BILLINGS — When the pressure was at its greatest, when it was time to deliver or go home, Bridger Chambers went back to a different set of skills.
As the Butte steer wrestler sat atop his horse in the box at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon, he was still outside the top 15 in the world standings with just two weeks remaining in the 2019 season.
The PRCA season ends Sept. 30. Only the top 15 qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Dec. 5-14.
It had been an uphill grind for Chambers all summer and now he was tantalizingly close to making return trip to the Thomas and Mack Center.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” he said of the stakes.
Racheting up the pressure was knowing there were not too many rodeos left on his schedule between Pendleton and Sept. 30.
“You’ve kind of got to bet on yourself,” said Chambers. “When you need two free throws to win the game, you’d rather it be you shooting instead of hoping somebody else makes them.”
He put down his first steer in 4.6 seconds to win the first round and $3,985. Swish.
Chambers followed by sharing sixth place in the second round for another $1,126. Swish.
He added another $410 in the final round and was third in the average for $4,418. Chambers earned almost $10,000 at Pendleton and coveted spot in the top 15.
“Pendleton came at the right time,” said the former Montana Western basketball player.
He made sure he stayed in the top 15 with a win at St. George, Utah, for $1,730 and will be making his second straight trip to the NFR.
Chambers is 13th in the PRCA world standings with $79,026 won. Last year, he finished second in the final world standings.
But Chambers didn’t have much time to bask in his accomplishment.
He was driving a load of household goods on Tuesday afternoon from his parents’ home in Missoula to a new place he and his Kristen signed the papers for on Sept. 19 in Butte.
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“No, not really,” Chambers said of getting any rest. “We have to get the house set up.”
He will also be hitting the road again for the All-American Finals in Waco, Texas, and return to Montana in mid-October for the PRCA NILE rodeo in Billings. Both will count in the 2020 standings.
“I just feel real good for my family,” said Chambers. “They make all the sacrifices so I can do this.”
Plenty of company
Chambers will be joined in steer wrestling by Ty Erickson of Helena.
The former Montana State standout leads the world standings with $146,080. It is Erickson’s sixth consecutive NFR.
Also returning are three-time world champion Clay Tryan (header), along with cousin Chase Tryan (heeler) in team roping, Chase Brooks (saddle bronc), Caleb Bennett (bareback) and Lisa Lockhart (barrel racing). Bennett moved from Utah to Corvallis last year.
Newcomer Haven Meged of Miles City qualified in tie-down roping.
It is Clay Tryan’s 17th NFR appearance and 13th consecutive for Lockhart.
Meged becomes the second qualifier with a Montana address to qualify in team roping, joining Bill Parker of Billings (1980). Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Bob Ragsdale of Harlem listed Wilder, Idaho, and Chowchilla, California, as his addresses during his run of 15th straight NFRs.
Meged is also the top rookie for tie-down roping, while Bozeman’s Kal Fuller earned the same honor for team roping headers.
Two Montana cowboys just missed traveling to Las Vegas.
Josh Clark of Belgrade finished 16h in steer wrestling, while Edgar’s Parker Breding was 16th in bull riding.
Clark finished strong, winning at Stephenville, Texas, during the final weekend but still came up $1,675 short.
Breding suffered a season-ending knee injury on July 9 at the Calgary Stampede and had surgery to repair the ACL and PCL of his left knee in early August. The three-time NFR qualifier was third in the world standings when he was injured.