The city of Normal, Illinois, was anything but this past weekend as it played host to the Mockhawks for its Thirteenth Annual Illinois State Invitational. The ISU invitational is one of the biggest tournaments of the season - thirty teams, fighting for eight ballots, across three days of competition. Not only were the Mockhawks fighting for glory, they were also fighting for pride - Miami had a tradition to uphold. Through the hard work of the past competitors, Miami had finished in the Top two for the last four years: 2nd in 2011, 2nd in 2012, 1st in 2013, and 2nd in 2014. It would be up to the veterans of Miami C and the fresh faces of Miami D to continue that tradition of Love and Honor.
LEARNING TO RUN: MIAMI D CHARGES AHEAD
Following an modest showing at Ohio State's Scarlet and Grey Tournament, coach Kate Bowling knew it was time to turn up the heat for her all new baby team. “We've reached the point in the semester where the students understand how mock trial works. Now they are trying to tackle a different challenge - how to do it well.” With their first flight under their belts, the babies of Miami D eagerly awaited another shot in the well. “Now that we've gotten all the jitters out of our system, I'm excited to do some damage,” competitor Daniel Sanders said.
Illinois State holds rounds over three days rather than the traditional two. Competitors dub this style of tournament a “1-2-1” with the first round being Friday evening, two rounds on Saturday, and one round Sunday morning. After the long drive through Indiana, Miami D learned they would have to run prosecution against Northern Illinois University for their first round, and there was a definite score to settle. Last year, Miami B hit NIU in the first round and lost on a one-point ballot, keeping Miami from a first place finish. The past record did not weigh heavily on Miami D, who unleashed their newly reformed case-in-chief. Sophomore Aaron Brooks opened the round for Miami and the Mockhawks rolled out from there: Spencer Campbell, Andrew Abbey, and Maria Hooker would all testify for the State of Midlands. However, NIU excelled in the first round. Their case-in-chief rose to the challenge, and Miami lost the round, -12 -3. Once again, NIU would defeat Miami in the first round.
The second round proved more daunting than the last - Miami D would run defense against a powerful Cornell College. Cornell College had a tradition of their own to maintain. Over the past three years, Cornell College placed 1st in 2012, 2nd in 2013, and 1st in 2014 - always neck and neck with Miami Mock trial. “We look forward to challenges," freshman Katie Milders said. “If that means playing Cornell College, so be it.” Katie would get her chance to prove that, as the middle attorney in the round. Round 2 featured a dynamite performance by freshman Michelle Mbelle, who helped push Miami to a +6 +12 sweep.
Now that Miami balanced their record to 2-2, they would have to go defense against St. Ambrose University. Back on the defense, Maria Hooker and Katie Milders would run excellent cross examinations of the prosecution's witnesses, and with the help of witnesses like Toni Bernardi and Michelle Mbelle, Miami would sweep this round +8 +16. “We control the fourth round,” freshman James Gale told his teammates. “Let's play our game, and end [with a record of] 6-2.”
With that, Miami was put in the driver’s seat. With a 4-2 record, Miami D would face down DePaul University. The Blue Demons were also 4-2, making this round a winner take all match-up. However, the pressure did not seem to faze the babies of Miami D. Spencer Campbell was Miami's first witness, and, in the words of sophomore Aaron Brooks, “that really got the ball rolling.” When Sophomore Daniel Sanders impeached one of DePaul's witnesses, “that's when we started feeling some good vibes” freshman Andrew Abbey said. A smiling James Gale closed out the trial for the Miami prosecution and the Mockhawks would leave the fourth round upbeat.
They would have to wait until closing ceremonies to learn the highly anticipated results.
ON A ROLL: MIAMI C FIGHTING FOR TRADITION
For Miami C, Illinois State represented another proving ground. After finishing second to an impressive University of Georgia squad at the Scarlet and Grey Invitational, the C team looked forward to playing four rounds in Illinois and ending second to none. “I knew what I signed up for: to be part of the legacy, we have to uphold the legacy. [This tournament] is our chance to do that,” freshman Ariel Shuster mentioned before leaving Oxford.
For some, Illinois State was a familiar battleground. Of Miami C's nine competitors, five of the sophomores vividly remembered the difficultly of this tournament. At an impressive record of 6-2, last year's baby team still only managed to receive an Honorable Mention. The difference between them and second place was just one point on one ballot. “The margin of error is really small in big tournaments like this,” coach Alex Block reminded his team “That's why we can't leave points on the table. That's why we have to treat every round like our last.”
Luckily, sometimes teams get second chances. Loyola B was one of those teams. Loyola B played Miami C at the Scarlet and Grey, and now they would have the chance to fight Miami again on the same side of the case. This presented a predicament: would Loyola pre-empt the Redhawks strategies? Was there an unknown card up their sleeve? The only way of knowing was to play the round out. Sophomore Cali Ford opened for Miami, and with the help of Maci Woyat, the Redhawks went after the Rambler's witnesses. However, Loyola had prepared their witnesses, and they knew Miami's crosses. “Everything was much more polished than we saw it last time,” sophomore Reese Wells commented. Miami did have one trick that Loyola hadn’t seen at Scarlet and Grey - Captain Jay Kranzdorf had joined the defense table. With Loyola fighting for revenge, and Miami fighting for tradition, the round continued close to All Loss. When the smoke cleared the courtroom it was close but Miami had won by a hair, taking both ballots +1 +1.
