UMBC Mock Trial caps off stellar season with eighth place finish at Nationals

The best way to describe this season for UMBC Mock Trial? We’re running out of room in the trophy case.

It’s been a year of change for UMBC’s premier speech and debate organization. With only six competing members left from last season, the program might have been expected to take a step back. Instead, UMBC Mock Trial took a giant leap forward – winning numerous tournaments throughout the season, fielding three teams for the first time in program history, earning a bid to the 35th American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) National Championship Tournament, and finishing eighth in our division and top-15 in the nation to end the year. It’s hard to capture everything the team has accomplished in just one post, but let’s take a look back at some of the highlights. (This is a long post. We’ve had a lot of highlights.)

After a vigorous recruitment campaign, the program welcomed the largest incoming class in our history. 17 of the 23 competing members at Regionals this season are in their first year of college mock trial, including all seven members of UMBC’s B team and 8 of the 9 members of UMBC’s first-ever C team. Even UMBC’s A team is young, with two freshman and two sophomores leading the charge. Only three seniors will graduate this spring, meaning the program is position for deep playoff runs in the years to come.

The 2018-19 season started close to home, as UMBC hosted the third annual Charm City Classic in October of 2018. The Classic is UMBC’s invitational tournament, and we were thrilled to bring that tournament to the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Several of our coaches are alumni or current students at Maryland Law, and their beautiful facility boasts three courtrooms and a perfect space for an invitational. We hosted 24 of the region’s best teams, and were thrilled to hand the first-place trophy to our friends at Howard University. The Classic also had three scoring judges in every trial, one of just a small handful of tournaments across the country to accomplish that feat. We’re looking forward to hosting the Charm City Classic again in October of 2019.

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UMBC’s first place team at Duke

After hosting the Classic, our teams started on the #RoadToPhilly! In November, UMBC’s A team traveled down to Durham for the Duke University Tobacco Road Invitational. After ballot sweeps of UT-Chattanooga, Washington & Lee, and South Carolina, UMBC split ballots with George Washington. This allowed UMBC to finish with a 7-1 record and claim first place at Tobacco Road! This was UMBC’s first invitational victory in several seasons; while we routinely place at invites, it had been quite a while since we came out on top. UMBC looks forward to returning to Duke next season and claiming the right to the “first challenge” for round one pairings as the defending tournament champions.

Duke was just the beginning of this year’s impressive run. The following weekend, UMBC A was back on the road at Haverford’s Black Squirrel Invitational. This tournament was at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, the site of the 2019 National Championship Tournament. After handily defeating the University of Maryland, College Park in round one, UMBC went on to grab an Honorable Mention with a brutal schedule, facing Cornell A, Cornell B, and the University of Virginia – all teams who will be joining UMBC at Nationals this year. Sydney Gaskins and Thomas Kiley won awards at Haverford as well.

After Duke, UMBC C traveled to Rutgers for their Scarlet Knight Invitational. Despite this being only their second tournament of the season, UMBC C had a fantastic weekend and posted a winning record (4-3-1) against tough competition! Freshman attorney Thomas Azari earned an Outstanding Attorney award, and our youngest team showed tremendous growth and progress in the face of a stiff challenge.

To cap off the season, we were back on the road with a team at UVA’s Great American Mock Trial Invitational (GAMTI) for the first time. GAMTI is widely considered to be the best invitational tournament in the country, and while UMBC narrowly missed placing, we were never swept and had two award winners. Sydney Gaskins earned another attorney award (this will become a trend) and Thomas Kiley won his second consecutive witness award as well.  Competing at GAMTI was a pretty unreal experience, and we hope to return in future years.

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UMBC B and C at Johns Hopkins

In the midst of all of this, UMBC B was adjusting and dealing with the challenges of also being a young team. By the team the season moved to January, UMBC B consisted of seven members who were brand new at college Mock Trial. UMBC C was also hard at work preparing for their first 2019 competition, with a few new members for the spring and only one returning member on their squad. Despite these obstacles, UMBC B and UMBC C had excellent showings at Johns Hopkins University’s Blue Jay Invitational. Thomas Azari earned his second individual award of the season as an Outstanding Attorney, and Zac Linkins won an Outstanding Witness award at his first-ever college Mock Trial tournament!

Finally, UMBC A ended the invitational season with a bang. At Georgetown University’s Hilltop Invitational, UMBC A posted the first undefeated record in the history of our program. They went 8-0, with resounding victories over Fordham University, George Washington University (A & B), and Hamilton College to take first place at Hilltop. Sydney Gaskins earned an Outstanding Attorney award on both sides of the case, taking a nearly perfect 39 of 40 ranks on her eight ballots. Senior attorney/witness Nihir Nanavaty began an impressive streak of success at Hilltop as well, earning an Outstanding Witness award.

