeo as well.”
Up to this point, the team has been led by Garrett Nokes, timed event coach, and Dustin Elliott, roughstock coach. Kaai will take over much of Elliott’s responsibilities as Elliott steps back into more of a volunteer role.
“I’ve come to a point where I have to minimize obligations to free up time for other things,” Elliott said. “My kids are my priority right now, and they just keep getting busier. I’ve also accepted the head wrestling coach position at Hershey Public Schools.”
Although he might not go to every rodeo, Elliott will still be at the MPCC Stampede in the fall and will be available to offer advice and assistance to Kaai if needed.
“I will still go to practices if he wants me to and will help him on the recruiting side,” Elliott said. “The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is also what I’m going to miss the most. That’s building relationships with student athletes – not just the high ability kids, but the ones who want to try, who show up when they’re supposed to and give it their all.”
He thinks Kaai is a good fit for the role of assistant coach.
“Aukai is a little bit closer to the age of the kids that we need to try to get here,” Elliott said. “He’s going to bring some energy to the program and was a good bull rider, himself. He also has an in with securing bulls to practice on and that’s a huge element to the program. I think a young, enthusiastic mentality will be good.”
Nokes is excited about the venture, too.
“I’m sure looking forward to working with Aukai,” Nokes said. “Over the years, he was one of my favorite kids. We kept in contact some after he graduated, and when he moved back to Nebraska, I was hoping he could be involved with the team again. I think this is good timing for everybody and a good opportunity for him. I’m really pumped about Aukai being part of the program.”
Kaai is originally from Waimānalo, Hawaii. The four-time National High School Finals Rodeo qualifier and three-time state champion was recruited by Elliott in 2014. Kaai competed for MPCC from 2014-16 in both the bull riding and team roping events.
While at Mid-Plains, he finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Great Plains Region bull riding standings.
“The quality of coaching and the scholarships I was offered to rodeo were the deciding factors in me coming to MPCC as a student,” Kaai said. “Once I got here, I learned a lot about the business side of rodeo and how to be presentable.”
Kaai went on to rodeo for Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, Colo., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business. As of last year, he also had a pro card. He hopes to continue competing professionally, but for now, that has taken a backseat to buying his own bucking bulls.
“I have a couple right now I’ve been letting the MPCC rodeo team use,” Kaai said. “I’ve basically just been helping the guys learn fundamentals up to this point.”
He is, however, already starting to think about recruits. Kaai has his sights set on a few roughstock riders that he either knows from the past or found through social media.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how far the team can go in terms of winning national titles, but I’m especially looking forward to watching MPCC athletes excel as individuals and further the sport of rodeo,” Kaai said. “I hope they give it everything they’ve got and have fun doing it. That’s all I can ask for. I appreciate Dustin and Garrett for allowing me to step up to this role. I have a big set of shoes to fill.”