Initiation and resurgence aren’t typically found together in sports. By definition, they come at different points in a person’s career. But that’s the beauty of team roping. By roping three steers in 16.9 seconds, Colby Lovell and Kory Koontz brought those compelling story angles together at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo.
First, the header, Colby Lovell. Lovell, 25, spent his formative years heeling. To date, his most significant accomplishment is winning the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association—a south Texas-based circuit—all-around title.
Koontz had been roping on a limited schedule with Speed Williams, so to fill in at some of the rodeos in south Texas, near Lovell’s home, he entered with him. They won both the Nacogdoches (Texas) ProRodeo and the Cowboy Capital of the World Rodeo in Stephenville, Texas.
"It got to the point where it was time to enter the BFI and get ready for the summer run," Koontz said. "We decided it would be a good idea for us to rope together since we had done so good and it was a good way to get it going."
While it marks the first time Koontz has roped with someone who’s never been to the Wrangler NFR, the Texas Panhandle cowboy from Sudan does have a solid track record roping with south Texas headers (Matt Tyler and David Key). Lovell, from Madisonville, just wanted an opportunity.
"I had the chance to rope with him for one weekend and we did real good," he said. "Kory said he’d give me a shot and I said, ‘That’s all I want.’"
His first shot would be in an unfamiliar setting. He had never been to Reno, which—in addition to the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West and unofficial kick-off to the Cowboy Christmas Fourth of July run—is also home to the hugely popular Bob Fiest Invitational Open roping, Perry Di Loreto’s Reno Rodeo Invitational amateur roping and the World’s Greatest Roper competition.
Lovell made the most of his first trip to the Biggest Little City in the World by coming in as the World’s Second-Greatest Roper on Sunday, June 20. He finished four-and-a-half seconds behind winner Russell Cardoza (see page 96). In that event, cowboys must head, heel and rope calves.
The next day at the BFI, the new teammates didn’t get anything done.
On Tuesday, however, the neophyte and the veteran kicked off their summer with a 5.5-second run in slack, tying them for second place in the first round. Later that night at the performance, they turned in a 5.7 to tie for third in that round. The runs put them in first place in the average, and all that was left was to wait until the Saturday night short round.
"Colby is a young guy from Texas and for the past several years he’s heeled," Koontz said of his latest partner. "About a year-and-a-half ago he was having a hard time getting the partner he wanted to do what he wanted to do heeling—even thought he heels great—so he started heading and from the time he started until now he’s grown by leaps and bounds, he’s matured, he’s got a lot of talent. He got this Paint Horse a few weeks ago and he’s made a big difference."
The horse is a big Paint named Buffalo Hunter that Lovell bought from a friend in south Texas named Kevin Vinden. Koontz was riding a horse named LB—or Little Bay.
Their average-leading time held throughout the rest of the second round, and going into the final round they had a 0.4-second lead over Luke Brown and Martin Lucero.
"I’ve been heeling ever since I was four and last year, I don’t know what come over me, but I decided to start heading," Lovell said. "I felt like I was practicing heading all the time for my buddies so I thought I’d try it. It just feels better because I’m in control."
Being the fast team back at Reno could rattle the most seasoned veteran, but Lovell seized on the idea of control to deal with the gravity of the moment.
"When I heeled, I got the opportunity to heel for David Key and some really good headers, and it got me ready for an opportunity like this," Lovell said. "Some people get intimidated by roping with guys like Kory Koontz, who have been there and done that, but it just relaxes me."
Before his chance to prove it came, he and Koontz had to watch the rest of the field do their best to apply some pressure.
"It relaxes me a little bit," he said. "I get to watch everybody go and then I just tell myself not to do anything dumb and just use my head."
Charly Crawford and Russell Cardoza were the first to bring it, roping their steer in 6.0 seconds and moving their time to 18.3 on three. Next, world record holders Chad Masters and Jade Corkill matched that time, bringing their total to 18.0. Justin Davis and Cole Davison went 6.6. Then Luke Brown and Martin Lucero stopped the clock in 6.5, bringing their total time to 18.1.
As an aside, the team roping action in the short round at Reno, was exceptional. Many team roping short rounds fall apart, but with everyone catching and upping the ante team after team, the dramatic build-up fans love was there. With only Lovell and Koontz left, the prevailing sentiment was the title would go to Masters and Corkill. Lovell was an unknown and Koontz had been out of the mix long enough that the crowd was pulling for a local (Corkill is from Fallon, Nev.).
