A Clean Slate
For the first time in American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) history, the teams participating in the National Championship Tournament, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, competed with a completely different case than the one they had started the season with. By overhauling the framework of legal facts and data, a new element expanded the dimension of competition; one previously taken for granted; time. Every team that had qualified out of their ORCS was forced to simultaneously wipe their strategies and start with the slate clean.
Miami could send just one team, ten competitors, to the National Championship Tournament. But what was perhaps an even more pressing issue was the fact that Miami was beset with an unprecedented problem to solve: Where do you begin to start building a team that can successfully transition from the emotion-oriented framework of the invitational case (Park v. Duran) to the demanding patriotism prevalent in the Nationals case (Ginger v. Heisman)? Armed with only a single bid, Miami’s hand was forced; they had to hand choose ten competitors, ten who would find themselves on the Road to Cincy.
The road was not without it's twists and turns post-ORCS either. The timing of the case release placed Miami in a stranglehold; they had just started Spring Break when the case dropped in March. And on top of that, Miami opted to build a predominantly young team, one comprised of 1 senior, 3 juniors, 5 sophomores, and 1 freshman. With half of the team never before competing at Nationals, the pressure was on to construct a top five worthy case-in-chief in less than three weeks.
However, they were not without help. The coaching staff came together in its time of need, head coaches Neal Schuett and Jaime Glinka were joined by new assistant coaches Gus Lazares and Alex Block. Scrimmages were also orchestrated in the days leading up to Nationals; Ohio State Mock Trial visited the James Lewis Mock Trial Room at Miami University one week prior to competition, and Northwood University squared off against Miami’s Defense just hours before opening ceremonies.
Opening ceremonies were a spectacle in and of themselves. Hosted within the walls of the luxurious Paul Brown stadium clubroom, AMTA President Justin Bernstein kicked off the weekend by drawing pairings alongside Tabulation Director Jonathon Woodward. Once the pairings were drawn, the Road to Cincy had reached its finale, but the road to greatness had only just begun.
Round 1: hit hard, hit fast, hit often
Miami drew a plaintiff match against Macalister College in the first round, in what many consider to be a factually plaintiff heavy case. "We hit first" Coach Neal Schuett reminded his team "We can win this ballot in our case in chief alone". That first salvo was initiated by senior Matt Meeks through his portrayal of Sam Zieglar, a fired Communications Director for the defendant. His performance was then followed up by Maria (or Katie) O'Keeffe, who portrayed Truman resident Amari White. Finally, the Mockhawks closed their case in chief with the expert testimony of Najeeb Ahmed, portraying cell phone expert Grey Garcia. "Witnesses win ballots. It's one of the oldest Miami beliefs, and it rings true every nationals" Ben Sandlin commented mid-round. John Spear delivered an electric cross-examination of the defendant Mayor, Max Heisman, and the Mockhawks swept the round +6 +19 +2.
Round 2: Turning up the heat
Miami would then have to switch gears and send their defense against Delaware early Saturday morning. "Our Northwood scrimmage felt pretty good, so I'm excited to see how it unfolds." commented first year Dani Kunkel.
She wasn't the only one excited for the match-up though—many observers at the tournament shared her sentiment. The courtroom was standing room only, and onlookers were forced to employ a variety of tricks in an effort to preserve their (albeit quickly deteriorating) composure; half-Monty Python skit, half-Alice in Wonderland, ladies and gentlemen alike had to banish any sense of personal space from their minds by leaning and lining the walls, meanwhile others opted to improvise makeshift-chairs out of potted plants just to watch the Delaware v. Miami round. Thankfully, they weren't disappointed. Adam Korn opened for Miami, telling the jury "Max Heisman didn't cheat...Elizabeth Ginger just got beat". Dani Kunkel faced off against (soon-to-be) All-American Witness Cody Reeves, meanwhile Miami dropped three power witnesses on Delaware: Ben Sandlin as journalist Jody Sandburg, Najeeb Ahmed as Statistician Grey Garcia, and Jazmine Kee as none other than the defendant, Mayor Max Heisman.
The Mockhawks would steal one ballot with a whopping +17, but lost two ballots by -2 and -20 margins. "Some of our directs weren't tight enough" Adam Korn commented after the round "It's a real shame, because the mood at our table definitely didn't reflect the ballots."