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UMBC’s undefeated A team after winning the Georgetown University Hilltop Invitational with an 8-0 record

With the invitational season over, UMBC’s three teams spent the month of February preparing for American Mock Trial Association Regional competition. Everything before February is unofficial, and the real “playoffs” begin with Regionals, where over 700 teams from around the country compete for bids to “ORCS” – the Opening Round Championship Series. Around 200 teams advance to ORCS each year, and only 48 of those teams earn bids to the National Championship Tournament. UMBC was thrilled to serve as an AMTA Regionals host for the second year in a row, co-hosting the Owings Mills Regional with our friends at Stevenson University. UMBC A and C stayed home in Owings Mills to compete there, while UMBC B headed up the road to Princeton, NJ for their Regional.

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UMBC’s All-Region Award winners

After two days of hard-fought competition, UMBC advanced a team to ORCS for the fifth consecutive season! UMBC A posted a 7-0-1 record at the Owings Mills Regional and comfortably advanced to ORCS. UMBC B and C also had strong weekends in what was the first Regionals for nearly ever member of those teams. In addition to the ORCS bids, UMBC took home a metric ton of individual hardware at Regionals. Sydney Gaskins earned an All-Region Attorney award on both sides of the case, and President Ethan Hudson earned an All-Region Attorney award as well. Additionally, Nihir Nanavaty earned an All-Region Witness award on both sides of the case, and Emmanuel Olaleye earned an All-Region Witness for his work on the C team. Finally, Secretary Brandon Henry earned an All-Region Attorney award for both the C team and the Bye-Bust team.

After a dominant showing at Regionals, UMBC A was on to ORCS. They headed a few hours down I-95 to the University of Richmond, where 24 teams were competing for only 5 bids to the National Championship Tournament. After a brutal schedule with rounds against George Washington B, Washington & Lee, George Washington A, and Harvard, UMBC A ended the weekend with a 6-2 record and earned a bid to the 2019 National Championship Tournament in Philadelphia! Despite fielding a team where four of the six competitors were underclassmen, UMBC had an amazing weekend in Richmond and earned an NCT bid for only the second time in our young history. We couldn’t leave without individual hardware too, as Sydney Gaskins earned All-National Attorney honors on both sides of the case, and Nihir Nanavaty earned All-National Witness honors on both sides of the case as well!

Finally, the season had to come to an end, but in the best place possible: at the National Championship Tournament. UMBC boarded a school bus and rode the 1.5 hours from Baltimore to Philly in style, basking in the accomplishment of being one of only 48 teams remaining in the country to still be competing. But the team wasn’t satisfied with just making it: they had their sights on loftier goals. After an amazing Opening Ceremonies at the Franklin Institute, UMBC learned they would be facing Penn State in round one at Nationals. Penn State swept UMBC two years ago at Nationals, and the two programs face off frequently throughout the season. This year, UMBC got the chance to return the favor, sweeping all four ballots from Penn State in a resounding round one victory.

After sweeping in round one, UMBC drew two national powerhouse programs in rounds two and three: Cal Berkeley and Columbia University. UMBC fought both of these teams to a draw, splitting two ballots apiece in both rounds two and three. This put UMBC at 8-4 heading into the all-important round four, scheduled for Sunday morning. After the pairings were completed, UMBC was in the “high” round, and facing who else but the Bulldogs of Yale University. Yale is one of AMTA’s greatest programs, having been to the National Final Round for four consecutive seasons coming into 2019, and winning the 2016 National Championship. In order to keep them out of a fifth straight final, UMBC needed a sweep, which would have ended Yale’s season and put UMBC in the final round. After an electric round four, viewed by a packed courtroom of family, coaches, scouts, and Mock Trial celebrities, UMBC and Yale split their four ballots. This meant that UMBC ended Nationals with a 10-6 record, good enough for eighth place in their division and a top-15 finish nationwide.

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UMBC’s NCT team on the steps of the Franklin Institute before Opening Ceremonies

The 2018-19 season was a long one for UMBC. We traveled more, spent more, and won more than any other year in our young history. UMBC A will begin next season ranked in the top-25 of teams nationwide, and we’ll return a group of 14-16 students with high level competition experience at invitationals, Regionals, ORCS and Nationals. UMBC A competitor Sydney Gaskins is headed to Drexel Law’s Trial by Combat in June, which is an individual one-on-one National Championship meant to determine the top individual competitor in the country. Finally, the team is hard at work preparing for the 2019-20 season, having just elected a new executive board and begun to plan a fall travel schedule.

But none of this is possible without you – the people who support us. We received amazing support this season from parents, friends, faculty, university staff, and so many other people who gave their money and their time to make this happen. In just a few short years, we’ve gone from a no-name program that people saw as an easy win, to a nationwide powerhouse that people fear and respect. Crab cakes and upsets: it’s the UMBC way.

In a few weeks, we’ll thank our seniors and send them on their way to bigger and better things. After that, we’ll turn the page and start preparing for next season. August 15th will be here before we know it, and then we’ll be on the #RoadToChicago and gunning to become AMTA’s 36th National Champion in 2020!