Coming off their first place wins at both Columbia’s CUBAIT and Vanderbilt’s Grand Ole Tournament (GOT), Miami A, team 1053, felt confident in their next challenge; University of Virginia’s Great American Mock Trial Invitational (GAMTI). However, they knew it would be a hard fought battle; Miami had attended this tournament for many years, but never had the glory of taking home the first place trophy. “Some of the alumni call it ‘the GAMTI curse’“coach Jaime Glinka told us, “Our style, at least historically, hasn’t done very well there”. This past weekend, they were prepared to put it all on the line as they competed against some of the top teams in the nation. In their hearts and minds, they hoped that they could finish off the fall invitational season with, yet another, first place finish. However, it wouldn’t be decided by what they thought; it would be decided by what they did.
DAY ONE: STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Heading into Opening Ceremonies, Miami would have the third pick in the challenge order, just behind Harvard and NYU. Harvard would challenge NYU, so Miami had their pick of the rest of the field. They chose to challenge Vanderbilt’s A team, who had just placed third at GOT two weeks prior. Since Miami got to choose their opponent, Vanderbilt got to pick the side they would compete on. They chose to represent the State of Midlands on the prosecution, meaning Miami would start their weekend on defense. This tournament would also have the unique twist in that each round would have three scoring judges, instead of the typical two, leaving Miami with just one more person to impress each time they performed.
In their first round, Senior Ben Sandlin would open for the Redhawks, igniting the momentum that would carry them through the round. The Commodores fought hard throughout their case-in-chief, attempting to stump Miami’s attorneys with their answers on cross examination, however, Miami’s bench rose to the challenge. Going into recess, Miami felt good, as captain Najeeb Ahmed would say, “We have proven ourselves in the first half of this round. Now we just need to bring it the rest of the way home.” All-American John Spear would add to that sentiment, “We need to be cool, calm, and concise, and this round is ours.”
Taking these words to heart, the Redhawks fought hard all the way to the finish. Junior Imokhai Okolo would have another stand out performance as one of Miami’s witnesses, proving once again, that for Miami in particular, it is the witnesses that win rounds. Miami A did just that, and with big margins, defeating the Commodores +12 +45 +17.
Since GAMTI is one of the Big Three tournaments, it has a few more twists and turns that other tournaments. Teams have the opportunity to challenge someone in the first round, but they are also able to submit an extended challenge order for the second round; meaning that if you won big in the first round, you would have your next pick on the list as your second round opponent. Although Miami went blind and didn’t know their record all weekend, they did find out that they would be hitting their next pick on their challenge list; host school University of Virginia.
Miami has a bit of a storied rivalry with UVA, born after a heartbreaking loss to them at Nationals just two years ago. The Redhawks would have the opportunity to change the tides, this time on the prosecution side of the case, but UVA Seniors Tanner Pruitt and Ben Constine were determined to keep Miami in hole. The direct examination between Senior John Spear and Junior Reeti Pal would be the standout of round, as the judges would point out in comments. Sophomore Dani Kunkel also had some fierce objection battles throughout the trial; but overall it wasn’t the best round the team felt they could’ve put forward, and it showed in the scores, +19 +1 -2. Team 1053 had now dropped their second ballot of the season. Witness Katie (Maria) O’Keeffe would reflect the feelings of the team after the round, “We knew this tournament would have some of the best competition we had seen so far this year, and this round definitely held that to be true.”
DAY TWO: THE “RHODE” TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
Miami would start its second day on the defense side of the case once again. After making some adjustments the night before, based on judges’ comments during the first round, Miami felt confident that the strength of their case would be enough to carry them through. However, it would have to carry them through another rival; Rhodes College, the school Miami defeated in 2001 to claim their first National Championship. Championed by award winning attorney Ian Hunley, and supported by witnesses Merideth Clement and Keri Roberson, Rhodes looked poised to get revenge for that Championship round so many years ago.
The round started off strong for the Redhawks, with All-American John Spear winning several key objections, preventing Rhodes from being able to enter key pieces of evidence. This was followed by a fiery cross-examination from Captain Ben Sandlin. Going into recess, Miami felt good. “This is one of the cleanest rounds we have presented so far this year,” Senior Elias Demeropolis said, “we are really stepping up to the plate in an important round.” Imokhai Okolo added, “This is the last time we will get to try this version of the case before changes come in December, knowing that really helps to put us in the right mindset going into our case-in-chief.”
