New head coaches help athletes succeed in sports, life

Danielle Rinaldo and Dean Finnerty were named head coaches of women's basketball and rodeo respectively. There are two new head coaches at LCCC, but neither are new faces or even new to the role of head coach. Both Danielle Rinaldo and Dean Finnerty served as interim head coaches at LCCC, with Danielle leading the women's basketball team during the 2020-2021 season and Dean stepping in for the rodeo team in 2023 before becoming the head coach.

But now, with both taking on the official titles, Danielle and Dean hope to help their athletes succeed not just in the rodeo arena and on the basketball court, but in life. 

Women’s bball coach will lift up athletes on and off the court

Danielle Rinaldo has always been an athlete and competitor.. 

As the new head coach of Laramie County Community College’s women’s basketball team, the stage is set for her to take on the most important competitive challenge of her life up to this point.

In May, LCCC announced Danielle would be taking the reins of the women’s team. It’s a challenge she’s excited to take on, not just to win basketball games. That’s important — of course. 

But as someone who has played competitive sports all her life, including at the college level, Danielle said her ambition with her athletes transcends success on the court. Her goal is to make her athletes successful in basketball, and also outstanding people. 

“I feel like the philosophy I have as a coach is, how you do anything is how you do everything,” Danielle said. “I instill that in the girls in the classroom, on the court and in practice. We try to do the best we can in every aspect, even in the details. Gratitude, grit, growth and grace are central to our program, helping athletes develop resilience and a positive outlook both on and off the court."

Danielle grew up in the small town of Sterling, Colorado, where sports were at the center of the local culture. Influenced by a competitive family environment with two brothers, she participated in various sports from an early age, including city league softball, volleyball and basketball. In junior high and high school, she excelled as a three-sport athlete, engaging in volleyball, basketball and track. 

Through all the athletic avenues she pursued, however, Danielle’s passion for basketball flourished. 

After high school, Danielle’s college basketball career began at Colorado Mesa University first, then she moved to Northeastern Junior College, where she played a pivotal role in helping the team reach the NJCAA national tournament and earned All-Region Academic honors. The basketball journey continued with a return to Colorado Mesa University, contributing to the team’s success in winning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and Region championship, which secured them a spot in the NCAA DII national tournament. 

In addition to the athletic opportunity at Colorado Mesa University, Danielle was drawn by its renowned kinesiology program. 

Despite her success, Danielle experienced what many young people do in sports: she suffered an injury that changed her trajectory. Though her playing career ended because of the labrum injury in her hip, Danielle demonstrated resilience by returning to Colorado Mesa to complete her degree. 

This period of adversity not only tested her physical limits but also shaped her understanding of the psychological and emotional challenges athletes face. That experience, Danielle said, informs how she operates as a coach, focusing on the athletes’ whole college experience and making sure the young people are healthy and prepared to succeed in college, as well as their lives after college.

“That's the thing — you go into college athletics thinking it's going to be this ideal situation, but when it didn't happen for me and other athletes, it made me take a step back,” Danielle said. “Now, as a head coach, I try to help kids and parents navigate the recruiting process as much as I can because there is a lot of unknown. Ultimately, you want your athletes to find the best fit for them."

Danielle holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Health and Fitness Promotion with a minor in Personal Training from Colorado Mesa University. She furthered her education by earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science with a focus on the Social Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity from the University of Northern Colorado. This advanced education has significantly influenced her coaching philosophy, providing her with a comprehensive understanding of both the physical and mental aspects of athletic performance.

With her trajectory changed, Danielle was exploring the health and fitness fields. It wasn't until she moved to Cheyenne and had the opportunity to work with Brian Ortmeier at LCCC that her passion for the game reignited. This experience revealed her natural talent and enjoyment for coaching. Working with student-athletes rekindled her love for the sport and confirmed her ability to contribute significantly as a coach. 

At LCCC, she served as an assistant coach from 2018 to 2021. During her tenure as an assistant coach, the team had its winningest season up to that point in 2018-2019 with a 19-12 record. In the 2020-2021 season, she stepped in as interim head coach, leading the team to a 12-10 record, a third-place finish in the North sub-region, and a second-round appearance in the regional tournament. Her contributions helped shape the program and set the stage for future success.

After her time at LCCC, Danielle joined Dodge City Community College in Kansas as the assistant women's basketball coach. There, she contributed to a remarkable 27-7 season and a first-round win at the NJCAA National Tournament. Her coaching experience at Dodge City further enhanced her skills and understanding of the game, preparing her for her current role.

Leadership roles have always been a part of Danielle’s life, such as serving as a captain on high school teams. The role as a head coach of a women’s basketball is significant for Danielle, who sees her mission as making a winning basketball team while also setting her athletes up for success. 

The growing visibility and popularity of women’s basketball is not lost on Danielle. She finds it inspiring to see more women’s games broadcasted, providing young female athletes with role models and aspirations. However, she is also aware of the challenges that come with increased exposure, such as navigating name-image-likeness opportunities, social media dynamics and the transfer portal. 

The strategy begins with assembling a solid roster, emphasizing long-term success. Once the team is assembled, Danielle plans to instill her program’s values and culture from the outset, creating a cohesive and resilient team ready to embrace the challenges ahead. 

Knowing what she knows about life and sports, Danielle said she will instill in her team the importance of resilience, teaching her athletes to control what they can and to adapt to what they cannot. This mindset applies to all aspects of life, from missing a crucial shot in practice to not landing a desired job. This resilience, she said, is key to handling both minor setbacks and major life changes, on and off the court. 

