Pretrial Matters: 2015 Season Preview

Miami antes up

Every August, college Mock Trial competitors and legal enthusiasts await with nerve wracking anticipation an event nicknamed "Mock Trial Christmas". August 16th marked the day of this momentous occasion, and in a matter of hours, students across the country began diving into AMTA's most intricate case yet: The State of Midlands v. Avery Bancroft and Chase Covington.

This year’s case presented Miami Mock Trial with challenges unlike any before—a choice of two defendants, physical evidence, and a disguised witness.  All of these elements bring excitement and fervor to an often-overlooked aspect of the legal field - white-collar crime.

In short, Miami competitors and coaches have had to wrap their head around how Midlands Casino Owner Avery Bancroft allegedly bribed Chase Covington, a member of the Midlands Gambling Commission, in an attempt to receive a second casino license. The State of Midlands has at its disposal detectives, accountants, forensic analysts, linguists, and security officers. Meanwhile, the defense (for both Bancroft and Covington) can choose to have a police auditor, a poker dealer, a bellhop, or the prosecution’s own accountant testify on behalf of their clients. 

This is just a glimpse into the challenges that Miami, along with the rest of the country’s mock trial competitors, will be debating for the next few months. The Mockhawks will have to suit up this coming Saturday for Miami’s first invitational tournament of the year, hosted by the University of Dayton. All four teams will kick off the 2015 season in Dayton, hoping to start off strong on the Road to Greenville.

on a hot streak: miami a comes off a top finish

The talent and skill on Miami 1053 features one of the most academically diverse teams in recent memory. Drawing strongly from the 2015 Nationals team, Miami A features a powerhouse line up of not one, not two, but three All-American competitors (an honor awarded to less than %1 of mock trial competitors) in John Spear, Elias Demeropolis, and Katie (Maria) O'Keeffe. Cincinnati favorites Ben Sandlin, Najeeb Ahmed, Dani Kunkel, and Imokhai Okolo also stack 1053's roster, and this team is itching to earn even more hardware after Miami's third place National finish last year.

“We've really done some refining,” senior Najeeb Ahmed said. “Plus, our team's been reunited with some of our old teammates. So, it’s great to see some familiar faces sitting on our side of the courtroom.” Reeti Pal, who helped the 2014 B team place 7th at Nationals, and who proved to be instrumental in propelling Miami to a national bid last year, will be returning to Ahmed, Sandlin, Spear, and Demeropolis - her teammates from her freshman year. Upon hearing the news, Pal said, “It's like 1159 all over again. It’s great to be reunited.”

When looking at Miami A, the diversity of witness potential immediately stands out. Both Demeropolis and O'Keeffe earned their stripes as character witnesses, with Sandlin narrowly missing an All-American title of his own in Cincinnati last year. Pal and Ahmed are no strangers to the witness stand as well. Winning individual awards at Regionals and ORCS last year, as well as scoring well on crosses against teams ranked in the Top Ten of the country.

Sitting at the helm of this star-studded roster are coaches Neal Schuett and Jaime Glinka, who coached both the 2015 B team (who helped Miami win the 2015 Beach Party Invitational hosted by UC-Irvine) as well as last year’s third place National’s team. The spotlight on the A team is nothing new to Schuett and GlinkaSchuett, as an undergraduate Mock Trial competitor, won two national championships while attending Iowa University, while Glinka helped Miami place second at Nationals in 2010.  Together they are eager to take the Mockhawks on the "pro-circuit" comprised of GAMTI, The Downtown, and The Grand Ole Tournament. 



Something Old, Something New; Miami B's resurgence

For many schools, the B team is a place for competitors to train for their placement on the A team. However, only at Miami University is this the exception, where the B team is expected to have an equally good shot at the National Championship. This mentality has driven Miami B to place within the Top 40 best teams in the country (#33). This year, the B team has seen some new faces and some returning - some fresh and some weathered by experience. Miami 1054 features a mixture of both juniors and sophomores, topped off by Senior competitors Sam Hobbs and Christina Romine, who both competed for Miami A during their landmark invitational season last year. Joining them are juniors Adam Korn and Henry Leaman, who helped lead Miami to their only nationals bid the year before with 1076 Miami B. In addition to them is junior Ryan Rugani, who was has returned to the fold after being unable to compete last spring due to an internship in Washington DC. 

