By Jack Nowlin
Being average paid off in a big way for team ropers Brandt O’Connor and Trigger Hargrove at the Junior World Finals on Thursday in Las Vegas.
The Oklahoma cowboys won the Total Team Roping 17 & Under Open average title inside the Wrangler Rodeo Arena with a five-run time of 43.40 seconds. In addition to winning a saddle, buckles, horse blankets, spurs and bits, O’Connor and Hargrove each won $6,000.
Texas competitors Cooper Anderson and Kaitlyn Torres finished second in the average with a five-run time of 66.40. The two teams were the only ones to have five qualified runs throughout the week.
In other words, the competition played out perfectly for O’Connor and Hargrove.
“It’s kind of what we’re known for back home,” said Hargrove, the 15-year-old heeler from Elk City, Oklahoma. “We usually don’t go very fast, we just knock everything down and see where they play us.
“We’re more of an average team than we are for the go-rounds. It works a lot better because the average pays a lot more.”
The pair got off to a slow start, with Hargrove catching only one leg on each of the first two runs.
“I got a leg on the first two and I was pretty bummed about that,” he said. “Then after the third one when they said we were back up there in the average my hopes came back up.”
O’Connor and Hargrove were clean in each of the final three rounds, finishing in the top seven and pulling away from the field.
“The average can always fall apart,” the 17-year-old O’Connor said. “We won the average on two legs and there were really only four kids in the average. You just have to keep knocking your shoes down.”
That was the plan of attack for the Blair, Oklahoma, header coming into the Junior World Finals. Turns out he underestimated what he and Hargrove could accomplish.
“I planned on getting ‘em all down,” O’Connor said, “just to get a little bit of money.”
Hargrove was more optimistic entering the week, admitting his goal “was to win it.”
The two have been roping together for “about four-five years,” including the past two years in the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association. They finished eighth in the first go-round of the National High School Finals Rodeo this past summer.
When asked what makes Hargrove such a good heeler, O’Connor didn’t mince words.
“He’s just figured it out,” he said.
Hargrove offered a little bit more insight into O’Connor’s positives.
“He doesn’t miss and he sets me up to catch every one that he turns,” Hargrove explained. “He makes it pretty easy on me.
“I didn’t know how things were going to pan out, but they sure worked out in our favor.”
Megan Lundy knew she was going to be at the Junior World Finals competing in the Kelly Kaminski Run for Vegas barrel racing event. So the Missouri cowgirl figured as long as she was coming to Vegas to compete in her favorite event, the least she could do was try to qualify in pole bending as well as a favor to her horse, Millie Murada.
“I really don’t like poles,” Lundy said, “but she really likes running poles. I knew two weeks of barrel racing would be hard, so I figured I might as well qualify in the poles, too. It would be something she enjoys so she could have something fun to run instead of just barrels.”
Lundy and Millie Murada both did well in their events Thursday, placing fifth in senior barrel racing and 13th in pole bending. The pair qualified for the finals in both events as they lead the barrels with a two-run time of 27.774 seconds and are eighth in the pole bending average with a two-run time of 45.342 seconds.
“I just went into the day with the mindset of making another run,” Lundy, 16, said after finishing for the day. “It was the same mindset I had the first day.”
It’s a mindset that she believes Millie Murada always had, it just took her some time to embrace.
“She’s always been a good runner,” Lundy said, adding that the two have been working together the past six years. “She’s only a month older than me and we’ve been running together since we were 10 years old. She’s just been waiting on me to ride her hard enough to go to that next level.”
They might have reached it this week.
“Once I got the mindset that I wanted to win a saddle and started running harder, we started getting into the groove of each other,” Lundy said. “Ever since we won that first saddle we’ve been hard-running.”
Morgan Backstrom of Spanish Fork, Utah, sits second in the average in barrels with a 27.785 while Gillette, Wyoming, cowgirl Jordan Morman is third with a 28.120. Morman is also seventh in the average in pole bending. Brianna Sharp of Brentwood, California, is leading the way in the poles with a two-run time of 40.591 secon