A repeat for B.J. could rely on XBulls success

(Jan. 22, 2007) — As the 2007 Dodge Xtreme Bulls Tour, presented by B & W Hitches, kicks off its 10-city stop in Rapid City, S.D., this weekend (Jan. 26-27), hopes for a tour title and world title go hand-in-hand.

While Zeb Lanham won the tour title last year, B.J. Schumacher turned out to be the cowboy to make the most of the opportunities afforded by Xtreme Bulls. In the overall scheme of a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season, Xtreme Bulls played the most pivotal key in Schumacher's climb to a world title — as it did for the previous three world champion bull riders, Matt Austin, Dustin Elliott and Terry Don West.

"By Indianapolis (the final stop on the 2006 tour), everyone had caught me (in the PRCA world standings)," Schumacher said. "So for me to win $26,000 earned there gave me the chance to even get to go to the Wrangler NFR. Xtreme Bulls was a huge part of my season last year."

The rest of the story, of course, is that Schumacher, who won $30,879.07 on the Xtreme Bulls tour in '06 and $142,644.21 at the Wrangler NFR, took advantage of injuries to the top two in the world standings, Austin and Sonny Murphy, turned in a remarkable Wrangler NFR performance and claimed his first world title.

"The more money you win throughout the year, the better chance you have once you get to the NFR," Schumacher said. "Last year, I went into the Finals $50,000 behind and I'd like to be that far ahead this year and the Xtreme's really give you a chance to do that."

Look for Schumacher to take that chance early.

Momentum can be crucial in the sport of bull riding, and Schumacher's still got it. Health, another major factor, is also on his side. His riding-arm elbow gets sore at times, but overall he's confident it won't affect his performance in Rapid City.

After spending the winter in the warmer climes of the southern states, the Wisconsin-native Schumacher is looking forward to a return to the colder temperatures of South Dakota.

Another cowboy excited about the South Dakota stop is Cooper Kanngiesser.

The Zenda, Kan., bull rider rallied late in the season to qualify for his first-ever Wrangler NFR — due in no small part to his success in the Xtreme Bulls arenas — only to have a disappointing NFR and end up 12th in the world standings.

"I'm hoping to do a lot better," Kanngiesser said. "This year I want to finish in the top two or three of the Xtreme Bulls and that will really help for a run at the NFR. The bull ridings were really good last year and I expect them to be even better this year, especially with them moving Rapid City to a Division I. I went to that Division II Xtreme Bulls the past two years and did good at it, so I'm really looking forward to it."

He'll face stiff competition, however, and not only from his fellow competitors.

The No. 1 ranked bull, according to www.probullstats.com, Thomas Taylor's Smokeless Wardance, will make the trip to South Dakota.

The 2005 PRCA Bull of the Year carried Lanham to a 94.5-point mark in Round 2 of the 2006 Wrangler NFR. Statistically, in 89 outs Wardance has bucked off 89 percent of his riders and received an average mark of 23. Several of the cowboys entered in Rapid City have faced the bull previously and any one of them would jump at the chance for a rematch.

Wardance's stable mate, Pandora's Box, will also be out in Rapid City. He's the 10th best bull according to probullstats.com, and has a 93 percent buck-off rate and 22.5 average marking. Steve Woolsey rode the bull at the Birmingham Xtreme Bulls in 2005 for 89.5 and nothing would jump start his 2007 campaign like a successful rematch with the bull after being blanked at the 2006 NFR.

Lee Akin and Vince Stanton, who have been competing in other associations and battling injuries, are entered in the event along with 10 of the PRCA's top 15 cowboys from 2006.

Two names noticeably absent from the contestant list are Austin and Murphy. Both are still recovering from injuries suffered during the '06 Wrangler NFR. Austin hopes to be riding again by the time RodeoHouston opens (late February), but Murphy the near future is bleaker. Murphy, who broke the C-6 vertebra in his neck during the first round of the Wrangler NFR, is planning on taking the entire year off to heal.

In 2007 the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Tour will have a combined purse of $570,000. Money earned on the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Tour counts toward ProRodeo Cowboys World Standings, which determine Wrangler NFR qualifiers.

Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.