All great things must come to an end and for the California-Irvine Beach Party Invitational, 2015 was that year. In lieu of making the annual pilgrimage out west, 12 of the top 30 schools in the country made their way to the opposite side of the country, to Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt University threw their hats into the ring and hosted “The Grand Ole Tournament”, which was to be another great “Program Format Tournament” where A and B teams would work in tandem, under one banner, in hopes of proving that they were the best Mock Trial program in the nation. Miami, eager to re-establish dominance after winning the Beach Party Tournament last year, sent Miami A and Miami B down south for four incredible rounds. With the Grand Ole Tournament being the first tournament of the "Pro Circuit", victory would be impossible unless everyone was performing at their best. Tradition demanded no less.
DIVISIONAL STAGE: MIAMI A ON A ROLL
At the start of “The Grand Ole Tournament”, pairings are done in an unusual way. Programs are grouped into divisions of three, where the combined six teams would play each other to see who can acquire the most wins. Whichever one of the three schools had the most wins after two rounds would advance into the Final Four. The other two programs would continue the tournament as if it was any other. “The Beach Party and The Grand Ole Tournament really play to our strengths,” A team coach Jaime Glinka said. “When you have as many committed students as Miami has, there's no limit to what we can do.” Miami's divisional competition included Furman University, alma mater of former coach Lawrence Hilton, and UCLA, who put two teams in the National Championship Tournament last year, and who has earned four National Championship titles.
The first round put Miami A on the prosecution side against Furman B, while Miami B was put on the defense against a strong prosecution by UCLA A. For the A team, it was business as usual - Imokhai Okolo and Dani Kunkel powered through their statements, and All-American Witness Maria O'Keeffe added enough flare to help Miami take the round +4 +2.
For the B team, the round was not as positive. All-American Seth Wacks lead the UCLA prosecution, and their cross examinations of Miami's witnesses proved devastating for the Mockhawks. “It's a real shame. We felt pretty good about our crosses,” said captain Sam Hobbs, “but you have to give them props. When it came to our case in chief, they upped the intensity, but we didn't increase with them.” The B team lost both ballots, -9 -12.
By Round 2, Miami was still in contention to make it out of the division. At 2-2 as a program, Miami A ran defense against UCLA B, who featured All-American and former National Champion Kyle DeCamp. Miami A was ready though - Captain Ben Sandlin took the opening statement and got the Mockhawks off to a powerful start. All-American John Spear and Senior Najeeb Ahmed performed a stellar direct examination that couldn't be beat by the Bruins, pushing the A team to sweep the round by large margins: +7 +22.
The B team's state side featured a large amount of sophomore talent. Sophomores Chase Shelton, Tarah Mason, and Austin Worrell gave the B team a boost of energy that was much needed during the round. Juniors Ryan Rugani and Allie Cin (who was awarded an Outstanding Witness award in her last tournament) opened the case in chief for Miami. However, the round was far from over. Claudia Cornelison and Jordan Brown of Furman fought hard and managed to even the score. When the dust settled, Miami B had taken one ballot +1, but tied the other ballot. “Sometimes you just have to leave it to the Mock Gods. Although we hate putting it in their hands, sometimes you just have to hope and pray,” senior Christina Romine said after the round.
Thankfully, the hope they invested paid off. With the A team's 4-0 record, it was enough to carry the 1-2-1 B team into the Final Four. “We'll get you back baby!” B team captain Adam Korn told Miami A. He could not have been more right.
FAMILIAR FRIENDS IN THE FINAL FOUR
The Final Four was restacked in order to fit the new seeding. In the divisional stage, Miami was the #1 program, but in the Final Four, they lost the coveted #1 spot to Duke University. As the newly crowned third seed, Miami was set to play nationally ranked #3 New York University. “Miami and NYU have a incredible history of competition,” B team coach Gus Lazares said. “They knocked us out of contention in the 2014 National Tournament. Then we took a round from them last year in Cincinnati. So don't think for a second they aren't coming at us with everything they’ve got.”
NYU had a lot of talent to challenge Miami. The B team would face NYU B, who was led by rising stars Claudine Isaac and Marissa Adler. Jennifer Cotton had been called up to face Miami, after her NYU C team stole a ballot off Miami B at CUBAIT just two weeks earlier. “This is exactly why playing NYU is something to look forward to,” sophomore Chase Shelton said before the round. “They're talented, cordial, fair - it's always a good mock trial round and always something to look forward to.”
The match between the A teams put Miami back on the defense side, where All-Americans Elias Demeropolis and John Spear went back to back. They would need everything they had - NYU A featured Triple All-American Deanna Oliver, as well as national competitor Nick Ramos. “There's a lot of familiar faces from our round at nationals last year, and they gave us probably the toughest round we've ever had. So stick around - this will be the round to watch,” senior Ben Sandlin said before the match.
