By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The playoff field for Championship Weekend is almost set for the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, as the final three teams that qualify for the postseason on July 10-12 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be determined this weekend.
Team Ariat is most likely poised to snag one of the final three spots following a perfect 3-0 start to Division B play last weekend unless Cooper Davis and company unexpectedly collapse at the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena.
The Top 3 teams in the Division B standings following Sunday’s competition qualify for Championship Weekend in Sioux Falls, which will take place at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in front of fans.
The top finishers in Division B will join Team Cooper Tires, Team Las Vegas and Team Can-Am in Sioux Falls in two weeks.
Ariat likely has one of the playoff spots, but the other two positions may be a tad bit harder to predict.
Team South Point (2-1, 513.25) and Team Pendleton Whisky (2-1, 589.75) enter weekend play holding the No. 2 and 3 spots in Division B, but Team Lucas Oil (1-2, 425.5) and Team Boot Barn (1-2, 255) and certainly remain in contention with three games left and only one game separating the four teams.
The other variable is that three of those four teams made roster changes this week – Team South Point, Team Pendleton Whisky and Team Boot Barn.
Heading into the Division B regular-season finale, here is how I have the teams ranked, but this weekend feels prime for a series of unexpected twists and turns.
1. Team Ariat (Captain: Cooper Davis)
Division A Standing: 1
Total Aggregate Score: 513.25
Riding Percentage: 33.33
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 2
Team Ariat takes over the top spot in this week’s Division B rankings after its 3-0 start to division play.
Ariat went 6-for-18, which is different than Cooper Tires going 3-0 and 10-for-18 in its first weekend.
However, Ariat could be even better in week two of Division B play.
Behind its captain Cooper Davis, Ariat improved with each victory last weekend – posting total team scores of 86.5 points, 160.75 points and 266 points.
Team Ariat’s last victory is an example of just how good this team is, and how much better it can be.
So far Davis has yet to go a perfect 2-for-2 in a game, but he rode Marquis Metal Works Bill The Butcher 91 points to push Ariat ahead of Pendleton Whisky on Sunday and had its only ride in its opening victory over Team Lucas Oil.
It was 20-year-old young gun Ky Hamilton going 2-for-2 for Team Ariat vs. Pendleton Whisky. One of those rides was a 90-point effort on 2018 PRCA Bull of the Year Spotted Demon.
Davis (3-for-5) and Hamilton (3-for-5) have done all of the heavy lifting so far, but Tyler Bingham has a pair of 7-second buckoffs, and Maverick Potter is going to get a chance to contribute this weekend despite starting the competition 0-for-2.
Potter is drawing into the lineup Friday night for the team’s important game vs. Team South Point. If he can get going too, that will certainly make Ariat that much more dangerous.
2. Team Pendleton Whisky (Captain: Marco Eguchi)
Division A Standing: 3
Total Aggregate Score: 501.25
Riding Percentage: 33.33
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 3
Team Pendleton Whisky still has injury concerns heading into the weekend, but General Manager Justin McBride made a strong move by putting in a waiver claim for Boudreaux Campbell to replace Junio Patrik Souza.
Campbell is the No. 3-ranked rider in the PRCA and was a member of McBride’s victorious Team USA Eagles squad this past February at the 2020 PBR Global Cup USA.
Campbell can now potentially form a dynamic pairing with Lucas Divino, who helped lead Pendleton Whisky to a 2-1 record by going 2-for-6, including a game-winning 85.25-point on Mortimer vs. Team South Point.
Divino will need to be better this weekend, but every team really needs two riders to step up in this team competition, and team captain Marco Eguchi (1-for-4) is struggling with a partially torn left groin, so it may be hard for him to be that person.
Therefore, there will be a need for Divino and Campbell to attempt to carry the load for Team Pendleton Whisky.
Amadeu Campos (2-for-4) is showing tremendous heart for his team, battling through an unstable left shoulder, but he too may not be able to get on six bulls this weekend.
If Eguchi and Campos can step up again and fight through the pain, though, Pendleton Whisky could become one of the more well-rounded units in Las Vegas.
