Road to Cincy: The Breath Before the Plunge
24 Walk in, and only six walk out
That's the deadly game Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) competitors had to play if they dreamed of having a shot at the national title in Cincinnati. Four rounds of nonstop, top level, competition. Since Miami changed from an ORCS host to a Regional host this year, the Mockhawks had to travel to Louisville, Kentucky, in order to compete. Miami A (Team 1075) and Miami B (Team 1076) left Oxford and began their ORCS journey at the historic Churchill Downs race track, where Jim Wagoner, founder of Bellarmine’s Mock Trial Program, fired the starting gun for the tournament. From the initial pairings, Miami knew they would face a rough road ahead. But it was one they would have to brave nonetheless.
Raising the Bar: Miami B Refuses to Compromise
Going into ORCS, Miami B was bolstered by the momentum from four successful tournaments—a 7-1 record in Illinois, First Place at the Beach Party, a 7-1 finish in Indianapolis, and a strong 6-2 showing in Pittsburgh. However, for the first time, the B team's opponents would finally be composed of "A Teams", otherwise known as teams that primarily utilize upperclassman talent. Given the differing weight classes of competition, ORCS posed an unprecedented challenge to Miami B’s nine second-year competitors and sole first year. However, if there was one lesson that Miami B learned from their season, it was to not to compromise with the odds.
They learned at Churchill Downs that their first pairing was to be with University of Missouri’s A Team. Mizzou would present an intentional shooting case, featuring a strong portrayal of Dr. Emerson Couples by Maggie Teson, and it would be up to the Mockhawk defense to stop them. Featuring a powerful opening statement by Adam Korn, and a scathing cross examination by Miami first year Dani Kunkel, the bench shattered defense case in chief. This allowed Miami to take the lead, taking two ballots off the Mizzou Tigers +1 +21. Looking at the ballots, the key performance in the round was that of Jazmine Kee, who scored straight 10s on one ballot alone, bringing the Mockhawks to their +1 victory. The competitors declined to comment on their results, since coaches superstition decreed it was bad luck for them to know their record at ORCS.
The second round brought their toughest matchup since being paired against California-Irvine last November. The B team ran their plaintiff side of the case against senior heavy Bellarmine A. But the competitive atmosphere didn’t stop with just the spirit of ORCS—the round also posed ironic significance. B team coach, Neal Schuett, knew he would eventually have to play Bellarmine A, coached by his wife, Missi Schuett. Dubbed by AMTA as the "Schuett Showdown", the Bellarmine team was heavily favored to be tournament champions. However, once again, The B team refused to compromise. They unleashed an explosive case-in-chief; starting with Katie O'Keeffe as the plaintiff mother, followed by Julia Luna as the first responding officer to the scene of the incident, and capped with a forensic analysis presented by Reeti Pal. Observers would call this round Miami B's best plaintiff case-in-chief of the year. Where the witnesses laid the foundation for triumph, the crosses capitalized and proved to be even deadlier. "I don't want to think about what the judges thought." remarked opener Imokhai Okolo as they left the courthouse. "That round was unbelievably close, and we're happy with what we put forward". The ballots reflected their sentiments, as the Mockhawks took one ballot +2, and lost the second by a mere -1.
The third round pitted Miami B’s Defense against Indiana University’s Plaintiff, who opted to pursue the uncommon theory of parental negligence. "Hayden Duran just walked away." They reiterated, tirelessly insisting that the defendant parent knew that his daughter, Jesse Duran, was likely to harm other children and that Hayden had failed to exercise adequate control over Jesse. This claim forced Miami to switch their defense entirely, relying heavily on the testimony of Danny Brooks, the plaintiff's babysitter, portrayed by Oliver Zoellner. "It was Sydney's [the plaintiff decedent]'s house, it was Sydney game, and it was Sydney's rules." Attorney Spencer Tackett said in his closing argument. Walking out, the Mockhawks were frustrated—they had allowed the round to get closer than they had liked, but the judges ruled in their favor: +2 +4.
The final round put Miami B against American B, which allowed the Miami Plaintiff side to close the tournament. In a twist, American surprised Team 1076 by arguing that the lawsuit against Hayden Duran was failed from the start—due to faulty police work. This strategy had caught the Mockhawks off guard, and they had to adapt to keep the round in their control. Dani Kunkel cross-examined the leading investigator, Dale Williams, and attorney Henry Leaman won his closing argument, despite the fact that it had been reduced to five minutes due to time constraints (normal closings typically last 9 minutes). As a result of the unusual strategy, the B team arrived at closing ceremonies nervous. They would leave it to the hands of the tab room, the only place that contained Miami B’s fate.
20.5: How Miami A handled the hardest schedule in Louisville
The members of this year’s Miami A hoped to uphold the dominance they cemented last year, when as the Miami B Team, they went 6-1-1 at the Hamilton ORCS. Fresh off of a 7-0-1 run in Oxford, Ohio, Miami A tuned their lineups, and drove into the competition. Their CS (Combined Strength of Schedule) would be 20.5, signifying that the Mockhawks had faced tougher opponents than any other team there.
