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A championship match

Luis Mendiaz, left, of Santa Fe, teamed at the last minute with Quincy Sullivan, of Peralta, last week to win the team roping event at the National High School Rodeo. Sullivan became only the third girl ever to win the event. (Courtesy of Emerald Boes/Acentric Rodeo)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

One practice was all it took for Luis Mendiaz and Quincy Sullivan to realize that they made a pretty good team.

Mendiaz, 17, of Santa Fe had a shot to go to the National High School Rodeo for team roping partner, but his partner was unavailable. Likewise for Sullivan, of Peralta.

But they immediately hit it off inside the corral.

“We only had a day to rope together,” said Mendiaz, a heeler who will be senior at Santa Fe High. “We did what we had to do. We practiced and her dad said I think you guys are good.”

The pair faced several hundred other competitors as the top four duos from each state, as well as some from Mexico, participated in the rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

And when it was over, Mendiaz and Sullivan won, with Sullivan becoming just the third girl in the history of the event to win the team roping event.

“She gave me good handles,” Mendiaz said in explaining their success. “I knew if she gave me good handles, I would heel the steers. Good handles is when the header ropes the steer, you take care of your heeler. Some people rope the steers and move away so they don’t give you very good handles.”

Sullivan’s father, Russell Sullivan, said it was obvious the two had a special connection.

“Normal people might not think that’s not enough practice,” he said of their one evening of training together. “Quincy ropes every day and so does Luis, so they were very well practiced up, just not with each other. That first day, they ran about 20 steers and cut them all. I told them I don’t think they need to practice. The team, they just jelled and meshed. Their style went together really nice.”

Their success had its rewards, and they also pulled out quite a haul of goodies.

“We each won two buckles and a custom saddle,” Mendiaz said. “Twelve pairs of jeans and shirts, a Yeti cooler and scholarships for college.”

The latter was quite important as it was worth almost $2,500 and has Mendiaz is thinking of attending New Mexico State after graduating from high school.

“Before this, I wasn’t planning to go to college, I just wanted to work,” he said. “But now that I got all this, I want to go to college.”

This was the first time Mendiaz made it to the finals, but Sullivan is a veteran and that helped him overcome any concerns about roping with a girl.

“I think that’s kind of crazy, my first year going to Nationals,” he said. “She’s gone to Nationals a couple of times. It felt good. At first, it felt kind of weird roping with a girl at a rodeo, but it was fun.”

They were not the only New Mexicans to bring home some hardware.

Sterlin Mitchell of Lamy won the rookie of the year at last weeks National High School Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma. (Courtesy of Emerald Boes/Acentric Rodeo)

Sterlin Mitchell, 15, of Lamy, earned the rookie of the year award after he finished 17th in cutting and 37th in reined cow horse.

Mitchell credited his brother, Trey Mitchell, for his generosity.

“He let me use his good horse that he was taking to Nationals,” Sterlin Mitchell said. “That helped me a bunch.”

His two events called for precision in riding and horse training, so it meant a great deal to be riding a horse well trained for the events.

“In cow horse, you have to show what your horse can do a little more,” he said. “You have to be able to do circles and stop your horse instead of just work a cow. In the cutting, you work a cow back and forth, and that’s all you do.”

Sterlin Mitchell said he and his brother spent two to three hours a day in the saddle over the past few weeks preparing the horses and themselves.

“We pretty much started with keeping them in shape and the last two weeks working the horses with cows, and fine-tuning them.”

Trey Mitchell, 18, deflected any praise to his brother.

“He’s been out there every year with me, hanging out and helping me when he can,” he said. “He pretty much knew exactly what I did, he just never competed there before.”

Trey Mitchell is a recent Moriarty High school grad – where is brother is going to be a sophomore – and in the fall will be attending Clarendon College near Amarillo, Texas.

And seeing his brother earn a buckle, a saddle and a hat was quite rewarding.

“We heard he was in the running for it and, all of a sudden, he got it,” Sterlin Mitchell said. “It was really cool.”