LAS VEGAS – Matt Sherwood knows the importance of getting off to a good start at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Sherwood and his partner, Cory Petska of Marana, Ariz., were the fastest team ropers Thursday during the opening night of ProRodeo’s championship event, stopping the clock in 4.1 seconds to win the first go-round and pocket $17,885.
“You did not want to be late,” said Sherwood, a two-time world champion header from Pima, Ariz. “I thought that steer was going to run a little harder than he did. I was fortunate to get out on him.”
Sherwood and Petska scouted the steer that was selected for them during a random draw an hour or so before the go-round, the same scenario that will take place each of the 10 nights of the NFR. Sherwood expected the steer to burst out of the chute more than it did, so he needed a good start. However, had he broken the barrier that gives the steer a head start, the resulting penalty would have been 10 seconds.
That’s virtual disaster in this 10-round marathon where teams try to score times faster than 5 seconds.
“We roped all these steers one time Tuesday morning, and we videoed them,” he said of the cowboys scouted their animal. “He was not what we expected him to be. This is supposed to be the strong pen of steers. He hit the barrier, and I kind of soft-looped him. But it worked.”
This is Sherwood’s third trip to rodeo’s grand finale. In his two previous trips to Las Vegas, the father of seven left the City of Lights with the world champion’s hardware, a Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“I love it,” Sherwood said of Las Vegas. “It’s a long 10 days, so you really have to take it one day at a time. For now, we’ll just take it slow and see what happens.”
But he and Petska had better be fast. That’s how the game is played here, especially in an arena roughly the size of a hockey rink.
“It’s critical here because the building’s so short,” he said. “You put yourself in a situation where it seems like it’s hard to get a time if you’re not aggressive.
“We’ll be aggressive no matter what, because that’s where your highest percentage shot is.”