Cal Poly club rodeo coach Tony Branquinho remembers winning his first belt buckle at just five years old.Now he stands poised to lead the Mustangs to the biggest buckle attainable – a national championship.
It’s been a long journey from Branquinho’s childhood on a Los Alamos cattle farm to the College National Finals Rodeo where the Cal Poly women’s rodeo club team is favored to win the team title when action begins this afternoon in Casper, Wyo.
“I can’t even remember the first time I was on a horse by myself or roped cattle,” Branquinho said.
As soon as Branquinho and his brothers were old enough to help on the cattle ranch they were out there on horseback learning the tricks of the trade.
“I was just born and raised around (rodeo),” Branquinho said. “Our after school activities were all riding, roping or just being around the horses.”
Eventually Branquinho dedicated himself to education. He got a degree in education with plans of becoming a teacher.
“I just always liked helping people,” Branquinho said. “I like teaching and explaining things.”
The Cal Poly coaching job opened in 2006 and Branquinho saw an opportunity to mix the two things he’d dedicated the majority of his life to.
“It was a chance to educate and teach and be around a coaching aspect to apply everything that I’ve learned through the years to the young men and women here,” Branquinho said. “It was a great opportunity.”
The Mustangs were coming off a year in which they had won both the men’s and women’s all-around titles.But the one thing the Cal Poly women have yet to achieve is the team title.
That could change this year as co-captains Shannon Jones and Ty Johnson were first and second in the West Coast region all-around standings.
Branquinho said that both Jones and Johnson have a legitimate shot at an all-around national championship and it is their skill in multiple events that could help put the Mustangs over the top.
Cal Poly crushed second place UNLV by nearly 2,300 points in the region. The team was so dominating that their score of 6,106.82 points is more than 1,900 points better than the second best in the nation.
While the points reset at the finals, Branquinho said the totals can be used as a barometer for how the finals could go.
“The girls aren’t coming in with an arrogant attitude but we feel like we have a good chance to win,” Branquinho said. “The girls are confident in themselves and each other.”
While the Mustangs could return home as national champions, they would probably remain largely anonymous to most of the Cal Poly community.
The school has been at the forefront of rodeo for a long time. While the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association is in its 61st year, Cal Poly hosted its 70th annual rodeo earlier this year.
“If you look at what the grass roots of the university are you can see that the college rodeo lifestyle is an important part of our community,” Branquinho said.