Repeat Performance

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The last time Kory Koontz missed the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 1992, George Bush, Sr. was our country's president.

Clay Tryan, meanwhile, hadn't missed the Finals since the first time he qualified in 2001.

For each of these cowboys, not being in Las Vegas in December was the culmination of a season in which nothing ever went quite according to plan-both, however, finished in the top 20.

"Knowing that was the last opportunity to win any big money, I needed to do good there," Koontz said. "At the same time, when I backed in there and roping and stuff, it never crossed my mind."

While their rodeo seasons were a disappointment, they made up for it as well as they could with a big win at the National Finals of Team Roping last fall in Oklahoma City. Tryan and Koontz teamed up last summer and entered the USTRC's finals together. And finally, they found some luck.

"Heelers catching and a good horse are the keys to jackpotting," Tryan said. "It's pretty easy to catch steers by the horns, but if your horse catches up to the steer faster than everybody else and your heelers rope two feet, you're going to have some good success."

The success began in the U.S. Open Preliminary where the team finished second after roping five steers in 35.90 seconds. They won $5,550 each. Guess who won? Clay Tryan and his other partner, Cory Petska. They stopped the clock in 35.47 seconds to win $8,300 each.

Tryan was the defending U.S. Open champion after last year's win with Walt Woodard. Koontz, however, had never won the event.

In the U.S. Open, Tryan and Koontz roped six steers in 42.71 seconds-nearly two seconds faster than their nearest competition, to win $45,300 each. Add another $1,500 each for a third place finish in the first round and Tryan drove out of the OKC $60,650 richer, while Koontz added $52,350 to his bank account.

"After round two we were in the lead and we stayed in the lead the whole time," Tryan said.

"I don't know that I've ever dominated a roping and been that far in the lead like we were in that roping," Koontz added. "We were third after our first steer and we drew good for the most part. We never drew a steer that was an eliminator."

For both men, the win was a reminder that missing the Finals was a fluke and that they're indeed among the world's best, but that they can't take that for granted. After a restful December, you can bet these two will hit the 2009 season with their guns blazing.

In the No. 15 Shoot-Out, a recognizable name set atop the leader board: Tuff Hedeman. Hedeman, who was the 1981 New Mexico State Team Roping Champion, three-time PRCA World Bull Riding Champion and the 1995 PBR World Champion, is now the president of Championship Bull Riding. Hedeman teamed up with one of the bull riders on the CBR, Cole Echols, to win the No. 15 by roping five steers in 39.69 seconds. They won $44,750 each.

In the No. 10 Shoot-Out, all the money to the winners will go to the same household. Husband and wife team, David and Debralee Bloemer, of La Vernia, Texas, won a combined $106,300 by roping four steers in 32.89 seconds. Debralee also was named the Cruel Girl Year End Champion by winning $60,374 during the season.