Six of those CS points came from OSU A, who played against Miami A's plaintiff side in the match dubbed the "Battle for Ohio". Miami came out swinging, with an electrifying opening statement by Matt Meeks, and coupled with a damning forensic report by Najeeb Ahmed, Mr. Ahmed detailed how Jesse Duran had deliberately lifted, aimed, and fired the plaintiff's A.D. Baker & Co. Revolver, killing the victim instantly. The Buckeyes would respond by tapping into the talents of attorneys Megan Keenan and John Bailey, and ended their case with the testimony of Emily Shiever, who would later win an award for her portrayal of the child, Jesse Duran. The round was close, and observers left the round wondering which side the judges would align. The numbers reflected a split: +3 -2. "They played a tough case," witness Taylor Seay said afterwards. "The judges made some unusual rulings, and once we got caught up in that, we started falling behind."
The next four of those CS points came from Case Western Reserve, who hit Miami's Defense. Louisville presented the Miami program another ironic challenge. Not only had the B Team have to handle the “Schuett Showdown”, but the A team would have to face off against the Spartans, coached by none other than 2014 Miami Mock Trial alumnus Brad Ouambo. All-American Monika Mudd would testify as Jesse Duran, and John Spear would close the case, cementing a +7 +2 victory over Case Western. "ORCS are the most stressful time of the season," A Team coach Gus Lazares commented, "Even after a 3-1 start, we can't rest easy. Every team at this tournament wants us out, and we just have to keep attacking until it’s over."
Another six of those CS points came from the University of Cincinnati, Miami’s third adversary. Assistant-coach and former Miami All-American Alex Block called Miami's case, "The cleanest case they have presented all year," and spectators struggled to find criticisms of Miami's round. This decisive performance lead to Miami taking one ballot by the wide-margin of +14, but the remaining judge gave his ballot to UC, by three points.
The final four CS points came from a fourth round battle against host school Bellarmine B. The Mockhawks stood at 4-2; they would have to take two ballots in order to stay in the hunt. Their defense case-in-chief was spearheaded in part by the legal advocacy of Ben Sandlin, as well as the exceptional witness portrayal by Sam Hobbs. Nevertheless, the Mockhawks were uneasy. The round was closer than they would have liked. When they reached closing ceremonies, they kept their fingers crossed.
The Chips are down: Closing ceremonies
The closing ceremonies on Bellarmine's campus were dedicated to AMTA Hall of Fame Coach Jim Wagoner, who kicked off the awards portion of the ceremony. A Team's Najeeb Ahmed would win an outstanding witness award for his portrayal of Forensic Investigator Jules Sebastian, earning 17 ranks on the plaintiff. Both Jazmine Kee of Miami 1076 and John Spear of Miami 1075 would receive perfect 20 rank awards, for their roles as witness and attorney respectively.
Arms began to link, heads began to bow in wait. The first bid belonged to a record of 7-1, and the Mockhawks erupted into applause as Miami B took the first bid out, with the only record of 7-1! They had swept the final round +9 +10! From here, they will begin preparations for the Nationals Case, which drops on March 22nd, and will be fighting for a top spot at the National Tournament in Cincinnati, April 17-19th.
The next few bids began to go; Miami's opponents Ohio State and Cincinnati taking two of them. However, when all six bids were gone, Miami only held one. With a record of 5-3, Miami A ended the final match of their season with a split: +5 -1. A single point had kept them from a bid, as their CS would have given them the second place trophy. However, while Miami A's season ended, it was highlighted by unprecedented highs during the invitational season, including the return of the Beach Party Trophy, and a new all-program best at The Downtown.
But they did receive one final trophy from ORCS- the Spirit of AMTA, which recognizes one team for outstanding sportsmanship and high competitive integrity. And while those who are all too familiar with Miami Mock Trial are aware of the program’s opinions on the award, one cannot deny the fact that it still serves as a reminder of the spirit of dedication embodied by one of the hardest working groups of upperclassmen ever brought to the Redhawks, and to the Mock Trial community.
This program’s year of success would not have been made possible without the commitment, selflessness, and leadership of those four graduating seniors; Monika Mudd, Matt Meeks, Zach Stevens, and Taylor Seay. Their impassioned devotion, loyalty, and love has already, and will continue to, shape and inspire the lives of countless generations of mockers, both in and out of the courtroom for years to come.
And while it is true that many will walk in their footsteps, and stand where they once stood, there is no denying that no other group of people will ever quite match the love that they passed our way. They taught us what it means to be competitors, they taught us what it means to face every challenge with strength, and they taught us what it means to fight, no matter what the odds, with Love and Honor.
The A Team
Record: 5-3 | CS: 20.5 | OCS: 56 | PD: +25 | Team #: 1075
Coaches: Lawrence Hilton, Gus Lazares
Competitors: Matt Meeks, Monika Mudd, Taylor Seay, Najeeb Ahmed, Sam Hobbs, Zach Stevens, Ben Sandlin, Elias Demeropolis, John Spear,
The B Team:
Record: 7-1 | CS: 16 | OCS: 71 | PD: +48 | Team #: 1076
Coaches: Neal Schuett, Jaime Glinka
Competitors: Spencer Tackett, Adam Korn, Reeti Pal, Imokhai Okolo, Julia Luna, Dani Kunkel, Katie O'Keeffe, Oliver Zoellner, Henry Leaman, Jazmine Kee
John Spear (∆, 20 ranks)
Najeeb Ahmed (π, 17 ranks)
Jazmine Kee (∆, 20 ranks)