Agony and ecstasy in ProRodeo

The final week of the ProRodeo season – which some fans may not realize occurs at the end of September – is always a dash to the finish for a handful of cowboys. Some come through in the clutch and realize dreams of Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications, while others falter or have bad luck and are left on the outside of the coveted Top 15 looking in.

That was certainly the case again this season, as close battles in virtually every event went down to the wire. The smallest of margins – as little as $3 – decided cowboys’ and cowgirls’ fates, sending some to a dreamlike 10 days in Las Vegas and others home scratching their heads and thinking about what might have been.

Nowhere was that more apparent this year than in team roping, where heeler Dakota Kirschenschlager nipped 2009 World Champion Heeler Kollin VonAhn by three green $1 bills. Kirschenschlager, of Stephenville, Texas, and his partner, Spencer Mitchell, pocketed $1,164 for winning in Kingman, Ariz., and $2,014 for taking second in San Bernardino, Calif., on the final weekend of the season to pass VonAhn by less money than it takes to buy a gallon of milk.

Dakota Kirchenschlager, fourth from right, is shown here on Rookie Night at last year’s Wrangler NFR, where he was recognized for winning the Resistol Team Roping Heeling Rookie of the Year award. This year, he has added a Wrangler NFR qualification to his resume. (PRCA photo by Kerri Allardyce)

Mitchell entered the weekend in 14th place in the heading standings, but VonAhn’s partner, Nick Sartain, suffered a similar fate. Defending World Champion Turtle Powell and partner Dugan Kelly earned enough for Powell to unseat Sartain from the Top 15 by nearly $4,000.

VonAhn and Sartain, who won the 2009 world title together, only had one rodeo left to count for the world standings on the final weekend and came up empty. For VonAhn, who has two Wrangler NFR qualifications, it was a nightmare scenario that was, perhaps, only tempered by the fact that he has a gold buckle on his belt.

“Whether it was $3 or $300, it’s all the same,” VonAhn told the PRCA Media Department. “For 10 minutes when I found out I missed it by $3, I could not believe it. Then I was over it.

“I could have made it by $1. I’m fine with it. This year’s plan didn’t work. We’ll come up with a new plan and be ready to go next year.”

There was also high drama in steer wrestling, where Bray Armes had a monster final two weeks to pass 2007 World Champion Jason Miller by $55 – $45,852 to $45,797 – and earn his first career Wrangler NFR berth. Armes won in Albuquerque the weekend of Sept. 22-23 to earn $3,430 and knew he had to either win or split the win in Kansas City to overcome Miller’s $2,271 lead and punch his ticket to Las Vegas.

Bray Armes

Miller didn’t cash in Kansas City, but Armes split the victory with Todd Suhn to vault past the world champion. The late dash was a crazy finish for Armes and his fellow bulldoggers.

“It was wild,” he said. “I think I only won first at two or three other rodeos throughout the year, so the odds were stacked against me having to win the last two big rodeos. It was just a great blessing for it to come out the way it did.”

It was a dream come true for the Gruver, Texas, bulldogger, who has been traveling with two-time World Champion Dean Gorsuch this season.

“It was unbelievable,” Armes said. “It’s a goal I’ve had for a long time now, and I’m just so blessed to be able to achieve this goal. I’ll dang sure be nervous the first time I back in there (in Vegas), but it’ll be great.”

Armes made his 3.6-second run in KC on Friday, the first night of the rodeo, and had to wait until Sunday to find out if his time had held up. It was a long weekend, to say the least.

“Oh man,” said Armes, who rode Elden Day’s horse in Kansas City. “I knew second wouldn’t be good enough, and I wasn’t nervous until they called and told me I’d split first. I didn’t know if it’d be enough, but it was just enough.

“I’ve never had a feeling like the one after I threw that steer in Kansas City. It was pretty amazing.”

Tie-down roping produced its share of thrills on the final weekend, as well. Clif Cooper won in San Bernardino, Calif., on the season’s final day to bank $1,818 and finish $298 ahead of Ace Slone. Slone, who was also passed on the final weekend by Bradley Bynum, was looking for his first trip to Las Vegas, while it will be Cooper’s third straight Wrangler NFR appearance.

And that wasn’t all.

Steer roper Cody Scheck finished $111 ahead of Chris Glover to earn his fourth career Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping appearance. He will be one of 15 “trippers” to converge on the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma City Nov. 2-3 when the first gold buckle of the year will be awarded.

In saddle bronc riding, Tyrell Smith’s $52,311 was $813 more than Luke Butterfield’s total and is sending the Cascade, Mont., cowboy to his first Wrangler NFR. The fight for 15th place was also close in barrel racing, where Christy Loflin of Franktow, Colo., edged Fallon Taylor of Whitesboro, Texas, by $920 for the final spot.

If the season’s final weekend is any indication, this year’s Wrangler NFR should be a drama-filled spectacle. Giddy up!

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