By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
PORTALES — Just five months ago, Michael Trujillo and Chance Kiehne were just another pair of freshmen trying to learn the ropes of college rodeo, and having each other as partners.
Now, they’re confident they’re five weeks away for a national championship.
“I think we have a really good chance,” said Kiehne, a native of Springville, Ariz. “We’ve just to use our head and catch our cattle.”
The first-year team roping pair’s entry into June’s College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., is the seal on what second-year coach Albert Flinn said was a solid year.
“When you have to pick six boys and four girls to have your team points, that’s kind of a guessing game from week to week,” said Flinn, who saw his roster increase from 22 rodeoers in his first campaign to 33 this time around.
The group is a mix of athletes from neighboring states and, in Trujillo’s case, local neighborhoods.
“It’s been interesting going from high school to college,” said Trujillo, a 2009 graduate of Portales High School, “because it’s totally different.”
Trujillo said in college, you have to “make a name for yourself,” and he and Kiehne succeeded by winning the Southwest Region for points they’ve mostly been accumulating in the spring semester.
“I started seeing us click at about January,” said Kiehne. “I knew right then it was fixing to turn around. We’d both roped well, so there was no reason for us not to rope well together.”
Trujillo, who led Portales High to a state football championship behind center, said that on this team, Kiehne’s role as the header makes him the quarterback.
“I’m the receiver,” Trujillo said of being the heeler. “He tries to set it up, and I try to make the best for him.
““He gets out and he can read a barrier extremely well. After that, you just have to catch two feet, just clean it up.”
Following the CNFR, held June 12-19, Trujillo said there are plans for numerous summer rodeos across the country. Flinn said he’s been impressed with the way the two have improved so quickly, especially considering the winter weather that stretched into March canceled a lot of practice time.
However, Flinn said construction is finishing up on a covered arena, which will give ENMU three places to practice.
They’ll need the room. Flinn said he’s recruited about 15 to 20 athletes to replace the seven who are graduating.
“We’re building, and it will take some time,” Flinn said. “The main thing is, we recruit students first.”