‘An amazing feeling’: 3 Diné cowboys win Ariz. state high-school championships
Matthew Tuni and Leegene Barlow spent most of the regular season atop the season standings in their respective events in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association.
The two cowboys were a shoe-in to win the bareback and saddle-bronc state titles heading into the last week’s three-day state finals.
With the state titles already under their belt, they didn’t need to make a statement.
They did anyway as Tuni captured the aggregate race in the bareback event by placing first in every round while Barlow rode 2 of 3 saddle-bronc draws to win the average.
The leaderboard in the bull riding, meanwhile, changed hands as Chinle cowboy Robbie Taylor Jr. climbed out of a 13-point hole to secure the state crown.
The three Diné cowboys are first-time state champions and will lead the Arizona contingent at this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo, which is scheduled for July 14 to 20 in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
“I had a much better season than last year,” said Tuni. “I’ve improved a lot and all the workouts I’ve been doing is paying off.”
At the state finals, Tuni recorded better scores after each passing day. He finished with a 71-point ride in the first round and he followed that up with a 72-point score the next round. He improved his previous mark with a 76-point effort in last Saturday’s short round for an aggregate of 219 points.
“My horses felt good,” Tuni said, while admitting that he wasn’t sure if he would get the thumbs up for riding his second draw.
“I think I got lucky because I felt like I got bucked off right at the whistle,” the Dennehotso, Arizona, cowboy said.
Last season, Tuni finished third overall in the year-end standings but this past rodeo season he won 11 of the 17 rodeos to win the title outright. As a result, he earned seven buckles as opposed to none last season.
The recent Monument Valley graduate finished the season standings with 172.50 points, which was 66 points better than reserve champion JC Mortensen.
“I’m just riding better,” said Tuni, who earned a partial scholarship to the New Mexico State University rodeo team next fall.
The same could be said of Barlow who finished the year-end with 110.50 points.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” the recent Rock Point graduate said of his state crown. “I’ve been trying to win this for the past four years and I finally did it my senior year. That’s a huge accomplishment.”
A 73-point score in the second round proved to be beneficial for Taylor as he surpassed two other cowboys in his state title in the bull riding.
“It feels good because I get to go to nationals,” Taylor said.
Even though he trailed in the year-end race before the state finals due to being injured, Taylor said he knew he had a chance at winning the state crown.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said.