By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The playoff field for Championship Weekend is official with Team Cooper Tires, Team Las Vegas, Team Can-Am, Team Pendleton Whisky, Team Ariat and Team Boot Barn punching tickets to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the July 10-12 postseason.
All six playoff qualifiers received noteworthy performances from one or two riders during their respective playoff runs in divisional play, and now the focus turns toward which teams can finish the job inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center and win the inaugural Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol.
If divisional play is any example, then it will be up to each teams’ captain to elevate their game in the single-elimination postseason tournament. In fact, five of the six postseason qualifiers’ captains led, or tied, for the most qualified rides on their team: Jose Vitor Leme (Team Cooper Tires), Marco Eguchi (Team Pendleton Whisky), Daylon Swearingen (Team Boot Barn), Stetson Wright (Team Las Vegas) and Cooper Davis (Team Ariat).
The PBR is awarding a Built Ford Tough MVP award following the conclusion of the Monster Energy Team Challenge. The MVP is the rider with the highest total aggregate score throughout the entirety of the METC. If there is a tie for the highest aggregate score, the MVP bonus is split evenly among the contestants who tied, and the title of MVP will be shared.
The MVP receives a $10,000 bonus.
Let’s take a look at where the MVP race stands now that divisional play is over and the playoffs are right around the corner.
1. Jose Vitor Leme (9-for-12, 779.50)
Leme has three of Team Cooper Tires’ winning rides, and he has been a constant pillar of strength for his unit. Leme did not buck off two bulls in a row at all during Division A play.
Two of Leme’s three buckoffs have come with Team Cooper Tires having already clinched a victory, so the consequences of his buckoffs have been slim to none.
Leme kept on rolling along too during Division B play. With Team Cooper Tires on break, the world No. 1 bull rider won the first night of competition at the Slick Rock Challenge Touring Pro Division event.
MVP Moment: In Team Cooper Tires’ closest game in Division A play, Leme bounced back from being head-butted by Armed & Dangerous in only 1.79 seconds to ride Red Rocker for 88.5 points with his team holding a slim three-point lead on Team Wrangler. The score was crucial for Cooper Tires as Roscoe Jarboe’s 88.75-point ride on Sitting Bull would not be enough for Wrangler to snatch the victory on the final attempt of the game. Team Cooper Tires officially edged Wrangler, 173-170.25.
2. Marco Eguchi (5-for-9, 432)
The 2018 World Finals event winner has been arguably the biggest inspiration among competitors at the METC so far.
Eguchi is nowhere near 100% and his partially torn left groin could have been a nail in the coffin for Team Pendleton Whisky. Instead, Eguchi stepped up to lead his team to a Division B championship by going 5-for-9.
The 30-year-old could not get on three bulls in divisional play, but he made sure to make things count when he was able to attempt to ride.
Eguchi has dealt with a number of injuries in 2020 – he sustained a concussion in the practice pen in January, another concussion at the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event in Memphis, Tennessee, in February, and lastly that partially torn groin.
The seven-time PBR World Finals qualifier will happily have some time off before Sioux Falls.
MVP MOMENT: Eguchi went 2-for-2 this past Sunday against Team Ariat in a winner-take-all game for the Division B title.
He got Pendleton Whisky on the scoreboard first Sunday with 86.75 points on Pink Tornado, and he then put them back into the lead with an 86-point ride on Buck Wild to open the second half of the game.
3. Mauricio Moreira (5-for-12, 431.25)
The 2020 contender for PBR Rookie of the Year was the standout rookie in Division A. Moreira posted the most rides for Team Can-Am, and he averaged 86.25 points per ride, which is actually slightly higher than Leme’s average so far in the tournament.
Moreira went 0-for-1 at the Rocksprings, Texas, TPD event this past weekend.
MVP Moment: Moreira had the purest MVP showing of Division A if we were selecting a single individual moment. Can-Am’s playoff aspirations were all on the 20-year-old’s shoulders on its final attempt of the game Sunday vs. Team Union Home Mortgage in a win-and-in game. All Moreira had to do was ride Skitso and his team would be on its way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10 for Championship Weekend. Moreira did just that, riding Skitso for 85.5 points. Moreira went 2-for-2 in the win, and was the only rider from Can-Am to record a score in the high-stakes game.
4. Ky Hamilton (5-for-11, 431)
Hamilton began the METC 0-for-3 before rattling off five consecutive rides, including 90.75 points on 2018 PRCA Bull of the Year Spotted Demon, as Team Ariat asserted themselves as one of the top teams in the competition.
The 20-year-old became the perfect complement to 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis, and Team Ariat finished Division B play 4-1-1.
Hamilton, however, bucked off his final three bulls this past weekend, and possibly broke his jaw when Get Shorty bucked him off in 3.11 seconds. Hamilton still attempted to the ride the next morning, 14 hours later, and went 0-for-2.
Hamilton says he is not going to get X-rays this week, and he is instead hitting the rodeo trail as he tries to improve upon his No. 4 ranking in the PRCA. The Mackay, Australia, native will consider X-rays next week if his jaw does not feel any better.
MVP Moment: Hamilton has three of Ariat’s four winning rides.
Team Ariat began its game against Team Cat 0-for-4, and it was trailing 79.25-0 before Hamilton rode Twinkle Toes for 85.25 points.
Hamilton also went 2-for-2 against Team South Point to help Team Ariat win 258.5-0 and clinch a playoff spot.
5. Cooper Davis (5-for-12, 429.25)
The captain of Team Ariat helped lead an unproven team to a playoff spot with clutch rides and leadership outside of the arena.
For as much of a help is Davis’ five qualified rides, so too was his mentorship to Hamilton. Davis was able to deflect most of the attention on himself early on, while Hamilton adjusted to the setting of the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena.
Davis and Hamilton combined for 10 of Ariat’ 11 qualified rides.
Next up for Davis before Sioux Falls is the Texas Cowboy Reunion Touring Pro Division event this week in Stamford, Texas.
MVP MOMENT: Davis was the only rider to record a qualified ride (86.5 points on Snake Eyes) in Ariat’s Division B opening-win over Team Lucas Oil.
Davis then used a 91-point ride on Marquis Metal Works Bill The Butcher to help team with Hamilton to erase a 173.5-point deficit against Team Pendleton Whisky in Ariat’s victory on June 21.
6. Daylon Swearingen (5-for-12 405)
Team Boot Barn captain Daylon Swearingen rode three of his last six bulls at the METC to help Boot Barn steal the final playoff spot out of Division B.
Boot Barn went 2-0-1 this past weekend to leapfrog Team South Point, and it was Swearingen carrying his team to victory on Championship Sunday in a must-win game.
Swearingen now turns his focus back to the rodeo trail before Sioux Falls.
MVP MOMENT: Swearingen accounted for both of Boot Barn’s qualified rides in a win-and-in game vs. Team South Point on Sunday. He first began the game with 69.75 points on Probably Wrong, and Swearingen then followed that with another 82.25 points on Sniper.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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