Haven Meged salutes

Haven Meged of Miles City salutes the crowd after winning a world title in tie-down roping at the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Meged will defend his title at this year's NFR in Arlington, Texas. 

BILLINGS — Haven Meged made the right choice when he decided to concentrate on rodeo.

When he was in high school, Meged said he played basketball as a freshman and wrestled as a sophomore for the Custer County District High School Cowboys.

“I decided to quit the other sports as I wanted to focus on rodeos,” he said.

Now, several championships later, Meged is seeking another.

Last year in Las Vegas, the Montana cowboy had a magical Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Nearly a year later, and in a season like no other, Meged is focused on putting together another winning run.

This year’s NFR begins Thursday and ends Dec. 12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and the Miles City cowboy and defending Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roping champion enters the grand finale third in the tie-down roping world standings.

And while it’s a different feel for Meged this season than his rookie year of 2019 when he also claimed the average title at the NFR, he’s excited to once again have the chance.

With season earnings of $66,747.95, Meged is sitting $89,920.41 behind tie-down roping world standings leader Shad Mayfield of Clovis, New Mexico. Mayfield, who won The American in Arlington earlier this year, has earned $156,668.36. Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Texas, is second with $67,189.04.

Last year, Meged, 22, earned $126,135 at the NFR. And while the 20-year-old Mayfield, who finished 12th in the world last year, has built an impressive lead, Meged hopes for the best in the world title chase and believes he has what it takes to repeat as the average champion.

“Everything is a possibility, but it will be hard to catch Shad,” Meged told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com in a phone interview Wednesday. “I want to go and rope aggressive every single night. If I don’t come home with a world title, I want to come out with an average title.”

Meged plans on sticking with what worked for him last year in Las Vegas when he placed in five rounds.

“I ain’t going to change anything,” he said. “I’ll go out there and be aggressive and take care of business. It worked last year. I’ll go and take care of business night after night.”

Last year the NFR was held at its traditional home of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. This year, it was announced in early September that the event would be held at the home of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While there will be fans when the NFR is held for the first time in Texas since 1985, capacity will be limited and according to a story on the The Dallas Morning News website, the hope is for 15,000 fans nightly. According to an earlier PRCA press release, tickets were sold in pods of four that meet space requirements for social distancing efforts.

Meged isn’t the only athlete with Montana connections entered to compete during the 10-day stretch that features one round per night.

The others are: Clay Tryan, team roping header, Billings; Richmond Champion, bareback, Stevensville; Chase Tryan, team roping heeler, Helena; Chase Brooks, saddle bronc, Deer Lodge; and Lisa Lockhart, barrel racing, Circle.

Clay Tryan is a three-time world champion and is ranked seventh in team roping headers with $57,629.29 won.

Helena’s Ty Erickson, who won the steer wrestling world title last year, was 19th in the world standings and didn’t qualify for the NFR.

In the lead up to the NFR, “everything we’re doing is different than Vegas,” Meged said.

Competitors were tested for COVID-19 when first arriving in Arlington and there will be random tests throughout the competition.

As a result, the cowboys and cowgirls are being extremely careful and aren’t signing autographs in public or meeting with fans.

Many of the competitors are spending most of their time in their hotel rooms. However, Meged has another option.

Meged won the tie-down roping title at the College National Finals Rodeo in 2019 while competing as a junior for Tarleton State, located in Stephenville, Texas. In October, he bought an 11-acre place, which includes a practice arena, in Stephenville.

With his new home, Meged said he’ll make the 1.5-hour commute between Arlington and Stephenville on many nights of the NFR; and on the nights he doesn’t he’ll stay at the hotel.

“I’ll just do stuff around the house,” he said of how he’ll spend his hours at home. “It’s all you can really do. It’s better than sitting in a hotel all day.”

This year Meged said he has competed in 60 rodeos. Last year he was entered in 100 on his way to earning $246,014. With the virus, many high-paying rodeos were canceled and athletes entered events where they could.

“We drove to a lot of places to get to a little rodeo that paid $1,000,” Meged said. “It was a lot of stupid driving we had to do, but we made it and that’s all that matters.”

Entering the NFR, Meged will have plenty of time to focus on each round of competition. He can earn a nightly check by placing in the top six in each round.

If he does, Meged has the definite possibility to recapture some of that glory from 2019, when he had a 10-day run he described as a “dream come true.”

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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