Round 3: rumble under sun
Round 3 put MMT back on the defense to hit Arizona University, a team that was 4-2, given their victories over Eastern Kentucky and New Mexico. Meanwhile, the Mockhawks did not know their records- as per Coach Neal Schuett's tradition- but they did know that they would have take three ballots in order to earn a top spot in the tournament. Taking on Matthew Ashton and Isaac Rounseville of Arizona, Miami once more brought it's own sense of flare. The trial ran late into the afternoon, with the setting sun shimmering down through the municipal courtrooms’ large industrial windows, but the round was not without its highlights. Ben Sandlin's (middle photograph) work as Jody Sandburg had the courtroom in fits of laughter, and Jazmine Kee (bottom photo) campaigned from the witness stand; "People often forget, my mother's from District 12. I would never, never disgrace my integrity and the integrity of my relationship with the people of District 12" she shouted, pounding the witness stand in a passionate speech. John Spear also shined in the third round, whose objections impressed judges and tripped up Arizona's materials. There was no question of which team prevailed: Miami took all three ballots in an electrifying sweep, +12 +28 +7.
round 4: for love and honor
Miami jokingly noted that at nearly every tournament this year they must have at least one ironic round: At regionals, it was hitting their friends from Ohio State, at ORCS, Miami B was dealt the Schuett Showdown, a match-up dubbed due to Miami Coach Neal Schuett competing against his wife, Missi Schuett's, Bellarmine A Team. Thus, it was only fitting that Miami would be in the top two rounds of the tournament for round four, and would have to play none other than New York University.
Last year in Orlando, NYU pushed Miami B aside, picking up two ballots and a tie in the first round, leaving the Mockhawks to dig themselves out of a hole. This year, Miami was primed to finish strong. NYU would be the hardest team MMT had yet faced; at counsel table, was Dee Oliver, two time All American Witness, and would soon win her third All-American as an attorney in this round. In the anchor position for NYU was Harsh Dosi, whose portrayal of Chase Michael laid waste to the plaintiff's claims.
For every star NYU threw at Miami, Miami reacted by showing off a rising star of their own. Imokhai Okolo gave the opening statement against Dee Oliver, and Katie O'Keeffe once again delivered an All-Star performance. John Spear was able to land a successful impeachment on NYU's defendant, and Henry Leaman closed out the case with an unprecedented amount of passion.
The Mockhawks knew they had to take three just for any chance to take first, but once the ballots left, they knew it was up to the Mock gods.
Miami Comes home
Closing ceremonies at Paul Brown was accompanied by a palpable nervousness in the air, one that was, strangely enough, joined by an overwhelmingly calming energy in the atmosphere. All the competitors knew that the results were out of their hands, but teams huddled together nonetheless, eagerly awaiting the results. All-Americans were announced first; from Miami was John Spear, who had won an All-American Attorney award on the plaintiff side as a swing attorney. Joined with him was none other than Katie O'Keeffe, who won her All-American for her portrayal as a witness. Her portrayal of Amari White was also the highest scoring witness at Nationals, with a near perfect 28 ranks.
As the top-ten placement arrived, informing the competitors of where they had ranked in the tournament, Miami held their breath. With each passing name, the team let out a huge sigh of relief. Seventh went by...then sixth...then fifth...The pressure in the room rose with each name that was announced. In fourth place...New York University! Miami heard NYU’s record, and knew they had bested NYU; taking two of the ballots with scores of +8 +2 -5.
Thanks to that victory in the fourth room, Miami came in at third, only a half ballot behind second place, University of California-Berkeley, and just mere ballots behind eventual National Champion, Harvard University, and Runner-Up Yale University. Nevertheless, this third place victory would be one of the top finishes in Miami history, and the best finish since a second place run in 2010. A third place victory; forged by two teams within a mere three weeks, derived from a source of passion that bears the insignia of the creed that Miamians hold dear, Love and Honor.
From here, Miami rests for the summer. Suits will go back into closets, case boxes will be cleaned out for their summer vacation, and their trophy will be proudly displayed in the Farmer School of Business. And although the freshness of the experience will fade with time, what will not fade is the memory of four top-tier rounds of Mock Trial, the impeccable leadership of senior Matt Meeks, and the bonds that this team developed in the long-days and short-nights leading up to Cincinnati. "We did this one for the fam." junior Najeeb Ahmed commented after closing ceremonies, and his sentiments could not be more correct. The Mockhawks fought valiantly for the students below them, the ones who will some day soon take their place, and for the alumni who fought before them, who helped pave the road for a tradition of excellence, and above all, they fought for love, they fought for honor, and they fought for each other.
Record: 9-3 | CS: 23 | OCS: 15 | PD: +72 | Team #: 1075
Coaches: Neal Schuett, Jaime Glinka
Competitors: Matt Meeks, Adam Korn, Ben Sandlin, Imokhai Okolo, Najeeb Ahmed, Dani Kunkel, Katie O'Keeffe, John Spear, Henry Leaman, Jazmine Kee
John Spear (π, 23 ranks)
Katie O'Keeffe (π, 28 ranks)