The First round of the 41st Annual Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals, Four Seasons Arena, Montana Expo Park, January 10, 2020 · Great Falls, Montana.

By SCOTT MANSCH

GREAT FALLS — It was a night for husbands and wives – and world champions – Friday as the 41st annual Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals got underway before an energized crowd at Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Arena.

Newly crowned steer wrestling world champ Ty Erickson and hometown hero Jesse Kruse, the 2009 world champion in saddle bronc, produced loud ovations with winning performances.

Also in the winner’s circle were team roper Brady Tryan and his wife, barrel racer Callahan.

The rodeo, which determines year-end champions in the Montana Circuit, continues Saturday night at 7 and concludes Sunday afternoon at 2. Year-end winners and average champions from the Circuit Finals advance to the Ram National Circuit Finals in April in Kissimmee, Fla.

Erickson (3.3 seconds in bulldogging) and Kruse (85.5 points in saddle bronc) were especially impressive as the rich rodeo (total purse about $168,000) kicked off before a near sellout crowd of about 4,000.

Other go-round champions Friday included the duo of Brady Tryan-Sam Levine (5.2 in team roping), Jessy Davis (84 points in bareback), Shay Keller (9.3 in tie-down roping), Callahan Tryan (5.2 in barrel racing) and Preston Louis (84 points in bull riding).

With go-round victories worth about $2,400 and MPRF average winners earning about $3,500, nearly all the races for year-end championships are still undecided.

In the bareback riding, NFR veteran Jessy Davis of Power flashed familiar form.

Oft-injured in recent years, the 38-year-old Davis has been hinting at retirement. But he didn’t appear near the end of his rope this night.

“It’s hard to quit. Rodeo is so addicting. I can’t really compare it to anything else,” Davis said. 

Davis has won three year-end Circuit titles but has missed a few of the January events in recent years, thanks to three surgical procedures on his left shoulder and another on his right. There was a broken ankle in there, too.

“But that’s pretty good for a 20-year rodeo career,” said Davis, a Utah native who has made seven trips to the NFR and qualified six times for the Ram National Circuit Finals. “I feel like I could ride for a few more years yet.” 

Davis made a fine ride aboard a J-Bar-J bucker called “Moonshine.”

“I didn’t know the horse, but I saw a couple of videos on him,” Davis said of his 84-point ride. “I was able to get a game plan in my head and piece it together. That horse was real good.”

Wyatt Maines of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, and Devan Reilly of Sheridan, Wyo., tied for second place with 83-point rides.

Davis smiled when asked about retirement.

“I don’t know what else I would do,” he said. “I’m thankful for the PRCA and the rodeo industry to keep this alive. Plus you can’t beat this rodeo in Great Falls.”

In the team roping, the Tryan-Levine duo picked up what was the first MPRF go-round victory for each.

Tryan is chasing older brother Travis for the year-end heading championship. His quick catch Friday night was the key to victory, with Levine smartly performing the heeling chores.

“I wanted to be aggressive. That’s what I’m best at,” said Tryan, a two-time NFR qualifier. “It doesn’t matter how tough the round is, I need to do what I’ve planned on no matter what.”

Travis Tryan, one of the greatest team ropers in Montana history with 11 trips to the NFR on his sterling resume, and heeling teammate Justin Viles finished second with a 5.6-second run.

“He answered the call tonight,” Brady smiled when asked about his older brother. “We’re within a couple hundred (dollars) now. So it will be interesting.”

The Tryan boys are the sons of Dennis Tryan, who was a roping star in his own right.

“It’s awesome,” said Brady, 30, when asked about his roping heritage. “My dad and our family just got inducted into the Montana Rodeo Hall of Fame in Billings next month and that’s pretty exciting. It’s even more exciting for Dad when we both do good.”

Dennis won seven Montana circuit championships. Another brother, Clay, is a three-time world champion team roper.

“Dad has seven circuit titles and I’d love to just have one,” said Brady, whose horse “Queso,” an 8-year-old palomino gelding, performed efficiently on Friday.

Sam Levine comes from another highly regarded family of Wolf Creek ranchers.

“I couldn’t do anything without my family,” said Levine. “And Brady is an awesome partner. He did such a good job it made my job real easy tonight. I’m super fortunate.”

