Jason Olson, Deseret News
Dixie's Hayden Ballard stays on for a score in the saddle bronc on Thursday in Heber City.

HEBER CITY — Ethan McNiell had what appeared to be a tough draw.

He had to compete in bareback riding Thursday morning and then turn around and climb back on an ornery horse in the evening competition of the Utah High School Rodeo Finals.

But the easy-going teen just shrugged off the pressure and tied for first in the first round and won the second round. In fact, he was the only rider to make it to the whistle in the second round.

"It doesn't matter if it's a day apart or the same day to me," he said with a smile. And as for everyone else before him hitting the dirt without a score, he said he had a simple strategy — enjoy the ride.

"The Mascaro boys told me that Okay Rose was a good horse, and so I decided to put a smile on my face and have fun," he said. "There are a lot of good guys competing, a lot of good riders."

The Grantsville senior has a lot to smile about as after Thursday night's ride. He's tied for first in the overall and has a great shot at making the team heading to Nationals in July to defend Utah's National Championship.

There were other teens who performed with similar success, including Kache Moosman of Carbon. He'd earned the third-highest score in the first round with 76 points, and then he was Thursday night's winner with 68 points on Paleface.

Other competitors got a chance at redemption — like team ropers Chase Black and JD Sessions, who didn't finish in the top four of the first round, but won Thursday night's competition with a time of 7.71 seconds.

Black, the header, said he started participating in rodeo as a freshman and quickly became hooked. In addition to team roping, he competes in steer wrestling and calf roping.

"I try calf roping, but I guess that's not my thing," he said. He had a tough go in the first round of steer wrestling, as well. "I jumped three times and wrecked three times."

That was the rodeo's opening performance Wednesday morning. He won't get a second shot at steer wrestling until Friday night.

"That's a long wait to try again," said Black, who is an accomplished pianist, FFA vice president and honor student.

"But then again, it's kind of nice to watch and know what the cattle will do," he said.

Black, who won state titles in football and wrestling this year at North Summit High, said he's involved in so many activities that he couldn't get to everything without a little help.

"My parents have always been supportive," he said. "They do so much so I can stay involved in everything I want to do."

In other competitions Thursday night, Mackenzie Boren, Uintah Basin, won the breakaway roping with a time of 3.72. Justin Brinkerhoff, Spikers, won the calf roping with a time of 11.97.

Jamie Hadley, Spikers, earned the top time of 7.39 in the goat tying. John Carson, Lehi won the steer wrestling with a time of 5.24.

Dixie's Hayden Ballard, won the saddle bronc riding with 62 points.

The second round of the state finals continues in today's 10 a.m. performance and 7 p.m. competition. The championship round will feature the top 10 finishers in the two qualifying rounds at 5 p.m. at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds.

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