In round 2, Miami would face a fresh opponent in Bradley University. Despite not having the foresight they had in the previous round, Miami didn't hesitate. Freshman Eashwar Nagaraj and Sophomore Reese Wells fired on all cylinders and were able to land a few hits on cross. With their combined efforts, and the testimony of Sophomore Da'Rya McAllister, Miami was able to walk away with an impressive sweep, going +16 +21. “That's the kind of win you like to have. Definitely a good start to the day,” sophomore Addison Caruso said.
Round 3 would force Miami to face down the C team of regional powerhouse Wheaton College. Wheaton, whose program is approaching it's fifth birthday, made headlines in it's second year when they cracked the National Top Ten rankings in their first national competition. “When you hear big Mock Trial names, you know it's a round worth watching,” sophomore Julia Pair mentioned before the bout. Freshman Ariel Shuster would get her chance to shine on the witness stand and she would be backed up by an impressive attorney bench of Jay Kranzdorf, Reese Wells, and Eashwar Nagaraj. “We've hit big programs two tournaments in a row now! I could get use to this,” Shuster joked in the break between cases. However, they couldn't sit on their heels. Corbin McNeill and Natalie Bishop responded for Wheaton, slowing Miami's momentum and forcing the Redhawk attorney bench to keep up on cross. The results said they had managed - Miami took one ballot +4 and tied the other. “Ties are the worst!” Maci Woyat complained after the round. Frustration aside, the round put Miami in an excellent spot. They were 5-0-1 entering round 4, and they only had two teams in reach of them - a side constrained (and thus, unplayable) 5-1 Eastern Kentucky University and the tournament hosts, a 5-1 Illinois State A.
Miami would have the honor of playing the hosts in round 4, where everything was put on the line. Unbeknownst to the Mockhawks, Eastern Kentucky had swept their round, putting them as the First Place team at a record of 7-1. “If you want to leave this state with a first place trophy, you have to sweep. No ties, no splits, just get after those ballots and don't stop until the closings finish,” coach Alex Block told his team before the round. Miami C trotted out their defense lineup, and swung away. Maci Woyat and Reese Wells lit up the witness stand, and Da'Rya McAllister reprised her award winning witness role against Illinois State. Illinois State did not waver. Under the guidance of Coach Thomas McClure, the Redbirds of Illinois State remained calm and crossed pitilessly. “When you play A teams, you have to be a little bit nervous,” Captain Jay Kranzdorf said afterwards. “Because they're usually playing on a whole different level. When we can keep up as a team of first and second year competitors, we feel pretty good about ourselves.”
WHERE WE'VE BEEN AND WHERE WE'RE GOING: CLOSING CEREMONIES
Hosted on Illinois State's campus, the tournaments’ closing ceremonies managed to fit all thirty teams into one room. When awards were announced, Miami’s attorneys came up empty handed but for witnesses, Miami would be the last name called. Miami D's Michelle Mbelle was the only witness at the tournament to score a perfect 20 ranks and she would be Miami's only individual award winner.
For the D team, emotions ran on high. When they learned they had taken Third Place after a commanding +34 +20 sweep, they were ecstatic. After an upsetting 3-5 finish in Columbus, OH, Miami D had turned their luck around, placing in the top three with a final record of 6-2.
When the announcement came for First Place, Miami crossed their fingers. To their surprise, Cornell College had gone 4-4, and some of the competitors worried that Cornell's record was a sign that this year would break from tradition. Miami traditions, though, are hard to break. The C team took First Place, after sweeping the host school +11 +12. This would be Miami C's second trophy, and they would make the drive back to Oxford in style, boasting the return of Illinois State's First Place trophy - the last team to have done so finished Seventh at the 2014 National Championship Tournament. The C team hoped they're season could be as fortuitous.
The C team will get a chance to play at a higher level this upcoming weekend, as they join the B team for Cornell University's Big Red Invitational Classic (BRIC). The D team will get to enjoy some time off before attending an invitational at Xavier University before finals week.
Record: 7-0-1 | CS: 16 | OCS: NA | PD: +66 | Team #: 1055
Coaches: Alex Block
Competitors: Addison Caruso, Caroline (Cali) Ford, Jay Kranzdorf, Da'Rya McAllister, Eashwar Nagaraj, Julia Pair, Ariel Shuster, Reese Wells, Maci Woyat
Record: 6-2 | CS: 17 | OCS: NA | PD: +81 | Team #: 1056
Coaches: Kate Bowling
Competitors: Andrew Abbey, Toni Bernardi, Aaron Brooks, Spencer Campbell, James Gale, Maria Hooker, Michelle Mbelle, Kathryn (Katie) Milders, Daniel Sanders
Michelle Mbelle (∆, 20 ranks)