Levine’s heeling horse is a bay called “Pistol.” He was firing accurately this night.

“We’ve become pretty good buddies,” said Levine of his mount. “We’ve got two more go-rounds to go.”

Levine is a former MPRF all-around winner. He knows what success at this rodeo means.

“When you’re from Montana you sit in the cold all winter and there’s not much going on, and then you get to come to this and there’s so much electricity and people, it’s just great,” said Levine, 33. “To be able to get to do that … the whole thing is just overwhelming.”

In the saddle bronc, few have had such a dominating run as Jesse Kruse, a C.M. Russell High athlete and former University of Montana cowboy. The Great Falls native is seeking his sixth year-end circuit championship, and fourth in the last five years.

On Friday, Kruse was once again riding high to the tune of 85.5 points on J-Bar-J’s “Tipped Off.”

“This crowd always gets behind me and my motor just really gets revved up,” Kruse said with a smile.

Kruse is well on his way to another year-end circuit championship. His performance produced the loudest roar of the night from an appreciative audience.

“That horse was just outstanding,” said Kruse, who has overcome several severe injuries in recent years and at age 33 is still a force on the PRCA bronc riding scene. “He was quite a bit more than I thought I was going to be. Sparky Dreesen (of J-Bar-J) always has amazing horses.”

Kruse said winning a go-round at his hometown rodeo in front of enthusiastic fans is and always will be as good as it gets.

“You can’t beat it,” he grinned.

It was also a satisfying night for Kruse’s wife, Lindsay. Though she didn’t place in the barrel racing, Lindsay clinched a year-end circuit championship.

Meanwhile, Ty Erickson also flashed world championship form as he came out on top in a tremendous bulldogging battle. Erickson’s 3.3-second run edged Augusta’s Ross Mosher (3.6 seconds) and Saco’s Shawn Downing (3.7).

“Oh man, I didn’t have the prettiest run, but I feel like my horse is working great and I’ve got a great hazer (Dirk Tavenner of Rigby, Idaho) on the other side,” said Erickson, a former Helena Capital and Montana State star athlete. “I’m excited for the rest of the weekend.”

Erickson’s fantastic run tied the Four Seasons Arena record, held by former world champion Brad Gleason (1994) and Jerry Small of Ashland (1985).

“Anytime you’re in the same conversation with guys like Brad Gleason, Ivan Teigen and Rod Lyman (the former Great Falls star bulldogger), it’s pretty special,” Erickson said. “Them guys are the best and what all of us who came after them strive to be like.”

Erickson said the warm response he received from the crowd was also special.

“I love representing Montana and to be able to be here, after doing good down there (in Las Vegas) really makes a guy feel good,” he said.

Houston Brown of Miles City finished second with a 79-point ride, while Travis Nelson of Broadus and Keenan Reinhardt of Alberta tied for third with 76-point efforts.

In the barrel racing, Oregon native Callahan (Crossley) Tryan earned her first MPRF go-round victory. This is the second year she’s competed at the Great Falls event.

“I was just happy to keep the barrels up,” she said. “I wasn’t able to do that last year.”

Tryan’s horse is “Brownie,” a 22-year-old speedster.

“This is exciting,” she said.

In the tie-down roping, Saskatchewan cowboy Shay Keller won the go-round with a 9.3-second effort. All-around star Hank Hollenbeck was second (9.7) and new world champion Haven Megan of Miles City was third (10.0).

Hollenbeck’s second-place finish earned about $1,700 and padded his lead in the year-end all-around standings.

Tie-down leader Bryce Bott, who is seeking his first circuit title, did not place.

In the bull riding, standings leader Payton Fitzpatrick also failed to earn a check. In fact, only three bull riders made it to the eight-second whistle and two of them come from the same family.

Preston Louis of Browning won the go-round with a fine 84-point ride aboard Brookman’s “Little Chubby.”

“Shoot, it was a perfect bull,” said Louis. “I couldn’t mess that one up. It was great.”

Louis, 23, is making his third trip to the Circuit Finals. His older brother Dakota placed third on Friday, while Connor Murnion was second with an excellent 80-point ride.

Following his superb winning ride, Preston Louis whirled his cowboy hat in the air and celebrated with applauding fans.

How was he feeling at that moment?

“Top of the world,” said Louis.