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UST Mock Trial Team Goes Further than Ever Before

By Astrid Guevara
On April 25, 2016

Mock Trial Team at Rhodes College

The University of St. Thomas’ Mock Trial Team recently competed in the Dallas Regional of the American Mock Trial Association’s (AMTA) postseason tournament. On February 19- 21st, 700 teams from all over the United States competed to earn a bid to the Jackson Lewis Opening Round of the National Championship. The team consists of Maria Ortega, Milton Hernandez, Van Foster, Kevin Shaghaghi, and team captains Diego Frias, Catherine Williams and Sydney Keller.  They were coached by faculty coaches Rick Young and Jason Cox and volunteer coaches Derrick Owens and Paul Hubbell, who joined UST this semester.

With a final record of 5 wins and 3 losses, the UST team qualified to proceed to the next round of the competition, for the first time since 2013. The Open Round tournament took place March 18-20th in Rhode College in Memphis. Although the team did not go through at Memphis, having ended with a 2-8 record, it was what the team believes to be their best finish as a school.

Initially, the process of training and preparing for the Dallas Regional came with its challenges.

“I think the greatest challenge we faced was trying to build a new case theory in such short notice,” says Coach Derrick Owens, “the teams at the regional competition normally run the same case all year. In our case, we had about a month to construct and perfect a case. We condensed about 3 months of work into 1 month.”

Team captain Catherine Williams recognizes that they were up against difficult opponents.

“We are a small university with a small team, competing against large universities with multiple teams,” she says.

In addition, there were some sections of the tournament that were more difficult to train for than others.

“Our witness development was a stretch for this program,” says Owens, “We added new ideas and characters to our case with the intent to score more points.”

“[The hardest part was] probably the stress or the rush that occurs right before a round,” says Williams, “the most important thing to learn is how to present yourself. If you are acting as an attorney you have to present yourself as one. Likewise, if you're acting as a witness -if it's a casino owner or a bell hop- you must know how to present yourself.”

Prior to the Dallas Regional tournament, St. Thomas had been the third lowest ranked team in the yearly power rankings. That all changed through the determination of the students.

“We were able to do it by communicating every day and practicing 3 to 4 times a week,” says Owens.

 “[The students] succeeded through hard work, perseverance, and by developing the ability to think on their feet,” says Coach Jason Cox.

The students believe that the coaches helped make their success possible.

“What helped the team grow were our dedicated coaches, Dr. Rick Young, Dr. Jason Cox, Prof. Derrick Owens, and Prof. Paul Hubble,” says Williams. “They sacrifice so much of their time and are available on call 24/7.

Sacrifices had to be made on their journey to win the competition.

“We worked several hours a day, every day up until the competition and then, once there, we worked even harder,” says Williams.

The students were practicing and giving up their time until the day of the actual tournament.

“We would get out of a 2-3hour long round, go back to the hotel, scarf down some food, and then meet to practice with our coaches until late into the night.”

The success of the team was no small feat and the team recognizes their excitement over their victory. Their win was achieved despite the doubts of their opponents.

“Other teams across the country did not [think we] would be successful at regionals. One website said we had about a 7% chance [at winning],” says Owens.

“When you’re a smaller school and you are discounted because of that, it makes you want to prove all the more that you’re capable of competing with any school in the country, which is what the team did this year,” says Cox.

However, the team has not let the success distract them from the competition in Memphis.

“We celebrated for a few days,” says Owens, “but [quickly] began prepping for the Open Round Championship. After leaving this tournament, the country will know a team from Texas is on the rise.”

At the Open Round Championship, the team faced opponents from larger universities than were present at the Regional competition.

 “We [went] against teams such as Rhodes, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Millsaps, UT, and Washington University,” says Williams.

At the tournament, eight states competed for a total of twenty four teams. UST faced the University of Tennessee, Rhodes College, and Southern Methodist University. In round three, the team had as a presiding judge Mr. Harry Tillis, a practicing attorney from Long Island, New York who judges at AMTA tournaments every year.

“He is widely considered the most notorious judge in AMTA,” said Paul Hubble, “and in a split decision, the Celts won his ballot.”

Although the team did not go on to the National level, they accomplished success. Team member Diego Frias received a top attorney award, given to the top attorneys at the tournament.

“It is the first attorney award from this stage in the competition that St. Thomas has earned,” says Frias.

In addition, the mock trial team has goals that go beyond this year’s tournament.

“My goal is to grow the program to multiple teams, travel to tournaments in and out of state and become a consistent dominate force in the mock trial community,” says Owens. 

“We hope to expand the team,” says Williams, “The Mock trial can help a number of majors such as political science, communication, criminal justice, and drama - just to name a few.”

The students of the Mock Trial Team advice others to think about joining.

“This is so much more than just another class,” says Williams, “It teaches you how to be confident and explain your view - as well as understanding what you're listening to.”

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