By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Team YETI General Manager Jerome Robinson was at home last Sunday when he thought Derek Kolbaba may have swallowed his tongue during his 87.25-point, game-winning ride aboard Blue Stone.
Blue Stone had tipped Kolbaba into his riding hand immediately leaving the bucking chutes, and Robinson figured that Kolbaba may just be on his way to a sixth consecutive buckoff for Team YETI.
Instead, Kolbaba hung tough and was able to make a move to reposition himself in the center of Blue Stone to push Team YETI past Team Can-Am for a crucial 173-86.5 victory.
“I figured he would ride him, but a second and a half into it, I wasn’t feeling very good about it because I don’t think he was either,” Robinson said with a laugh Thursday morning. “If that was me, I might have swallowed my tongue there.”
Robinson said before Division A started last weekend that he knew he had been randomly assigned a potentially streaky team, but that he also knew just how talented his team can be.
The 1999 Ring of Honor inductee witnessed that rollercoaster last weekend.
Team YETI struggled early on with back-to-back losses, and 16 consecutive buckoffs, before Eli Vastbinder rallied the team with his 85.75-point effort on Red Rocker against Can-Am.
“I know they can ride good, so if they are riding bad, it is just a matter of riding out of their slump,” Robinson said. “If they are as good as I think they are, even if they screw up, it only takes one ride to get you from being in a slump to being on a run.”
YETI was down to its final two outs vs. Can-Am before Vastbinder and Kolbaba found a way to reach 8 seconds and deliver the team a victory.
“That was kind of one of those things where it didn’t really start out great and it would probably have been pretty easy to freaking roll off,” Kolbaba said of his ride aboard Blue Stone. “It is stuff like that I have to do every time. Get gritty when things aren’t going quite right and get back to the middle. That is what we are going to focus on.”
The victory over Can-Am keeps YETI’s playoff aspirations for Championship Weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12 very much alive.
“It was huge,” Kolbaba said shortly arriving at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa Thursday. “Something like that, everybody can piggyback on and gain momentum from. Everybody on the team this weekend is going to have that fire under their ass, and they will be ready to ride because I know I am. I was not happy with how the first two days have gone. It is time to step it up right now if we want to go to Sioux Falls.”
Team YETI heads into its Friday night game against No. 6 Team Wrangler (0-3) in a three-way tie for the third and final playoff spot for Championship Weekend with Team Can-AM and Team Union Home Mortgage.
The Top 3 teams following this weekend in the Division A standings will qualify for the postseason.
YETI and Wrangler face off at 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network and RidePass Friday night. YETI then takes on No. 4 Team Union Home Mortgage (1-2) on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET before a facing a TBD opponent Sunday.
Division B competition begins in Las Vegas at the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena on June 19.
“I definitely think we are going to have to get three big performances, but that is what we came here for,” Kolbaba said. “Show up and win. I am excited.”
Kolbaba and Robinson have known each other for over five years now since the Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider stared riding annually at the Pendleton, Oregon, Touring Pro Division event that Robinson runs every year.
The then-19-year-old won the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event in 2015 for the second non-premier series win of his career, earning himself his first trip to the PBR’s highest level. Kolbaba then finished 19th in his debut in Allentown, Pennsylvania before qualifying for his first PBR World Finals a month later.
“He has always been a cool character to talk to,” Kolbaba said. “He is pretty quiet. He is not going to come up to you and start telling you what the heck you are doing wrong. But if you ask him, he is going to tell you and then some. He loves the sport of bull riding. I think it really means a lot for him to give back to the guys and help us out. I know the first few events I went to on the premier series, he was always critiquing my rides, and anything he could do to help me when I was having some trouble, he was dang sure there and he was giving us a couple ideas of what he think he could help.”
Kolbaba finished runner-up to Jess Lockwood in the 2017 world title race after winning five premier series events that season.
However, Kolbaba has not won a premier series event since, and he has struggled at times with consistency. Even though they haven’t spoken directly about Kolbaba’s struggles, Robinson believes he is talented, and young enough, to return to title contention.
“I know he can,” Robinson said. “I know he can get back. There is no doubt in my mind. It has amazed me that he has struggled. I guess I expect struggles, too. I saw Donnie Gay buck off about five in a row one time, and that was unheard of back then.
“I have known Derek since he literally first came around. I saw how much he has developed and everything. The fact that I like him, it kills me to see him struggle is even worse, but at the same token, I would hate to try and tell him something that really plays with his mind.”
Kolbaba said he wishes at times that he could pinpoint what he is doing wrong, but he is trying to make sure he is mentally confident when he steps into the arena, especially this weekend with Team YETI on the ropes.
“That is the thing,” Kolbaba said. “If I did know, I would have changed it by now, I would hope. I think a lot of it is making up your mind and knowing you are going to stay on no matter what. Even if you get bent out of shape, you have to work your way back to the middle and fight to make the whistle. A guy has to find that each and every time.”
Kolbaba did just that last weekend with his ride on Blue Stone, and he plans on bearing down for Team YETI this weekend.
“A lot of it is getting out of your own way, really,” he concluded. “It is easy to have a lot of doubt, and it is easy to let a lot of little things get in your head. At the end of the day, you have to be twice as mentally strong as you are physically strong. Show up. Have fun. Get the job done.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2020 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.