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North Marion freshman finished fifth nationally in the Junior World Finals pole bending competitions held in Las Vegas

COURTESY OF TAMI JOHNSON - Payton JohnsonNorth Marion High School freshman Payton Johnson notched her name at a national level, placing fifth in the 17-and-under pole bending category at the Junior World Finals held in Las Vegas Dec. 9-14.COURTESY OF TAMI JOHNSON - Payton Johnson

Johnson's three successive rides clocked 21.628, 21.522 and 20.475 for a 63.971 final. The first two qualified Johnson for the finale.

"The first two rounds are where everybody gets to go," Johnson said of the field of roughly 40 riders. "Then the top 10 in the average get to go in the short round."

Johnson stood at No. 6 going into the short round before improving with her final ride.

Cassidy Evans of Yuma, Colo., took the top spot at 60.383 (20.655, 19.775 and 19.953).

Johnson, who lives in the Broadacres area, said she was happy with her performance in Las Vegas, and she looks forward to more competitions in the future.

"I think for my first time, it was pretty good," she said

But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the adventure was meeting people from all over the country.

"I got to meet a lot of different people from all kinds of places," Johnson said. "There were some super-nice people from Mississippi, and pretty cool people from Texas. I met people from Pennsylvania and California. That was a lot of fun."

Johnson, who turns 15 this month, is a member of the Oregon High School Rodeo where she competes as an all-around cowgirl in barrel racing, pole bending, team roping, breakaway roping and goat tying. She qualified for the Junior World Finals earlier in the year at a national rodeo held in Red Bluff, Calif.

Junior World Finals

Pole Bending 17 and under results

1. Cassidy Evans, Yuma, Colorado, 60.383; 2. Mollie Compton, Cleveland, Oklahoma, 60.834; 3. Cashen Turner, Edmond, Oklahoma, 61.834; 4. Brianna Sharp, Brentwood, Calif., 63.020; 5. Payton Johnson, Aurora, Ore., 63.971; 6. Jill Hines, Snohomish, Wash., 64.063; 7. Mesa Allen, Thermopolis, Wyo., 65.560; 8. Madison Comozzi, Petaluma, Calif., 65.794; 9. Emma Hulse, Snohomish, Wash., 69.103; 10. Saige Smith, Touchet, Wash., 75.186.

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- Riding toward the Vegas lights

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