Brice Baggarley fulfilled a longtime dream when he took the helm of the New Mexico State University rodeo team last month.
The Washington state native who most recently served as the head athletic trainer at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces began his new role as head coach of the NMSU rodeo team on May 3, overseeing the men’s and women’s divisions.
Baggarley hails from a rodeo family and has deep connections to the NMSU team. He was a team member from 2011 to 2013 as an undergraduate and later served as an assistant coach from 2013 to 2015. He graduated from NMSU in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training.
“I rodeoed growing up. I went through the ranks of junior rodeos to high school rodeos, then college rodeos and amateur rodeos,” he said. “I also was a pickup man at many college rodeos while I was the assistant coach at NMSU.”
Baggarley said his father, Daniel, who unexpectedly died in December, was an influential figure in his life and encouraged him to apply for the head coaching position before his death.
“We dreamed I would become the NMSU rodeo coach,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to think my dad got to see me get the job from heaven – and I believe he had a lot to do with it.”
Baggarley inherits a team that faced unprecedented challenges over the past year.
For much of the 2020-2021 season, the roughly 40 students on the team were on their own without a full-time head coach but received support from their advisor, Donald Connor, and other faculty and staff from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Pandemic-related restrictions also made it impossible for the students to practice as a team.
“Most of them are at home, and I would venture to guess that 99 percent of them are practicing in some way every single day,” he said.
Their hard work paid off, and the team completed the regular season with a string of victories.
The women’s team finished first in the Grand Canyon Region standings while the men’s team finished fourth. Three students – Bethanie Shofner (breakaway), Jayde Wamel (barrel racing) and Vinell Mariano (bull riding) – were named regional champions.
Ten student-athletes also qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, set for June 11-19. The finalists include Shofner, Kaitlyn Harwell, Abbie Shofner and McKenzie Frizell, who will compete in breakaway roping; Mariano, Zane Tully and Bo Tyler Vocu, who will compete in bull riding; Wamel (barrel racing); Baylee Johnston (goat tying); and Jesse Hay-Smith (bareback riding).
“The fact that they have the self-motivation to soar to these heights without a coach or organized practice is incredible,” Baggarley said, “and now, they’re qualified to compete at the national level.”
Baggarley is hopeful the 2021-2022 season will look a normal, pre-pandemic season when the team returns from summer break in August. He and his students are looking forward to practicing as a team for the first time in more than a year at the NMSU rodeo grounds, he said.
For his first season as head coach, Baggarley’s priorities include rebuilding relationships with the community and establishing name recognition for the team. He will also focus much of his energy on fundraising and bringing back the tradition of hosting two college rodeos – one of which will be the regional finals next April.
“We’re looking to get back out in the public and get our names back out there,” he said. “The NMSU rodeo team is incredibly fortunate to have the support of Las Cruces community.”
Baggarley, who still competes in team roping events, wants others to think of rodeos as family-friendly events – much like he does.
“There are great-grandpas who are team-roping at 90 years old and little kids who are in the jackpots at 8, 9, 10 years old,” he said. “That’s what I like the most about this sport – it surrounds you with family and friends, which is very rewarding.”
Author: Carlos Andres López-NMSU