But the new faces are what give Miami B its greatest spark. Taking competitors from last years’ two developmental teams, Miami B is able to stimulate itself with the flexibility and passion that’s characteristic of great teams. Former captains Chase Shelton and Bella Seesburg join the B team, alongside sophomore Tarah Mason, sophomore Austin Worell and Junior Allie Cin. “While this case is going to be tough, we have a lot of kick. Practices are already clutch,” junior Adam Korn said after the first week.

Leading the B team is Miami Mock Trial Alumnus and All-American Gus Lazares. Lazares, who coached Miami A the previous year and was recently awarded the National Top Oral Advocate Award as a Law School Mock Trial competitor, competing on behalf of the Ohio State Moritz College of Law. Gus brings a tremendous work ethic to the energetic B team. “Diamonds are made from pressure and heat,” junior Ryan Rugani replied when asked about Coach Lazares. “And we can be sure Gus is going to give us both.”

Not holding back; Miami C is taking names

Stacking the first developmental team is the class of 2018—Miami Mock Trial’s sophomores, along with a spattering of freshman. Miami C features an especially noteworthy witness, Julia Pair, who was awarded a Regional Outstanding Witness Award last year in Pittsburgh. Many in the AMTA community will remember Miami 1055 for being comprised of the remaining members of the 1077 developmental team last year, who notoriously took a ballot and tied off with #13 nationally ranked Northwood A. Caroline Ford, Reese Wells, Jay Kranzdorf, and Addison Caruso hope to make names for themselves as they attend tougher tournaments like Georgia Tech's Ramblin’ Wreck and Cornell's BRIC. “We've always enjoyed the limelight and the reactions other teams give us when we tell them how young we are,” Caroline said about her former team. “We're certainly going to see more of that this year.” 

Four freshman will get their chance to experience that same feeling as they join Miami C. Ariel Suster, Da'Rya McAllister, Caitie McGarvey, and Eashwar Nagaraj represent the surviving members of the 2015 recruitment effort— the most competitive and grueling in the program’s memory.

In addition to all their talent the Mockhawks will be supported by an MMT legend to boot. Double All-American Alex Block coaches the C team, as he now enters his second year on the Miami Coaching staff. “Once you spend time on other side of the courtroom, your perspective changes,” Block said, commenting on his time as coach of Miami D and then assisting with the Nationals team last year. “I've grown to appreciate the effort these [competitors] give every practice. I've been around long enough to know if they have that much fuel in the tank, there's no one they can't beat.”

The faces of the future: Miami 1056

“With this year's tryout being especially difficult, it really forced students to put their heart and souls into the process,” said A-team coach Neal Schuett following the roster announcement for the 2015-2016 Miami Mock Trial season. He could not have been more right. This year, MMT prospects had only 24 hours to memorize a statement and create a character for presentation in front of the coaching staff. With over 200 prospective students vying for a spot, coaches debated well into the night as they attempted to make a decision regarding who stood out from the five-hour tryout. 

Seventeen names rose to the top and Miami Developmental Coach Kate Bowling claimed ten of them. Kate herself is no stranger to Mock Trial, especially considering she has the honor of being Miami Mock Trial's first ever (and still only) Double All-American Attorney/Witness as well as Miami’s first female All-American Attorney. "”Kate expects a lot from her students,” Senior Sam Hobbs said when asked about Kate's impact. “I can't think of anyone who will have the babies better trained, better prepared, and hungrier for victory, than Dr. Bowling.” 

1056 attorneys Spence Campbell (left) and Taylor Schlepp (right) argue objections in a Sunday practice.

The new freshman class brings with it a few members that are by no means unaccustomed to Mock Trial.  First years Katie Milders and James Gale both hail from High School Mock Programs in Ohio and California, respectively. Additionally, sophomore transfer student Daniel Sanders has experience from his time on University of Texas – Dallas’ Mock Trial team. 

For the rest of the team, Mock Trial may be a new activity, but one whose challenges and rewards they eagerly await. Maria HookerMichelle MbelleAndrew Abbey, and Aaron Brooks comprise a powerful witness core, further reinforced by attorneys Spencer Campbell and Rick Das, and topped off by the support of dual-role competitor Taylor Schlepp. There is something that separates this baby class from years past; determination. Late nights, long practices, and weekend scrimmages fill the calendars of this year's baby class. It's a grueling schedule, but it's one built by the competitors- not by coaching, or by the older members. This team is willing to put in the work, and come this weekend, they'll be ready to reap the rewards.

Miami Mock Trial opens their Fall season October 17th in Dayton, Oh. Follow us on Facebook on Twitter for pairings, updates, and results!

Henry Leaman