BILLINGS — Matt Triplett sure did feel good climbing back aboard a bull last weekend in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

The 28-year-old Columbia Falls native was one of 41 bull riders to compete at a Professional Bull Riders Unleash The Beast stop at the Lazy E Arena.

The action-packed touring circuit returned to action April 25-26 for its 11th premier series event of the season after not having an event for 41 days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Triplett tied for 12th, scoring an 86.25-point ride in the second round. He missed recording the required eight seconds in the first and third rounds. Triplett earned $1,750 and 7.50 world standings points. He is now ranked 14th in the world with 180.5 points and has earned $98,597.68 this season.

“It was amazing. Anytime we get back to work it is awesome,” Triplett, who now lives in Canton, South Dakota, told 406mtsports.com. “It is just awesome they went out of their way to put us back to work and we were the first sport going.”

Last year, the Unleash The Beast Tour stopped 27 times, beginning in New York City at Madison Square Garden Jan. 4-6 for the season-opening Buckoff At The Garden major and ending in Las Vegas for the PBR World Finals Nov. 6-10.

This year, the season once again started at the Garden in early January. But like a majority of grass-roots, high school, college and professional sports, the season came to sudden halt because of public health concerns and an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Triplett said he felt safe competing at the Lazy E Arena. The event was closed to spectators because of the virus. Fans were able to follow on CBS Sports Network or RidePass.com.

“They took all the right protocols for that,” he said. “They made it very safe. I was comfortable doing it.”

While he missed the fans in the arena, Triplett said when it comes time to riding he is focused. After all, riders are aiming for prize money and points.

“It is different, but when you climb in that chute it is still game time,” he said. “The fans pump you up, but once you get in the chutes, you zone out and take care of business.”

The PBR stop at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark was one of the events canceled because of the novel coronavirus. Triplett was third at Metra in 2014 and seventh in 2017 and last season.

“That was a huge disappointment. The fan base there is off the roof every year,” he said. “The fans were just as bummed, they looked forward to that year in and year out. It does suck we can’t go to those spots, but in times like this it wasn’t safe to send the riders out.”

A 2010 Columbia Falls High School graduate and a two-time state bull riding champion, Triplett said he appreciates the encouragement he receives from Treasure State fans.

“I’ve got a lot of support there. The fan base is awesome,” he said. “I don’t live there anymore, but I’m still known as a Montana boy. That helps out a lot.

“The fans play a huge role in how we perform. It dang sure helps when you have fans yelling and it gets your motor running a little bit more.”

In Canton, Triplett has a “little piece of land” where he built a "barndominium" and he plans to start raising and training quarter horses. Triplett’s wife, Cierra, competes in barrel racing jackpots.

During the down time when the PBR was not touring, Triplett said he tried to stay in top-level bull riding shape with a combination of exercises and live bull riding.

“A lot of cardio and lifting,” he said. “And barrels. It’s like the NBA player does to get better. They’ll do hundreds of 3-pointers or layups. We’ll spend hundreds of hours to get better and get our craft as perfect as we can.

“I stuck with my routine I do week in and week out, and did my workouts and got on my bucking barrel and continued to train. I knew the ball would get rolling sooner or later.”

Last year at the World Finals, Triplett rallied after a no-score in the first round to finish second. He put together successful rides of 89.25, 86.75, 89.25, 86.5 and 89.25 points to earn a check for $172,166. Triplett finished seventh in the standings with 2,533 points and had earnings of $263,457.

Next up May 9-10 is another closed-to-fans stop in Guthrie. Triplett and his fellow PBR competitors will have another chance at the Lazy E Arena the following weekend — an opportunity to earn more money and points before the summer break begins.

After the break, the trail to the World Finals is scheduled to resume July 20-21 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with the championships Nov. 4-8 at T-Mobile Arena.

“We are back working and back going, it’s awesome,” Triplett said.

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

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