Freshman pair claims college title

A new horse. The notion that freshmen don’t win national championships.

Just details to Chance Kiehne and Michael Trujillo. They had a calf to rope.

The pair finished their goal Saturday night, taking second in the short round and earning enough points to claim first place in team roping at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.

The performance for the pair, ENMU’s only competitors in Casper, vaulted the men’s team to a 10th-place finish.

Second-year coach Albert Flinn said the pair really started to come into title form around the spring semester, but that was not a surprise.

“From the time we recruited them, we felt they were the quality of ropers who could accomplish what they did,” Flinn said. “I told them if they got together, they’d have the opportunity to win the region and nationals.”

That meant dealing with the travel, the pressure to compete on a national stage and — in Trujillo’s case — dealing with a new partner under the saddle. Trujillo said he’s had horse trouble throughout the year, and he had just purchased a new horse for the finals from New Mexico native John Paul Lucero, a veteran of the National Finals Rodeo.

“It was nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie,” said Trujillo, a 2009 Portales High graduate. “I didn’t know him from any horse I rode in my life. I just had to trust him, trust what people have told me.”

For Kiehne and Trujillo, the strategy was to stay consistent, even if it didn’t win the day. The two were in eighth place following the first day’s performance.

“The basic strategy,” Flinn said, “was to go and rope four clean, rope three good ones, get to the short round on Saturday night and let everything take care of itself.”

When they got to the short round, the pair scored a time of 5.8 seconds. It was 0.3 seconds slower than Chase and Chad Williams of Tarleton State, but Kiehne and Trujillo totaled 35.4 seconds and 193.3 points to best the pack.

“We just knew we had one more steer to catch,” Trujillo said of the final run. “We’d been catching steers all year. We were pretty confident in each other.”

The offseason has begun quickly. Kiehne was competing in the Bob Feist Invitational in Reno, Nev. on Monday and was not immediately available for comment.

The finals will be broadcast on ESPNU on Aug. 13, Flinn said.

The best par of the win, Trujillo said, was doing it in front of his family, which made the trip from Portales.

Trujillo said the focus now goes to defending the title. But first, he has to name his new horse.

“I was thinking,” Trujillo said, “about naming him Casper.”