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Sheri (Vinion) Roth's direct experience with horses and cattle from birth to beyond her college days would probably have fit on a spot smaller than the nail on her little finger.

But that changed drastically when she and her husband, Rich, moved back to Montana from Arizona about 6 1/2 years ago to begin taking over the 120,000-acre cattle ranch owned by his parents near Big Sandy, located between Fort Benton and Havre.

"If you would have asked me in high school what I'd be doing, this would have been the last thing I would have said," Roth, who now serves as chief financial officer for the business, said recently.

Now there's no such thing as a typical day for her.

"It depends on the time of the year," Roth explained. "We actually just finished with calving and so things are pretty busy. There's a lot of cattle moves, and I actually have been riding more and helping now that my kids are older and in school."

She also helps with 10 to 12 brandings a year.

"I had no idea," Sheri admitted. "I didn't know what type of cow was what. I didn't have any clue what was going on out here."

So it's been yet another education for her. And Sheri has developed a new appreciation for rainfall, which has been somewhat sparse in that area over the past few years.

"I think you just have to kind of roll with it," Sheri said. "There are times of the year, like just this past couple of months, that it's pretty stressful when you don't see the grass growing and there's no water flowing in the creeks, and you worry about whether or not you should keep the cows or sell some.

"Ranching and farming, when you depend on Mother Nature, is kind of a stressful environment," she added.

Things began looking up more recently when the area got about 2 1/2 inches of rain.

Sheri and Rich met while taking business classes at the University of Montana, where she played volleyball from 1992 to 1995.

They were married on the day Rich graduated in the spring of 1996 and moved to Helena, where he went to work for the Montana Department of Agriculture and she worked for Bath and Bodyworks.

When they moved to Phoenix Rich worked for the Arizona ag department while Sheri worked for a mortgage company.

But they always knew they would be coming back to Montana and the Roth family ranch.

The Roths have two children, eight-year-old Jessica and six-year-old Ryan. Jessica loves to ride horses while Ryan prefers anything with wheels on it. Even though Jessica was born in Arizona, basically all she remembers is ranch life.

"I can let the kids go outside and not worry about anything," Sheri said.

Sheri grew up dreaming of playing Lady Griz basketball for UM. Before she developed a stronger interest in volleyball during her high school years, she even had thoughts of perhaps going to a school in Washington state.

But once volleyball took over, staying at home became more of a natural choice for her.

Then-UM head coach Dick Scott and current Griz coach Jerry Wagner, back then Scott's top assistant, recruited Sheri out of Big Sky High School. Scott was a high school volleyball official at the time and had plenty of opportunities to watch her play.

She also had visited with the head coach at Portland State but decided the UM program was a better fit for her.

"I was always athletic growing up," Sheri pointed out, "and I thought that I had a chance to play (at the college level)."

Sheri also competed in basketball and track at Big Sky but made no effort to continue either at UM.

"I think I was kind of done with track," she laughed. "That's a lot of running."

Sheri went to UM a year after Heidi Williams, another multi-sport standout at Big Sky. The two had grown up together, both attending Target Range elementary school prior to high school.

"We like to joke about we knew each other when Heidi had a mullet," Sheri laughed.

Sheri was a power player that developed her passing skills after she got to UM. She still ranks seventh and 15th for single-season attacks and 18th and 19th for single-season kills for the Grizzlies.

But she really takes pride in the fact that she wound up her college career by being named defensive player of the year for the Grizzlies as a senior.

Sheri also was a three-time academic All-Big Sky Conference selection at Montana, probably not surprising for someone who graduated third in her high school class. But it didn't come as easily at the college level.

"I probably should have done better in college," Sheri said, "but you get to college and start to have a lot more things going on and kind of have more of a good time than buckling down and studying."

Sheri hasn't let her busy ranch life override her athletic tendencies.

"I would go crazy," Sheri said adamantly. "I work out every day. I run. I play volleyball. I play basketball. I mountain bike. I've done a couple of sprint triathlons.

"It's definitely (still) a huge part of my life."

Sheri and Rich are letting their children choose their own path when it comes to activities.

"They kind of pick their own things," Sheri said. "If they decide that they don't want to have anything to do with athletics as they get older, then I'll support them. I won't force them into it."

Sheri admits becoming a rancher has been a huge adjustment.

"We moved from Phoenix with millions of people . . . to a town of 750 people, and I don't even live in town," Sheri said. "I actually live out in the country.

"It was a huge change for me," she added. "I bet it took me probably two years to adjust to the lifestyle. Every day out here is an education.

"I've learned how to pull a calf. I've watch a couple of C-sections. When we have cows that have cancer of the eye I've been down and cut the eye out and stitched them back up," she noted. "I think you learn something all the time. It's definitely an interesting way of life."

Sheri looks back on her days at UM as setting the stage for what she's been through since graduating.

"I think being in athletics and having to juggle athletics and school, sports is pretty much a full-time job when you get to college," she explained. "And I think when you can find the right balance, I think that it helps you later on in life."

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