By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Championship Weekend of the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, is right around the corner, and the first round of the playoffs begins Friday night at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Fans in attendance, as well as those watching on CBS Sports Network and RidePass, will see two marquee matchups on Friday night with Team Las Vegas (4-2) vs. Team Boot Barn (3-2-1) and Team Ariat (4-1-1) vs. Team Can-Am (3-3) beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Division A champion Team Cooper Tires has a first-round bye, and it will face the winner of the Team Ariat vs. Team Can-Am matchup on Saturday night.
Today, PBR.com looks at Team Cooper Tires and how it won Division A.
Team Cooper Tires
Riding Percentage: 50%
Aggregate Score: 1,535.25
Average Score Per Game: 255.88
Average Ride Score: 85.29
Team Members: Jose Vitor Leme, Sage Kimzey, Stetson Lawrence & Keyshawn Whitehorse.
General Manager: Cody Lambert
REG. SEASON SCOREBOARD
Team Cooper Tires: 336.25, Team Can-Am 87 (W)
Team Cooper Tires: 332, Team YETI: 0 (W)
Team Cooper Tires: 175.75, Team Union Home Mortgage: 88.5 (W)
Team Cooper Tires: 259.25, Team Las Vegas: 84.5 (W)
Team Cooper Tires: 173, Team Wrangler: 170.25 (W)
Team Cooper Tires: 259, Team Las Vegas 0 (W)
Team Captain Jose Vitor Leme stole the show with his 9-for-12 showing in Division A play, but Team Cooper Tires is undefeated because of an overall team effort. Six-time PRCA champion Sage Kimzey (3-for-9), Stetson Lawrence (3-for-10) and Keyshawn Whitehorse (3-for-5) all did their part as Cooper Tires never even trailed once in a game.
Cooper Tires outscored its opponents by 1,105 points and averaged three rides per game in Division A competition.
Team Cooper Tires quickly asserted itself as the team to beat with a 336.25-87 rout of Team Can-Am on the first night of METC competition.
Leme (2-for-2), Kimzey (1-for-2) and Lawrence (1-for-2) combined to go 4-for-6, setting the tone for the competition.
In his first competition since bruising ribs on May 17 in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Leme was flawless. He rode both of his bulls – Squeeze Box (84.25 points) and Livin Lucky (84.75 points) – and looked just like he did throughout the first half of the 2020 Unleash The Beast season.
Just like that, Cooper Tires was off to the races.
MEET THE CAPTAIN
Jose Vitor 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, and he has the most qualified rides at the METC (9).
Leme is 9-for-12 overall, and two of his three buckoffs have come with Team Cooper Tires having already clinched a victory, so the consequences of his buckoffs have been slim to none.
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.
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.
“For me, a team competition is normal because I played soccer before,” Leme said leading into Division A play. “It is a good format. I like this style. Like the Global Cup, this is fun.”
Accolades: 2017 World Finals event winner, 2017 PBR Brazil Champion, 2017 PBR Brazil Finals event winner, two-time PBR Global Cup Champion.
Keyshawn Whitehorse is tied for the second-most rides on the team despite only getting five ride attempts. Some may view the 2018 PBR Rookie of the Year as more of a role player, but he has instead become an impact rider in his limited playing time.
Whitehorse was the only rider from either Cooper Tires or Team Wrangler to record a score in the first half of their game, and his 84.5-point ride on Squeeze Box was pivotal in Cooper Tires’ 173-170.25 victory. Brennon Eldred (81.5 points on Livin Lucky) had pulled Team Wrangler to within 3.25 points of the lead. However, Leme rose to the occasion once again when he bounced back from a 1.79-second buckoff vs. Armed & Dangerous to ride Red Rocker for 88.5 points on Cooper Tires’ final ride of the game.
Leme and Whitehorse were able to create enough separation together that Roscoe Jarboe was unable to earn enough points (91.75 points) when he rode his re-ride option, Sitting Bull, for 88.75 points on Wrangler’s final attempt.
Every team in the postseason has to use its alternate rider one time per game, therefore Whitehorse will be looked upon again to step up.
Whitehorse has used the opportunity to learn from Leme and Kimzey, while also becoming a go-to rider for Cooper Tires.
“Being around some of the best riders in the world, from Sage to Jose to Stetson, you pick up things,” Whitehorse said. “Just from observing and watching. You don’t need to necessarily ask too much. You just look at them and see how they react to certain situations that you want to find yourself in. Those guys get put in situations where they need to ride to win to get a score. Seeing their mentality outside of the arena, and how they act in their normal life, you can generalize it for yourself.
“You learn to pick up things that either make you a better rider or know you are on the right track to become one of the greatest riders.”
Six-time PRCA champion Sage Kimzey is only 3-for-10 at the METC after being out of competition for three months because of left ankle surgery and the COVID-19 outbreak. Kimzey, though, has tried to turn things around by hitting the rodeo trail hard since Division A concluded on June 14 as he tries to work himself back into prime riding shape. Leme carried Team Cooper Tires, and Lawrence and Whitehorse were also clutch, but the team certainly would like to see Kimzey at his best inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center this weekend.
Leme’s nine qualified rides is the same as the team totals for two playoff qualifiers – Team Las Vegas & Team Boot Barn.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2020 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.