3. Team South Point (Captain: Cody Nance)
Division A Standing: 2
Total Aggregate Score: 589.75
Riding Percentage: 38.9%
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 4
Team South Point leads Division B in aggregate score and total qualified rides, but General Manager Colby Yates once again lost a key contributor to injury.
Ty Wallace (2-for-5) had to drop out of the competition because of a riding elbow injury last week, and Yates is pushing all of his veteran chips into the center of the table by adding 2014 NFR qualifier Aaron Pass to his team.
Team South Point will roll out the oldest average starting lineup (32.66) this week with Shane Proctor (35), Cody Nance (32) and Pass (31).
Proctor was sensational last week for Team South Point, going 3-for-6 and leading South Point to victory by himself (2-for-2) against Team Boot Barn.
It will once again be on Proctor and Nance to carry South Point to the postseason, but South Point likely will need Pass or potentially newcomer Denton Fugate – the No. 9-ranked rider in the PRCA – to step up in a big way.
South Point did not need its depth last week, but that may change this weekend.
Yates had wanted to put a waiver claim in for Campbell, but he was lower on the priority list than Team Pendleton Whisky, and South Point just missed out.
4. Team Lucas Oil (Team Captain: Matt Triplett)
Division A Standing: 4
Total Aggregate Score: 425.5
Riding Percentage: 27.8%
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 1
Team Lucas Oil was the biggest disappointment last weekend as Ryan Dirteater (3-for-5) was the only member of the team’s Big 3 to post more than one qualified ride.
Team Captain Matt Triplett and 2019 Rookie of the Year Dalton Kasel went a combined 2-for-10 for Team Lucas Oil as one of the top teams on paper struggled.
Triplett admitted Sunday he was putting too much pressure on himself, and he was able to bounce back with an 87.25-point ride on Comfortably Numb and help his team to a necessary win over Team Cat.
Kasel, meanwhile, went 1-for-5 and is clearly hobbled by a right groin injury, but he is going to try and tough it out this weekend in Las Vegas.
Triplett and General Manager Jerome Davis did not make any roster changes this week, and the team is going to double down on its belief it can ride its way back into a playoff spot.
Team Lucas Oil has the talent to still make the playoffs, and it has the pedigree to run the table this weekend and certainly be a wild card threat in Sioux Falls.
Don’t count them out just yet.
5. Team Boot Barn (Captain: Daylon Swearingen)
Division A Standing: 5
Total Aggregate Score: 255
Riding Percentage: 16.7%
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 5
Team Boot Barn is hopeful the addition of 2020 Rookie of the Year contender Andrew Alvidrez can spark this team on a run and into a playoff position this weekend.
Alvidrez is in the starting lineup with Daylon Swearingen and Braden Richardson for the team’s important game against No. 4 Team Lucas Oil on Friday night.
The loser of the game is unlikely to qualify for the postseason, so there will be no time for Alvidrez to attempt to get used to the unique setting in Vegas.
Braden Richardson helped Team Boot Barn open the tournament with a win over Team Cat, but he is still only 1-for-6. Meanwhile, both of Daylon Swearingen’s rides came after Team Boot Barn’s games had already been decided.
Team Boot Barn went a combined 1-for-12 in its last two games.
Swearingen made sure to keep working hard this week, and he is currently leading the PRCA rodeo in Crosset, Arkansas, with an 86.5-point score.
Team Boot Barn hopes he can carry that success over into the weekend.
6. Team Cat (Captain: Clayton Sellars)
Division A Standing: 6
Total Aggregate Score: 163
Riding Percentage: 11.11%
Last Week’s Power Rankings: 6
General Manager Paulo Crimber made mass changes this week following his team’s 0-3 start.
Crimber made three roster moves as Cat, which is 2-for-18 in divisional play, attempts to get its first victory. Crimber dropped last week’s emergency replacements Ouncie Mitchell, Kyle Jones and Dakota Louis for No. 22 Alex Cerqueira, No. 27 Joao Henrique Lucas and No. 171 Manoelito de Souza Jr.
They will need to construct quite the comeback story in Las Vegas, and receive some serious help, to reach the postseason. Keep an eye on Cerqueira, who went 3-for-3 at the last UTB event in Guthrie, Oklahoma, riding three-time World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser for 91.25 points.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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