Debate team gathers bids at Wake Forest tournament

For all the teams on campus, there’s only one recognized to be ‘#relentless.’ The Westminster DebateCats have quite the tradition of success – and based on their early achievements this year, the pattern appears likely to continue.

The team kicked off the season with a bang at the Wake Forest tournament on the weekend of Sept. 7, with two teams making it to the elimination rounds of competition. Seniors Colin Basco, Mallika Madhusudan, and Marc Odermatt, as well as junior Naman Gupta, reached the top sixteen, at which point the team of Basco and Gupta proceeded into the “elite eight” of the debate world.

Their success continued into the finals, earning both of the aforementioned Westminster teams a bid for the national Tournament of Champions in April, as well as individual speaker awards for  Basco, ranked eighth and Gupta, fifteenth, both very impressive in a field of nearly 250 competitors. Upon the closing of the tournament, the Westminster debaters held the highest number of bids for the TOC, a standing that has continued to be upheld in subsequent tournaments.

During the preliminary rounds of the Wake Forest Tournament, both Odermatt and Madhusudan won five of their six rounds, as did Basco and Gupta. All of the Westminster teams had either a winning or even (3-3) record, while many cranked out impressive individual speaker scores. However, the eliminations rounds (“elims,” as they are called) are where the real drama occurs. After having both breezed through their doubles (32 top teams) rounds, Madhusudan and Odermatt (or, in debate-speak, Westminster MO, stemming from the last initials of the pair) were paired against Basco and Gupta (Westminster BG), who, due to their superior speaker scores, advanced over Madusudan and Odermatt in octofinals and proceeded to the quarterfinals.

“They beat a very strong and nationally known team [in quarters],” said coach Jordana Sternberg, “and therefore moved into the semifinals.”

Basco and Gupta continued their reign into the finals, where they were defeated by a very strong team. Regardless of the final outcome, it was enough to earn Westminster two bids for the Tournament of Champions, more than any other school. The school has upheld this record in the following few tournaments, still retaining more bids than any other in the nation.

In addition to the four elim participants, other students competing in the tournament included seniors Catherine Zhang and Bryant Wang, juniors John Shen, Eric Odermatt, Saul Forman, and Evan Katz, sophomores Katie Zhu, Anish Dayal, Colesy Cotter, Alex Kong, and Katie Carithers, and freshman Harrison Hall.

Though the Wake tournament was simply the kickoff to the season, sophomore Katie Carithers says she is confident in her team’s ability to continue their unmatched success.

“We have lots of great seniors on the team,” she said. “There’s a lot of awesome role models for the younger debaters.”

Carithers has basis for judgment – both Basco and senior Eileen Li attended the Tournament of Champions this past year, where they succeeded despite being younger than the competition.

Unlike Westminster sports teams, the debate team competes at the national level and has won the TOC, the equivalent of a national championship, six times since the team’s inception. Dozens of states were represented at the Wake tournament alone, meaning that the tournament featured some of the best debaters in the country.

Despite the team’s success and importance to the school, very few understand the work that debaters put in to achieve this success. Art teacher Kristin Brown, for example, had no idea what exactly the debate team did.

“All I know is they travel a lot,” said Brown.

“My brother was on the team,” said junior Elisabeth Pavur, referencing brother James Pavur (’13), but was unable to elaborate beyond knowing he “talked very fast.”

“They travel around the country saying smart people things,” said one anonymous student. While this is all true, Westminster debate is about much more than the travel or, well, “smart people things.”

“Debate is a very research-oriented, centered-on-facts activity,” said debate coach Jordana Sternberg, “where a pair of students from one school will compete against a pair from another.” The team consists of 22 experienced debaters, as well as eight newcomers, the majority of whom are freshmen.

“It’s looking really great this year,” said Carithers. “I think we can win a lot of tournaments.”

“I don’t want to jinx anyone,” Sternberg said, “but this team has a lot of very strong, talented debaters, all the way from seniors down to freshmen. I would also like them to not just succeed in competition, but also to learn a lot across the year.”

Best of luck to the Westminster DebateCats at their upcoming tournaments, and remember: talk fast, think hard, and don’t forget to be #relentless.