Whatever brought her to this role, Danielle said she’s prepared to do the best by her athletes, the college and the community. 

"I enjoy coaching; it comes naturally to me,” she said. “I've always loved the game, and I feel like I can bring my experiences as a college athlete, strength and conditioning coach and education in social psychology of sport to the table. I always tell people, I wasn't necessarily looking for coaching, but coaching found me."

Rodeo coach has sights set on new heights

Dean Finnerty loves the life he’s lived. Whether it’s ranching, athletic competition or his extensive know-how of trade skills, Dean loves it, and he finds it’s important to impart that knowledge to young people. 

As the new head rodeo coach for Laramie County Community College, Dean said he will strive to make athletes who can be successful in the rodeo arena, as well as the arena of life. 

"All these kids that we coach every day here, they're all family, and their families are our families,” Dean said. “They expect us to do things right by them, make sure they get through school and become successful."

Dean came to the team as an assistant coach in 2018, and served for the last year as interim coach. But at the beginning of June, LCCC dropped the “interim” portion of the title, officially putting Dean at the helm. 

LCCC’s rodeo team had a standout 2024 season with Dean as interim coach. The team performed well as a unit, including strong individual performances from Rayne Grant and Dixon Tattrie. The women's team consistently finished in the top three and the men's team performed admirably throughout the season. 

The key to the team’s success, Dean said, isn’t complicated; it comes down to the team members’ dedication. Dean’s philosophy as a coach is to develop the student-athletes into well-rounded adults, whose positive attributes outside the rodeo arena translate into athletic achievement. 

“Mainly, I want them to be good people,” he said. “Go to class, treat others the way they want to be treated and work hard. I think that’ll get you a long way in life, including in rodeo.”   

The rodeo coaching philosophy Dean developed is deeply connected to his Western way of life on his family's ranch in Wheatland. Passed down from his grandfather, who bought the ranch in the 1940s, this lifestyle involves daily routines of caring for animals and working outdoors. The ranch focuses on cattle, running about two hundred head, with some hay production for winter. 

Despite modern advancements, Dean's routine of feeding animals and maintaining the ranch remains true to his grandfather's legacy. Modern equipment has made the work more manageable, but the core responsibilities and connection to the land remain unchanged.

“It’s just like rodeo — it's a lifestyle,” Dean said. “It's something you love and something you enjoy doing every day.”

Rodeo has always been a significant part of Dean's life, much like ranching. Influenced by his father's involvement in rodeo and growing up in a ranching environment, Dean and his brother naturally gravitated towards the sport. 

Dean's journey into rodeo began early, around the age of 7 or 8, when he and his brother started roping at brandings. Their involvement quickly evolved as they participated in 4-H rodeos, showing horses and cattle, and eventually competing in rodeo events through high school. By his teens, Dean was fully immersed in rodeo, participating in various events and honing his skills. The excitement of rodeo provided a welcome break from the daily grind of ranch work. 

Steer wrestling, with its combination of speed, skill and precision, has always held a special appeal for Dean. The adrenaline rush of leaping off a galloping horse onto a steer is an exhilarating experience that Dean likens to "jumping out of an airplane." The sport involves a series of rapid, complex actions that must align perfectly for a successful attempt. Getting the lead off right, jumping off the horse correctly, and handling the steer — all within a matter of seconds — requires impeccable timing and coordination. The high stakes and potential for things to go wrong quickly add to the excitement and challenge of the sport.

"I think it's the adrenaline rush more than anything,” Dean said. “I like to compete — I enjoyed playing football, wrestling, running track, everything through junior high and high school. Rodeo adds to that. It's an adrenaline rush going down through there, pretty fast, and having to climb off onto another animal."

After graduating from Wheatland High School in 1984, Dean was recruited by the University of Wyoming for wrestling. Dean then attended Chadron State College, where he wrestled and played as a defensive end for the football team. After two years, he decided to focus solely on rodeo, finishing his degree in secondary industrial education in 1991.

While teaching industrial technology to middle and high school students in Wheatland, Dean was always involved in some capacity with rodeo, including with LCCC’s team. Around six years ago, Dean applied for the head coach position at LCCC, ending up as the assistant coach. Dean excelled in his position before being offered the interim head coach position.

For Dean, now the head rodeo coach at LCCC, imparting the right techniques and skills to young athletes is crucial for their success and well-being. Things are going well for his athletes, in and outside of the rodeo arena, but he has higher goals set.

The team achieved a 3.0 GPA last season, but Dean would like to see that rise to at least 3.2 And members of the rodeo team have seen remarkable success recently, including at College National Finals Rodeo. Again, Dean said he’s confident the Golden Eagles can take the wins of the past another step further. 

“There are little things we need to do to  kickstart that and get up over the hump,” he said. “But these kids are doing great, and I think we're heading in the right direction with them.”

Dean's coaching philosophy extends beyond the rodeo arena. He focuses on developing well-rounded individuals who are successful in all aspects of life. 

"Treat others as you want to be treated, be a good person, and enjoy it,” he said. “Life's too short not to enjoy, so you better find something you enjoy doing.”

The team, Dean said, has the talent and resources to be in the top two within the region and possibly win the national championship. 

"There's no reason we can't be in the top two,” he said. “We've got the talent, the practice facility and the stock. I think there are some things we can do to get there.”

Whatever the outcome, Dean said he’s aware of the magnitude of his role. But he knows his athletes, with a lifetime of knowledge he can pass on and a contagious passion for success in competition.