GUTHRIE, Okla. – Joe Gunderson can taste one of ProRodeo’s most prestigious titles.
Now in his seventh trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Gunderson is ready put a defining statement to a pretty stellar rodeo career by adding the coveted national championship.
“It would be awesome to win this thing,” said Gunderson, a bareback rider from Agar, S.D. “I’ve been here seven times, but I haven’t been able to put it together. I left home wanting it, and I just hope to have a good rest of the week.”
He started pretty strong Thursday afternoon during the first performance of this year’s championship, matching moves with Rafter H Rodeo’s Storm Cloud for 84 points to take the first-round lead. He was one of 12 contestants in each discipline to compete in the afternoon showcase and will watch from the sidelines as the remaining dozen bareback riders tries to better that score.
“I was pretty happy to have him,” Gunderson said of Storm Cloud. “That little sucker bucks. He kind of got me a little out of shape (at the start). It was a fight, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“I had to stay aggressive; you either buck yourself off trying or get bucked off not trying.”
Gunderson has been one of the elite bronc busters in the game for a number of years. He qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010 and has been on the verge of making it every year since.
“I blew my knee out in 2011 and was close to making it to the finals,” he said, referring to finishing the regular season among the top 15 in the standings in order to qualify for the NFR.
In 2012, he finished 18th; last year he won eight rodeo titles – including the Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo average championship to earn his qualification to the RNCFR – and finished among the top 30.
“I’d like to ride as long as I can,” said Gunderson, 29. “It’s getting harder and harder to leave home. Increasing the money is great, and it’s great for the sport of rodeo. It lets you live your dream. That’s what everybody wants to do when they’re little, and they’re making it possible.”
Many things are possible for Gunderson. With the lead firmly in place for the first round, he hopes to parlay that into a strong second round and a chance to compete Saturday night for his first national title.
Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo
April 10-12, Guthrie, Okla.
First round leaders
Bareback riding: 1. Joe Gunderson, Agar, S.D., 84 points on Rafter H Rodeo’s Storm Cloud; 2. Morgan Wilde, McCammon, Idaho, 81; 3. Bobby Mote, Culver, Ore., 79; 4. George Gillespie, Placerville, Calif., 77; 6. Kyle Brennecke, Grain Valley, Mo., 75; 6. Evan Jayne, Marseille, France, 72.
Steer wrestling: 1. Will Lummus, Union City, Tenn., 4.1 seconds; 2. (tie) Trevor Knowles, Mount Vernon, Ore., and Nick Guy, Sparta, Wis., 4.2; 4. Bray Armes, Ponder, Texas, 4.7; 5. (tie) Pep Arballo, Wittmann, Ariz., and Sterling Lambert, Fallon, Nev., 4.8.
Tie-down roping: 1. Jesse Clark, Portales, N.M., 8.3 seconds; 2. Shane Erickson, Terrebonne, Ore., 9.0; 3. (tie) Justin Maass, Giddings, Texas, and Tim Pharr, Resaca, Ga., 9.3; 5. Chris Neal, Muldrow, Okla., 9.8; 6. (tie) Caddo Lewallen, Morrison, Okla., and Ryle Smith, Oakdale, Calif., 10.5.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Jeremy Meeks, Belle Fourche, S.D., 82 points on Korkow Rodeo’s Wiggle Worm; 2. Sterling Crawley, Stephenville, Texas, 80; 3. (tie) Jake Wright, Milford, Utah, and Joe Lufkin, Sallisaw, Okla., 79; 5. Ryan Mackenzie, Jordan Valley, Ore., 78; 6. (tie) Casey Maddox, Wichita Falls, Texas, and Curtis Garton, Lake Charles, La., 73.
Team roping: 1. Nick Sartain, Dover, Okla./Reagan Ward, Edmond, Okla., 4.9 seconds; 2. Ty Blasingame, Sugar City, Colo./J.W. Borrego, Weston, Colo., 5.0; 3. Justin Davis, Madisonville, Texas/Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, 5.4; 4. Jade Stoddard, Rexberg, Idaho/Ike Folsom, Dillon, Mont., 5.6; 5. Jeff Johnston, Thedford, Neb./Levi Tyan, Wallace, Neb., 5.7; 6. Jake Stanley, Hermiston, Ore./Justin Davis, Cottonwood, Calif., 6.1.
Barrel racing: 1. Trula Churchill, Valentine, Neb., 17.31 seconds; 2. Kassidy Dennison, Tohatchi, N.M., 17.35; 3. Gretchen Benbenek, Aubrey, Texas, 17.44; 4. Ann Peterson, Avondale, Colo., 17.48; 5. Nicole Yost, Mt. Morris, Pa., 17.50; 6. Nikki Steffes, Vale, S.D., 17.59.
Bull riding: 1. Reid Barker, Comfort, Texas, 85 points on Silver Creek Rodeo’s Rising Sun; 2. (tie) Cody Campbell, Summerville, Ore., Bobby Welsh, Gillette, Wyo., and Mike Adams, West Grove, Pa., 83; 5. Jeff Bertus, Avon, S.D., 82; 6. Tustin Dave, Lumpton, Ariz., 79.