By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The gold standard so far at the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, is Team Cooper Tires.
Jose Vitor Leme and company ran the table in Division A going a perfect 6-0, and the Division A champions’ final victory in Las Vegas was the latest example that Team Cooper Tires may just be the team to beat come Championship Weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12.
Led by its captain, Team Cooper Tires blew past No. 2 Team Las Vegas (4-2) 259-0 to lock up a first-round bye for Championship Weekend.
“I am certainly very happy with the performance of the whole team these two weeks,” Leme said on Sunday. “All of which were fundamental for us to be able to reach Sioux Falls in the No. 1 position.”
Leme is leading the Built Ford Tough MVP race and has been close to unstoppable inside the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena. The No. 1 rider in the world went 9-for-12 in divisional play and chipped in with an 86-point ride on Rocko to help Cooper Tires earn its sixth straight win. Monkey bucked Leme off in 4.88 seconds in the second half with the game already over.
To Leme’s point, Cooper Tires continues to receive contributions across the board from all of its riders, and went a combined 18-for-36 (50%) in Division A.
Stetson Lawrence set the tone for Cooper Tires Sunday with an 86.25-point ride on Smokin Gun, and Cooper Tires never looked back as Leme would reach the 8-second mark and Keyshawn Whitehorse would clinch the win with 86.75 points on Bring The Heat.
Lawrence (3-for-9), Whitehorse (3-for-5), and Sage Kimzey (3-for-10) have all taken turns being Robin to Leme’s Batman.
Kimzey was rocked by Drago (45.75 points) in 2.37 seconds earlier in the game Sunday, which led to Cooper Tires subbing in Whitehorse. Kimzey has struggled in Division A play with a right arm injury, and he has looked quite rusty after being off for three months.
Despite the inconsistencies at times, Cooper Tires has never trailed in any game so far and has outscored its opponents by 1,105 points.
Cooper Tires General Manager Cody Lambert said heading into the final weekend of Division A play that he expects his team be on top. It is hard not to when you look at the roster Leme has assembled.
“I would be lying if I said I expected anything else,” Lambert told PBR.com last Wednesday. “The talent that is on our team is supposed to be superior. All of them let something slip away, every one of them did, but every one of them is capable of riding everything they get on.”
The Monster Energy Team Challenge features 12 teams, and two Divisions (A & B). The Top 3 teams in each division, based upon win-loss record, qualify for Championship Weekend and a single-elimination tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12 in front of fans.
Also qualifying for the postseason from Division A with Cooper Tires and Las Vegas was No. 3 Team Can-Am, which needed a last-minute, walk-off victory over Union Home Mortgage Sunday to get to the playoffs.
Cooper Tires will face the winner of Can-Am vs. the No. 2 team in the final Division B standings on July 11 in Sioux Falls.
“I believe it is going to be a huge factor,” Whitehorse told Kate Harrison on CBS Sports Network about earning the first-round bye. “That is one round that we can get knocked out of the way and we don’t have to worry about. Save our bodies. Save our mental energy, and look forward to keep sticking the rest of the bulls we get on.”
Cooper Tires averaged three rides per game in Division A competition, but Leme said his team needs to strive for more once the playoffs begin in Sioux Falls.
The bull power and Cooper Tires opponents will be stout, so the margin for error will be much smaller compared to what it is was in Las Vegas.
“The competition will be harder in Sioux Falls because the best teams will be there,” Leme said. “It will be fun to watch.”
Leme is also excited to ride once again in front of a live audience.
Championship Weekend will be held at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in front of a limited amount of fans.
“To come back to ride with the presence of the fans will be really cool. That has been sorely missed,” Leme said. “I’m happy that that things are returning to normal.”
Professional Bull Riders – Team Challenge – Game 17
Las Vegas, NV, 2020
Event Leaders (Round 1-Round 2-Event Aggregate-Event Points)
1. Keyshawn Whitehorse, 0-86.75-86.75
2. Stetson Lawrence, 86.25-0-86.25
3. Jose Vitor Leme, 86-0-86.00
Brady Portenier, 0-0-0.00
Sage Kimzey, 0-0-0.00
Garrett Smith, 0-0-0.00
Stetson Wright, 0-0-0.00
Chase Dougherty, 0-0-0.00
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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