So while the buzz in the air was already crowning Masters and Corkill, Lovell was focused on what he needed to do.
"I knew that if I got out and did my job tonight, I was going to have me a new set of spurs," he said.
Their steer was supposed to be strong. In the first round, they were 6.3 seconds on him and Speed Williams missed him in the second round. Lovell and Koontz needed a 6.8 to tie and a 6.7 to win.
Expecting the steer to run harder, Lovell got a better start than he planned on and roped him fast. Koontz—also expecting to have to ride high and swing in for a fast shot changed his game plan when the steer slowed up a bit. Instead, he took an extra swing or two over the steer’s back and made sure he was in his sights before pulling the trigger. Afterward, he expressed gratitude that he was able to take a high-percentage shot because the steer handled more heavily than anticipated.
They stopped the clock in 5.7 seconds, winning not only the average by 1.1-seconds, but the fast time of the short go and an initiation for Lovell into an exclusive club of Reno Rodeo champs.
"He did a great job here, got a good start, stuck it on them and made three good runs," Koontz said of his partner.
"Having a heeler behind you like Kory, all you have to know is you’ve got to turn one for him," Lovell gushed.
The win—worth $14,786 each—was actually the highest amount won by any Reno Rodeo champion. That’s highly unusual because of the parity in team roping. Most average winners don’t place high in the long rounds, but rope consistent enough to come out on top in the end. It was as dominating a performance that rodeo fans can expect to witness in the team roping at a three-head rodeo.
For fans of Koontz, the win was a reminder that he’s not washed up and despite barely missing the NFR the past two years, he’s still one of the best in the game. For Koontz, the win might have helped get a monkey off his back and give him the momentum for resurgence.
"The last two years I’ve missed making the Finals and I’ve rodeoed the same as always," he said. Koontz qualified for 14 consecutive Wrangler NFRs before falling short in 2008. "I’ve had some things not go just right, but I’ve been out there battling. This year is a good feeling because I haven’t had a win like this in a while."
He does, however, know the feeling of winning the Reno Rodeo spurs. He’s got two other pair, his first in 1996 with Matt Tyler and the others heeling for Daniel Green in 2002. He also knows what a win in Reno can do for a cowboy’s season. In fact, the win moved Koontz 18 spots to sixth in the world standings and Lovell 13 spots to fifth.
"This is going to punch us right back up where we want to be and give us a good chance to make a run and win a championship this year," he said.
Saddle Bronc Riding
If the PRCA had an award for nice guys, Bradley Harter would be in the running every year. And he’s happy. After every comment he makes, he lets out a loud cackle that’s as contagious as it is startling.
But winning the Reno Rodeo spurs had him in rare air. Not only was he smiling and laughing, he was teasing the media, back slapping the committee and yukking it up with the pick up men and bullfighters. But he had earned it after riding three horses for 249 points and winning $8,756.
He came to the short round with a four-point lead, but he hadn’t drawn the best horse in the pen.
"Coming back to the short round, you always want to have the world champion horse, and you really hate to see the guys right under you have him," Harter said of Flying Five’s great horse Spring Planting—who Jesse Wright had drawn.
Harter’s fears were justified when Wright reeled off an 89 on the horse. But for him, it didn’t matter, he had Big Bend Rodeo’s Bordello Blues to worry about. He rode the horse, who only kicked about every other jump.
"There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than when you know you could have rode better and you get off and you’re waiting for them to call your score," he said.
The judges marked him a 79, combined with an 83 and 87 from the long go-rounds it was good enough to beat Rusty Allen by two points.
"When you win Reno, you want to win every round," he said. "But really, my scores on the first two horses are what saved me. I need to have a great summer if I want to be a world champion.
Barrel racer Timi Lickley primarily rodeos in her home state of Idaho, but every summer she ventures out to a few other rodeos to see new places. This year, Reno was on the list again so she and her horse Rock loaded up for the trip.
As it turned out, she ran 51.64 seconds on three to win $7,787 and the average title—beating the likes of Sherry Cervi, Lindsay Sears and Brittany Pozzi in the short go.Corey Maier rode two bulls—including an 86-point short round trip aboard Flying U’s Domino Theory—for a total of 158 points and $9,118 to win the average in his signature event.
Josh Peek, who made the short round in both the steer wrestling and tie-down roping, won the all-around title in Reno for the second time. The first win came in 2008, this year he earned $6,319.