By: James Youness
PUEBLO, Colo. – All things considered, the Oklahoma Freedom had one of the quieter offseasons when it comes to top-tier signings, trades and transactions.
That is until they got the green light Tuesday morning to send two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood to the defending champion Nashville Stampede. Welcoming Brazilian sensation Thiago Salgado while also acquiring the Stampede’s first-round selection in the 2024 PBR Teams Draft and future considerations.
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“It was an honor to have Jess Lockwood on the Oklahoma Freedom team last year,” Oklahoma Freedom Head Coach Cord McCoy said.
“We felt like we struck gold with him. Right now, we are planning the future and feel like Thiago has the youth and the ability. You look at his stats, and the guy has done it all.”
While Lockwood didn’t actually log any outs with the Freedom, plagued with injury throughout the summer-turned-fall circuit, Salgado managed an 8-for-25 (32%) record with the Stampede.
Exiting the 2023 PBR Teams Draft in Fort Worth, Texas, with a variety of prospective riders, including the likes of Brady Turgeon, Elizmar Jeremias, Jacob O’Mara, Roscoe Jarboe, Alex Cerqueira and Coy Pollmeier, brother to Freedom teammate Tate Pollmeier, the organization made the most (six) selections of the eight teams inside the Cowboy Channel Studios.
Turgeon, the team’s first-round selection, made strides on Unleash The Beast throughout the first half of the year, as the skilled 19-year-old racked up three Top 10 finishes in six premier series appearances this past spring before clinching a berth to his first-ever PBR World Finals: Unleash The Beast.
Add in a first-place showcase March 25 at the Oakland Classic, a stop on the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour, and a qualified ride on the world’s biggest bull riding stage, and suddenly the Freedom had their guy.
“I think that’s what they’re looking for: Guys that try their heart out and are going to improve throughout this series and throughout their career. I can only get better from here, so it’ll be awesome to see what’s going on,” Turgeon shared moments after being selected in the draft.
Nicknamed “Red” a few years back, Turgeon understands the expectations of being selected in the first round of the league’s draft, but won’t look to overcomplicate things when his squad gets things started Monday evening in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during the season-opening event at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“I’ve got to just keep doing what I’m doing. Keeping it simple and riding bulls like I know how to, believing, and I think it will take its course. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to be here and I’m going to just keep it simple.”
Ranked No. 40 coming out of Dickies Arena, despite competing in just seven total events, he joins his fellow Freedom teammates who ranked inside the UTB’s Top 40, including: Tate Pollmeier (No. 16), Thiago Salgado (No. 24), Derek Kolbaba (No. 27) and Eli Vastbinder (No. 30).
While Vastbinder and Chase Outlaw (No. 47) finished with the second (12) and third (9) most qualified rides last season, respectively, it was Tate Pollmeier who paced the pack with his No. 16 ranking. Earning seven Top 10 finishes during the 2023 UTB season, the 19-year-old, Fort Scott, Kansas, native rounded into form as the campaign raged on.
Matching Turgeon by notching his first career qualified ride at World Finals, he may be just the talent Oklahoma needs as it looks to improve on its fourth-place exit at last year’s PBR Teams Championship in Las Vegas.
Unafraid to shake things up in searching for quality depth talent, Oklahoma will look to the new wave of talent to provide a spark, while remaining invested in its returning veterans.
“We’re excited to recreate the group that we had. We had several young guys that we felt like we had a big influence on developing,” McCoy shared during the red carpet debut of The Ride, now streaming on Amazon Prime.
“Then you’ve got (Derek) Kolbaba, Eli (Vastbinder) and (Chase) Outlaw, the veterans. You get those guys back in the same locker room and rooting for each other … watch out.”
Returning Freedom Riders: Eli Vastbinder, Chase Outlaw, Derek Kolbaba, Tate Pollmeier, Briggs Madsen, Casey Roberts (Injured Reserve)
New Freedom Riders: Brady Turgeon, Thiago Salgado, Alex Cerqueira, Coy Pollmeier, Roscoe Jarboe, Elizmar Jeremias, Jacob O’Mara
Coming off a bit of a disappointing premier series effort, ending the season ranked No. 60, Briggs Madsen has had plenty to prove this summer.
Making the most of the mid-summer session, Madsen has been excelling at Challenger Series events, most recently splitting an event title in Shipshewana, Indiana with Brady Fielder of the Texas Rattlers.
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With Casey Roberts representing the final member of the team, though currently designated to the team’s Injured Reserve alongside a banged-up Outlaw, the Freedom have a roster full of heavy-hitters to balance out some of the newcomers.
In 2022, during the league’s inaugural season, the Freedom made history, becoming the first team to exit their homestand victoriously, going a perfect 3-0 in inside Paycom Center courtesy of the heroics of one Derek Kolbaba.
After ending the regular season with a 16-12 record, there’s plenty for the Freedom to both build on and look forward to as the 5-on-5 series prepares to resume Monday, July 24.
“I think we’re all really pumped about season two,” McCoy shared.
“I think we got just enough taste of defeat and winning to know which one we like, so we’re all ready to go again.”
Oklahoma’s three-day homestand, Freedom Fest, is set to welcome bull riding fans to Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, September 8-10, which will serve as the sixth showdown of the 10-event regular season and fourth team homestand of this year’s lineup.
The Freedom’s schedule during its second-ever homestand begins with a Friday night matchup against the Carolina Cowboys and continues on Saturday as Oklahoma is set to square off with the Texas Rattlers. The Freedom will look to close out its homestand in revenge fashion during a matchup against the Arizona Ridge Riders after seeing the squad eliminate them during the semifinals at the 2022 PBR Teams Championship.
Getting things started for the season at PBR Teams: Cheyenne Frontier Days Monday night, Oklahoma will faceoff with the Texas Rattlers on Monday, July 24 before duking it out with the Arizona Ridge Riders on Tuesday, July 25.
Photo courtesy of Todd Brewer/Bull Stock Media
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