By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 19, 2015) — Sterling Smith and Dakota Kirchenschlager are two local cowboys on proverbial bubble, and they’re out working hard trying to get over the top and into the National Finals Rodeo before the bubble bursts.
Said bubble will burst on many cowboys next week, when rodeos ending on Sunday, Sept. 27 conclude the earnings that count toward the 2015 NFR.
That includes the Cowboy Capital of the World Pro Rodeo next Friday through Sunday at Lone Star Arena, by the way, and Kirchenschlager has already had to use final weekend money to reach the NFR once in his career, making it the first time by just $16 in 2012.
Smith, a tie-down roper from Stephenville, and Kirchenschlager, a team-roping heeler from Morgan Mill, are each 16th in the world standings in their respective events. Currently, Smith is just $500.42 out of the top 15, while Kirchenschlager is $3,064.75 out of that spot.
The good news for both is that they stand to make good money each week. Smith has already won the first round and $1,418 at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo in Abilene, roping and tying his calf in 7.9 seconds. He’s also tied for fourth with a time of 9.3 at the 71st Annual Four States Fair & Rodeo in Texarkana. The Texarkana event ends today (Saturday), with the Abilene rodeo concluding Sunday.
Marty Yates of Stephenville is headed to his second NFR as he is ranked third in the world and closing in on $100,000 in PRCA earnings for the year. Also chasing but not in nearly the shape Smith is in are No. 26 Cimarron Boardman of Stephenville and No. 28 Cody Ohl of Hico. A legendary veteran of 20 NFR’s with six world titles, Ohl has been scrambling to make up ground after missing much of 2015 with injuries, climbing all the way to No. 28 in the most recently updated world standings.
Other Stephenville cowboys are also on the brink of qualifying for the NFR, including Stephenville header David Key, who helped his cause a great deal by partnering with Stephenville heeler and NFR-bound Travis Woodard to set the arena record in 4.6 seconds on the grass at historic Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Ore. They won the second round and $4,049, a big push for Key, who is striving to reach his 10th NFR and first since 2009. He still has an outside shot, entering the week 24th in the world. Woodard is sixth in heeling.
If NFR money had stopped last week, eight of the 15 heelers to qualify would be from Erath County or the surrounding area. Safely in the final top 15 are reigning world champ and No. 1 Jade Corkill of Huckabay, No. 3 Travis Graves of Stephenville, No. 4 Patrick Smith of Lipan, No. 5 Kory Koontz of Stephenville, Woodard and No. 7 Paul Eaves of Huckabay. On the inside looking out and trying to hold onto their spots – or move up – are No. 11 Jake Long of Stephenville and No. 13 Kollin VonAhn of Huckabay.
Lying in the weeds needing a big boost is Stephenville heeler Martin Lucero, who is 22nd in the world. Lucero is almost $13,000 behind No. 15 Quinn Kessler, and would also need to hold off all cowboys between them, including Kirchenschlager. Now 47, Lucero has reached the NFR 16 times, including six consecutive trips from 1997-2002 and 2008-2013. He also made it in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995.
Reigning world champ Clay Tryan of Lipan is the only area cowboy who is safely headed to the NFR in heading, but others are on track to join him. Jake Cooper and Luke Brown, both of Stephenville, are 13th and 14th, respectively, but their leads are narrow. Key is the next local header, with Billy Bob Brown out of contention at No. 30.
Four-time world champ Bobby Mote is ranked fourth in the world in bareback riding and can safely make his reservations for a 15th consecutive trip to the NFR. The same can be said for three local saddle bronc riders – No. 3 Isaac Diaz of Lingleville, No. 4 Jacobs Crawley of Stephenville and No. 8 Cort Scheer of Huckabay. Sterling Crawley is No. 25, about $17,000 out of 15th.
There have been several highlights already this week in addition to the record-setting run of Key and Woodard in Pendleton and the first-round win by Smith in Abilene.
Stephenville heeler Jim Ross Cooper and partner Joel Bach won the first round team roping in Pendleton, pocketing $4,049 in 5.3 seconds. Trevor Brazile and Smith were second in 5.8 for $3,521, while Tryan and Corkill were eighth in 6.7, winning $352. Tryan and Corkill are also third in 6.2 in the ongoing second round led by Key and Woodard.
Stephenville tie-down roper Chase Williams is the leader entering the weekend at the St. George Lions Dixie Roundup in St. George, Utah after posting a time of 8.5 seconds. Williams was sixth in the first round at Pendleton, winning $1,218 in 9.3.