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Cuesta College's rodeo team currently ranked first in the nation

Greta Mart/KCBX
Cuesta College rodeo team members practice team roping.

[audio of cow mooing, metal clanking, galloping hooves and a lasso swinging through the air]

That’s the sound of a chute gate opening and a steer taking off running. And chasing the steer is a student athlete.

“I go to school at Cuesta College and I rodeo for their rodeo team,” said Will Centoni. “I compete in bull riding, bronc riding, team roping, calf roping, and bull dogging at the college rodeo.”

Centoni grew up riding horses in the Bay Area and Hollister. He says he plans to be a professional rodeo competitor when he graduates. Like any sport, a cowboy begins with the basics.

“They’ll start off like as a goat-tying for an event and then they’ll move up to a break-away roper, and then they’ll move up to a calf-roper for instance, so it’s an ongoing process... as you get older things get harder and harder and harder and then pretty soon you’re at the top of the level,” Centoni said.

KCBX caught up with Centoni and a couple of his teammates at the Madonna Inn, where they practice. The Cuesta team was practicing team roping, an event they are competing in Saturday at the annual Poly Royal Rodeo at Cal Poly. For the first time, the rodeo is being held in the campus’ stadium, that’s how much of a draw it is. College teams from all over the West are in town for Poly Royal, one of the biggest college rodeos in the country.

And at the top is the Cuesta team.

“So far we’ve competed six out ten regional rodeos. And after the first six rodeos of the years, nationally we’re number one right now. So we have more points...our men’s team has more points than any other college rodeo team in the country right now,” said Clint Pearce, the team’s coach.

Pearce said many people don’t usually equate rodeo and California, but the Cuesta and Cal Poly teams are so esteemed, high school students from places like Texas and Nebraska are eager to attend school here to compete on a nationally ranked team.

“When you think about, you know, the sort of true American sport - well, we have a lot of great American sports, but rodeo is truly American. Its roots are in the ranches of the U.S.; in fact a lot of the events that they compete in are still very similar to what happens on a ranch, a working ranch today...the roping, the bronc riding, things like that,” Pearce said.

The 77th annual Poly Royal Rodeo was slated to start Friday, April 7 at 7 p.m; however, a heavy, day-long rainstorm prompted organizers to cancel. Cal Poly announced Friday afternoon the rodeo will take place Saturday, April 8 starting at 5:30 p.m.