Forensics team finishes seventh in the nation

UNL's speech and debate team finished seventh in the nation at the National Individual Events Tournament on April 6-8. The team was first among all Big Ten teams competing in the tournament. (Courtesy photo)
UNL's speech and debate team finished seventh in the nation at the National Individual Events Tournament on April 6-8. The team was first among all Big Ten teams competing in the tournament. (Courtesy photo)

The UNL speech and debate team finished its 142nd season with strong performances at national tournaments.

UNL placed seventh nationally and first among Big Ten teams at the American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament on April 6-8 Hutchinson, Kan. Seventy-eight schools and 500 students competed. The team placed in the top 10 for the fifth straight year and in the top 20 for the 18th straight year.

The highlight of the national tournament was the performance of junior Grace Kluck of Lincoln, who won the national runner-up championship in poetry interpretation.

“Grace is one of the most dedicated students we have on the team and her runner-up victory demonstrates all the hard work she puts into the activity,” said Aaron Duncan, UNL’s speech and debate program director. “We have amazing students and coaches and I am so proud of all of them.”

The top 10 percent of student speakers nationally qualify to compete at the national tournament and the top 15 percent of those select students advance to elimination rounds. Nineteen UNL students qualified in 65 events and seven students advanced to elimination rounds. Four students placed in the top 10 in their event.

In addition to Kluck’s runner-up finish, senior Lauren Schaal of Omaha was 10th in persuasive speaking and in communication analysis. Patrick Sather, a senior from Omaha, was 10th in prose interpretation and eighth in duo interpretation with Joshua Planos of Omaha. Planos also was eighth in poetry interpretation.

Schaal also was named to the AFA-NEIT All-American Team, which includes 12 students who have demonstrated excellence in classroom, in their communities and in competitive speech.

Bradley University was first at the national tournament with 659 points. Western Kentucky University was second with 488, while George Mason University finished third with 335. Other teams in the top 10 and their scores are: University of Texas at Austin, 273; University of Alabama, 259.5; University of Nebraska at Omaha, 258.5; UNL, 235; Gustavus Adolphus College, 209; Illinois State, 183.5; and University of Northern Iowa, 181.

On April 18-22, team members won fifth place at the National Forensics Association’s Tournament of Champions in Athens, Ohio. Brin Walters, a senior from Saline, Mich., won a fifth place individual finish and was named the fifth-place overall speaker at this national tournament. Jeff Garst, a sophomore from Omaha, was ninth. The UNL team finished with 48 points, one point behind fourth-place Rice University.

“We have a wonderful group of debaters on the team committed to the ideals of argumentation and advocacy,” Duncan said. “If our young students on the team continue to work hard and stay committed, the sky is the limit for what they can achieve.”

On April 27-28, sophomore Reece Ristau of Omaha placed fifth at the National Interstate Oratory Competition. Each year the top two persuasive speakers from each state are selected to compete at the 142-year-old tournament, which is the oldest public speaking competition in North America.

Among other season highlights was the Speech and Debate team’s win at the Conference Challenge Tournament at Northwestern University, where the team claimed UNL’s second Big Ten Tournament victory.

“The success of the team would not be possible without the support we receive from the Department of Communication Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, special donors and the university’s commitment to recruiting the best and brightest student speakers from across the state and nation.”

Dawn O. Braithwaite, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, said the dedication and excellence of UNL’s student speakers and their coaches was inspiring.

“This program is the oldest student activity at UNL and these students remind us that the future is indeed bright,” she said.