The 15 & Under Junior Team Roping came to a close for most of the competitors Thursday at the Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI.
Arizona’s Brandon Ben and Texas’s Cowboy Porras won the average with a time of 36.23 seconds on five runs. Arizona’s Clay Cherry and Ketch Kelton were the reserve champions with a 46.20 and New Mexico’s Trent Wood and Hayden Powell finished third with a 52.24.
For world champions Luke Williams and Kayden Little, however, their season didn’t end Thursday. Williams, a 15-year-old from Weatherford, Texas; and Little, a 16-year-old (he turned 16 after the Junior NFR age cutoff date) from Tatum, New Mexico, earned the right to compete in the semifinals of The American in mid-February in Fort Worth, Texas.
The American, which will take place Feb. 25 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is the world’s richest one-day rodeo.
“It’s amazing,” Little said. “I watch The American every year.”
Added Williams: “It’s a lot to take in right now. Hopefully we can qualify (for the finals).”
Williams, a header, earned his spot by winning more than $8,000 on the year while the heeling Little pocketed more than $11,000.
Now the two will get to add to that total – qualifiers who win The American take home a cool $1 million.
First, the two will have to get acquainted in the arena. Even though they roped together a couple of times during the year, both have regular roping partners.
Williams teamed with J.R. Gonzalez to finish fourth in the average at the Junior NFR.
“I probably had one of the best heelers here,” Williams said. “We’ve been roping together since the second qualifier. He’s my main man.”
Little and partner Corbin Rice didn’t finish in the Top Four of the average this week, but the two have been on a roll in New Mexico.
“I started out this year roping in Texas and I wasn’t doing so good,” Little said. “But this year I’m roping in New Mexico and we’re leading the high school standings at the end of the semester.”
Little and Rice will pick back up when the high school season starts again in the spring. Thursday, though, Little’s mind was on this past season that culminated in Vegas with him winning a saddle, a Montana Silversmiths buckle, scholarship money and other awards, along with qualifying for The American.
“This is real exciting,” Little said. “I’ve been excited and a little nervous about this all year. I really wanted to come to Vegas because I get to watch all the pro guys rope (in the National Finals Rodeo) at the end of the year.
“As for The American, I’ll just have to wait for the details and take of that in.”
For both cowboys, as well as all of the other junior team ropers, Thursday marked the end of a long season. For Williams and Little, it was also a productive one.
“I put in a lot of work this year and drove a lot of miles,” Williams said. “I’m just glad I came out on top at the end.”