After the round, the Miami competitors were instructed to congregate in an empty courtroom. The room was tense - competitors paced around nervously while they awaited the results of the round. Program Director and A team coach Neal Schuett took his place at the bench and got the program's attention. On baited breath, Professor Schuett told his team that Miami A had split the round, +3 -4, dropping their first ballot of the year. “You've been wounded,” he added, and now the fate of Miami was in the hands of the B team. An uncomfortable silence fell over the room, before Professor Schuett said, “At least it doesn't matter anymore, because the B team took both ballots!” The room erupted! Miami B had taken the round +3 +3, and put Miami into the championship round! “Sound familiar?” junior Henry Leaman joked with his teammates. “Last year, A team got us out of the divisional stage, and we got them out of the Final Four. This year, A team went 4-0 in the division, and we got the ballots to get through the Final Four.” Sophomore Dani Kunkel added to that sentiment. “This tournament is truly a test for programs, not teams. It brought us together last year, and we get a chance to do it again.” And for the second year in a row, Miami would have to put it all on the line against Duke University.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND: MIAMI V. DUKE
As the Mockhawks celebrated their success, it dawned on them the challenge that lay before them - an undefeated Duke team. “Of course we would hit Duke - it's too poetic not to,” B team competitor Ryan Rugani stated before the round. The senior class had gotten to know Duke University quite well this past year. In the 2014 invitational season, Miami hit Duke 3 separate times - once in the championship round of CUBAIT, again at GAMTI, and then a third time at the Beach Party. Every time, Miami A had either split or lost to the Blue Devils. “This whole weekend has been building up to this point. We're ready though,” junior Reeti Pal told her team.
They were not ready for the sudden announcement by the tab room however. Due to side constraints, the A teams of both schools could not play each other. Instead of a titan round between Duke A and Miami A, the A teams of both schools would have to hit the B teams. Miami A would run prosecution against Duke B and Duke A would run prosecution against Miami B. “There are two goals in this round – bleed,” Neal Schuett said, as he pointed to Miami A, “and don't bleed,” he instructed, as he pointed to Miami B.
Taking their coach's instructions to heart, the A team geared up to unleash upon Duke B, but met formidable opposition. Duke B featured several veteran competitors, including Hunter Michielson and Rebecca Blair as witnesses. In response, Miami started their case-in-chief with an excellent direct between Senior John Spear and Junior Reeti Pal. Going into recess, however, Miami was uneasy. They knew they needed to bring it this round, and they felt that they were leaving too much to chance. They needed to bring the heat during Duke's case-in-chief. After returning from the break, they did just that; Sophomore Dani Kunkel threw out an entire direct examination and Junior Imokhai Okolo's dominant style proved to be unstoppable. Miami A did as they were told, and defeated Duke B +13 +15.
All eyes turned to Miami B. Fate had given Miami B a special boost in their round - Miami B's defense featured former National Competitors Sam Hobbs, Christina Romine, Adam Korn and Henry Leaman. In contrast with the flash and energy the prosecution side possessed, Miami B's defense was littered with experience – especially against Duke A. They would need every ounce of it. Going against them were national competitors Billy Silk, Craig Vincent, and Mindy McTeague. “It's going to take everything, and I mean everything,” captain Adam Korn told his team in their pregame speech.
Duke A laid out an incredible case in chief. Jair Froome gave a powerful opening and Nicole Kiprolov presented one of the most creative witnesses seen this year. The Mockhawks were nervous but responded well. Sophomore Bella Seeberg stepped up to the plate, going toe-to-toe with Duke's Billy Silk. Duke's Andrea Herman shook junior Ryan Rugani on cross, earning her a 10 on one ballot. At the end of the round, the Mockhawks felt upbeat – it had been a hard fought round. They would have to wait to see if it was enough.
Closing ceremonies on Vanderbilt's campus were nerve-racking. Individual awards were given to Senior Ben Sandlin and Sophomore Dani Kunkel for their work as attorneys on Miami A. As the placing announcements came and went, Miami grew more and more restless. When it came time for the championship to be announced, silence fell across the room. “This program won with a 4-0 sweep in the last round. Our Grand Ole Tournament Champions are...Miami University!” They had done it! Miami B had swept Duke A in the final round, +10 +11. “We finally got them back for all those rounds last year,” senior Najeeb Ahmed told us ecstatically. The ending to the weekend could not have been more iconic. Miami had gone back-to-back in program strength tournaments, and had back-to-back championship round sweeps.
The five-hour drive back to Oxford was filled with gleeful talk about the rounds and the excitement First Place brought them. The A and B teams will get to enjoy a weekend off before getting back into their suits for their final invitational tournaments of the semester. For the B team, next is Cornell University's Big Red Tournament. For the A team, the second of the Big Three Tournaments: the Great American Mock Trial Invitational (GAMTI), hosted in Washington D.C. For now, they will sleep easy, knowing they had fought with love and honor.
The A Team
Record: 7-1 | CS: NA | OCS: NA | PD: +62| Team #: 1053
Coaches: Neal Schuett, Jaime Glinka
Competitors: Najeeb Ahmed, Ben Sandlin, Elias Demeropolis, John Spear, Reeti Pal, Imokhai Okolo, Dani Kunkel, Katie O'Keeffe
The B Team:
Record: 5-2-1 | CS: NA | OCS: NA | PD: +7 | Team #: 1054
Coaches: Gus Lazares
Competitors: Adam Korn, Sam Hobbs, Ryan Rugani, Christina Romine, Henry Leaman, Chase Shelton, Bella Seeberg, Austin Worrell, Allie Cin, Tarah Mason
Dani Kunkel (π, 20 ranks)
Ben Sandlin (π, 18 ranks)