Sophia Deluca

Somebody had to be first. Unfortunately for Sophia Deluca, she drew the short straw at the Junior World Finals on Thursday morning at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena.

Competing in her first Junior World Finals, the Sykesville, Maryland, cowgirl was the first competitor in the first event – the 10-11 division of bull riding. Deluca covered her bull for the first couple of jumps before it made a sharp turn to the right and sent her to the dirt.

Sophia Deluca of Sykesville, Maryland stands with her dad, Tony Deluca, after her bull ride at the Junior World Finals on Thursday morning. | Photo By: Jack Nowlin

“She was already a bundle of nerves,” Tony Deluca, Sophia’s dad, said. “That girl’s got too much anxiety in the morning just getting on the school bus on time. So putting her on a bull is five times worse, and being first out of the chute is the worst thing in the world for her. The one thing she said before we came out here was, ‘I don’t care what happens as long as they don’t make me go first.’”

Sophia agreed with her dad’s assessment. “I was all-the-way nervous,” she admitted.

Still, for someone who only started riding bulls a year ago, Deluca has proven to be a quick study. Her family owns a small farm in the north-central part of the state – Tony calls it a “hobby farm” – but they drive a couple of hours to New Jersey so Sophia can practice. Their usual practice arena is at the home of Michael Caruso’s family. Caruso won the 16-18 bull riding division at last year’s Junior World Finals.

“A friend of ours does it and I’d seen it on TV,” Sophia said of her initial interest in the sport. “And adrenaline is what keeps me going, so I decided I was just going to try it. And I loved it.”

She had no problem convincing her dad to let her pursue her latest adventure. Convincing her mom, though, proved to be a little more difficult. 

“We have a friend who is a little bit older and he was having a blast (riding bulls),” Tony said. “We went and saw him ride and she just had to do it. It took a while to beat her mama down, but she finally wore her down. Mom had it in her mind that she would try it and it would scare her to death and she wouldn’t want to do it again. But that’s just not how it went.

“Sophia tried it, she loved it, and now that’s her favorite thing. She plays other sports, and she does a lot of ATV and dirt bike riding, but this is definitely her favorite.”

Sophia competed in the Northeast Region of Leal’s Junior Bull Riding. At first, the 12-year-old seventh grader thought she was simply riding for fun, and the adrenaline rush. She had no idea where her newfound love might lead her.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know what I was qualifying for the first few months,” she said. “At the (regional awards) ceremony, I was like, ‘Wait. What are we doing?’ And then when I found out I was all day, every day … ‘When is Vegas? I can’t wait for Vegas.”

Tony laughed when recalling Sophia’s initial thoughts of qualifying for the Junior World Finals.

“She didn’t even know what Vegas was until we got here,” he said. “It was an eye-opener for her. She just like riding bulls. She’s not trying to be a world champion. She’s not trying to be the first girl to do anything, she just likes riding bulls.”

Although a number of Junior World Finals contestants have dreams of one day competing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Sophia is setting her sights a little lower.

“I don’t want to go pro because I don’t want to do that to my body,” she said with a smile. “As soon as I hit that mark where I know what I’m doing and I’m comfortable with the sport, I’m probably going to stop there. I’ve got a long way to go, though.”

She took another step in her development Thursday, even if the result wasn’t what she wanted. Sophia has her second ride Saturday morning, which she was already thinking about just minutes after her ride Thursday morning.

“My nerves will settle down and I’ll be like, ‘Whoa!’” she said. “I’ll re-watch my ride over and over again until my next one and then we’ll see what happens.

“That (ride) gives me a lot more confidence. Going first probably still wouldn’t be the best, but I feel like I’m way more ready. That was my practice bull and now I’m ready.”

Tony is confident that Sophia will be up to the challenge.

“That was a nice bucking bull for these youngsters,” he said of her first bull. “She would have got a helluva score if she would have covered that bull. I think she did really well and if she rides like that on Saturday I think she’ll probably get a score.”

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