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NMSU roper Garza wins national team roping title

When the rope cinched tight around the rear legs of a steer Saturday night in the final round of the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., Matt Garza and his team roping partner captured the first national title for New Mexico State University since 1990.

New Mexico State University rodeo team member Matt Garza, shown here at an April 28 rodeo on the NMSU campus, captured a national championship in team roping for the Aggies at the College National Finals Rodeo June 11-17 in Casper, Wyo. (NMSU Agricultural Communications photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

Garza, of Mesilla Park, N.M., and his partner, Central Arizona College team member Chance Means of Cliff, N.M., held off strong challenges throughout the weeklong National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association competition and won the timed event by less than half a second after four runs.

"I would have liked to have had a little more time to spare," Garza said. "It made us that much more aggressive. We knew we had a pretty tough job to do. We knew we had to give it 110 percent."

In their championship run Saturday, Means, the header on the team, quickly roped the steer's head, then held and turned the steer to give Garza, the heeler on the team, a clear shot at the back legs, which also must be roped.

"My partner did an outstanding job, so I didn't have to take a wild shot," Garza said. "He didn't make him really wild. He was gathered and his feet were together."

The clock showed the time of the run - 6.5 seconds - fast enough for a championship.

"My partner threw his hat in the air," Garza said. "When I realized we had won, I lost it. I went nuts. I threw my hat and we did our victory lap."

NMSU also had top national finishes from calf roper Wacey Walraven of Datil, N.M., who placed ninth and Arcel Allsup of Duncan, Ariz., who took 10th in calf roping. NMSU barrel racer Krista Norell of Meeker, Colo., finished eighth overall.

For Garza and Means, their victory means $1,500 scholarships, custom roping saddles and other winnings. For NMSU's rodeo program, the victory is symbolic of the success the growing program has seen over the past several years.

"It gives us a little recognition that we are contenders," said Coach Jim Dewey Brown. "It shows that we do have great athletes coming to this school."

The national title is the first for NMSU since 1990 when bareback bronc rider Randy Slaughter won the event.

Garza and Means roped together all season and captured the regional championship before heading to the national finals, where Garza was ranked eighth in the nation and Means was seventh. Means plans to transfer to NMSU in the fall.

Garza grew up around team roping and started competing when he was 14. His father, Homer Garza, taught him how to rope and has been his primary coach through the years. Matt Garza said attending NMSU offers him both an opportunity to be part of a good organization and the benefits of being able to practice at his home.

"This school's a great school," he said. "The championship means a lot to me. I've worked really hard. I was really excited to be going up there and representing our team. It's unbelievable to come out on top. It was like a dream come true."

Garza and Means have been friends since competing in high school rodeos, and, not long after going to college, they agreed to team up.

"I picked him because he's really dedicated," Garza said. "He always makes sure he has a really good horse and you can always find him in the arena. He's a winner and you want to be with the best."

What does it take to succeed at the national level?
"A lot of hard work and dedication," Garza said. "If you want it bad enough and work on it hard enough, you can accomplish it. You have to have a good horse. You have to practice. You have to love the sport. I fell in love with it and ever since, I crave being out there and competing."

Garza said the growth of the rodeo team, thanks largely to rodeo supporter Frank DuBois, made a big difference in helping him choose to attend NMSU.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be there rodeoing for NMSU," Garza said. Garza was one of 21 recruits who were awarded DuBois scholarships in 2004-2005, along with Walraven and Norell. Garza was awarded the Hotch and Carolyn Manning rodeo scholarship. As of last fall, the team included 41 scholarship athletes in the program, which DuBois organized and expanded as the team has grown over the past several years.
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