That couldn’t have been more true in the second half of the round. Ahmed and Okolo’s witness performances were some of the best they have put on so far this year, and Spear closed out the case with a bang. Due to the amount and length of objection battles, the round went right up to all-loss, with only about a minute to spare by the time the ballots were turned in. The Redhawks went to lunch, pleased with their efforts, but slightly concerned by the judges’ various comments, and that concern was reflected in the ballots, as Miami beat Rhodes, but in a 2-1 split; -1 +5 +4.
Going into the fourth round, Miami didn’t know it at the time, but they would be facing the then untouched, 9-0 University of Georgia. The Redhawks would once again be representing the State of Midlands in the final round. Junior Reeti Pal said it best before the round began, “We may not know our record, but we know that we have no choice other than to sweep”. Miami was fortunate enough to have their fate in their own hands, rather than having to hope that another team swept UGA. “You take three, and that’s it- no praying, no hoping, nothing- Take three and leave chance out of it” coach Neal Schuett said before the round.
One of UGA’s strengths at GAMTI was in evidentiary arguments. The Bulldogs, featuring competitors like Andrew Stoehr and Ryan Switzer, were fierce from counsel table. Fortunately, Miami’s bench, comprised of Okolo, Spear, and Kunkel, were ready. Winning the key objection battles, Miami put up a strong front against UGA. Junior Katie (Maria) O’Keeffe had very good responses on cross-examination, and was able to add in several good points for the Redhawks along the way. The direct examination between Senior Ben Sandlin and Sophomore Dani Kunkel had to be slightly adjusted in order to finish their case within the twenty-five minute time constraints. Fortunately, they adjusted well, and the team felt confident going into recess.
As UGA went through their side of the case, they threw several curveballs that the Redhawks hadn’t seen from other teams thus far. Luckily, through the leadership of Seniors John Spear and Najeeb Ahmed, the Redhawks were able to make the necessary adjustments to Georgia’s unique theory. Ben Sandlin said after the round, “You always try to be prepared for anything that can happen during trial, however, there are some things you just have to adjust to as you go. Luckily one of our teams’ strengths is the ability to make those game-time adjustments when needed.” Overall, the Redhawks felt good about their performance, but they’d just have to wait for closing ceremonies to see if they had done enough.
TEAM 1053: MAKING HISTORY IN DC
As all the teams gathered in the courtroom for closing ceremonies, Miami felt tense. Having had no idea of their record all weekend, it was also hard to anticipate if they would receive any individual awards. At GAMTI, individual awards are calculated differently. The ranks that competitors got in the rounds would be added to the number of wins that the team had on that side of the case. So the highest number of ranks a competitor could get would be 36; meaning that they were ranked first on every ballot, and their team went 6-0 on that side of the case. Miami would take the top two attorney awards at the tournament. Sophomore Dani Kunkel received 32 ranks for her work on the prosecution side, while Senior John Spear won 33 for his work on the defense. Moving on to the witnesses, Miami would again rake in back-to-back awards; these would both be on the same side of the case, going to Senior Najeeb Ahmed and Junior Imokhai Okolo, with 27 ranks for each of them.
Finally, the top ten teams were announced. Miami had to listen as one by one, teams were announced. At this year’s GAMTI it took six and a half wins to reach the top ten. Miami started to listen as teams they had hit were announced; Rhodes took fifth with seven and a half wins, Georgia took fourth, UVA took third. The Redhawks waited until finally the last team was announced. Tournament host Toby Heytens said, “This team has been coming to our tournament for quite a while now, and this is their first time taking home the first place trophy. Team 1053, Miami University.” The A Team had done it! They swept Georgia in the final round +11 +4 +8. Not only that, but they had the highest CS of the tournament at 31.5 out of the highest possible 38. Miami was ecstatic, for the first time in Miami history, they took home first place at the historic GAMTI tournament. That title brought an immense sense of honor, as well as a giant travelling gavel trophy that they now had to find a way to transport back home.
This would conclude the fall invitational season for Team 1053. This was the grand finale to the best invitational season Miami had seen in many years. The Redhawks are excited to go home and have a few months off, preparing to read the case changes as they are released in the next few weeks. They will rest easy for the time being, knowing that they fought, and won, with Love and Honor.
The A Team
Record: 10-2 | CS: 31.5 | OCS: 105 | PD: +123 | 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