Mock Trial Team delivers promising performance at east coast invitational

By Olivia Sanchez | December 7, 2017 11:44am

The University of Portland competed in four trials at a recent east coast tournament, winning three against Dickenson College, Pennsylvania State University and University of Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Jacque Nelson.

The University of Portland Mock Trial team finished third-place in the 16th annual “Swear Me In, Scottie” Carnegie Mellon Invitational Dec. 2 and 3 in Pittsburgh, PA, against a competitive field of 22 teams from prestigious east coast institutions.

In addition to team success, UP took home three individual awards, the most given to any institution at the competition. Mock Trial President Jacque Nelson received an award for her performance as a defense attorney, sophomore Harrison Pyros received an award for his performance as an outstanding witness, and sophomore David Mudd received an award for his performance as an expert witness. Sitara Nath, Athena Hoppe, Temmo Cramer and Kelly Krigger also competed on UP’s mock trial team at this event.

Seven players from the newly resolved and growing team at UP competed in four trials over the course of the two-day event and won three of them, securing the team a third-place finish overall, according to Nelson. The team considers this to be a success, and a sign of hope for the rest of the competition year, Nelson explained.

The team performed on both defense and prosecuting arguments of the criminal case, and was seeded first in the competition going into the final trial against Georgetown University, but lost by seven points. Teams are scored on each stage of the three-hour trial by two judges, and the most points a team can earn is 124.

Seven of the top players from UP's Mock Trial Team competed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA., winning three of their four trials. Photo courtesy of Jacque Nelson.

“We were so bummed to find out that we had lost it by so few points, but it was such a thrill to even get to that point,” Nelson said. “We’ve never done so well in an invitational before, especially on the East Coast.”

UP competed against Dickinson College, Pennsylvania State University and University of Pittsburgh in the first three trials of the competition and won “full ballot” in each one, meaning that they scored more points from both judges in each stage of the trial. They had been seeded first in the tournament going into the trial against Georgetown, which had been seeded second.

Pyros, who had not tried his hand at mock trial before arriving on The Bluff last fall as a freshman, didn’t except when he started that he would be at the top of the competing team. He splits his time between his studies, his role as an ASUP senator, and mock trial. He was hooked on mock trial early on, he said, and the competition makes it worth the time commitment. He also won an award for the closing argument he made as an attorney at another competition in Spokane this fall.

“I grasped onto it pretty easily,” Pyros said. “I’ve always been somebody who enjoys a debate and a rational argument so I have really thrived in this club.”

Nelson, a senior organizational communication major who has been competing on the mock trial team since she was a freshman, expects the team to qualify for the national tournament this spring.

The team will next put its skill to the test on Feb. 10, 2018 when the 30-person team will be broken down into four competition squads for participation in a regional tournament. Success at this level will determine whether or not the team qualifies for the two-part national tournament, which will take place in March and May.

Pyros, mock trial vice president, is confident that the “A” team will succeed at the regional level, and advance to nationals, given that the events of last year do not repeat themselves. Pyros explained that the team had high hopes at regionals last year, but fell to West Coast power Stanford University early in the tournament, and its season was cut short.

But the team is stronger this year, Nelson said. Although in recent years she said it has been regarded as a pretty good team for the West Coast, it is being taken much more seriously after its strong performances this fall.

The University of Portland Mock Trial Team is composed of 30 students, and the majority of these students will compete at the regional level in February. Photo courtesy of Jacque Nelson.

“Our team is fantastic right now,” Pyros said. “This year I think our skills are honed to a T. I have a lot of trust in my teammates.”

After receiving the case for the year in mid-August, Nelson said the team resolved to be competitive against a national field. It set goals, planned to gain experience by traveling to this competition, and has been going above and beyond the typical six hours of practice per week, Nelson said, often spending at least 11 hours each week mastering its arguments.

“Everybody shares the same trial material,” Nelson said. “How you interpret it and how you want to tell the story is different for every team. The point is to have such a bulletproof case theory that any team you go against is gonna have a really hard time fighting back.”

Nelson, who just completed a fall internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will intern with social media agency SparkLoft Media throughout spring 2018. In addition to her professional endeavors, Nelson is in her second year as Campus Programming Board (CPB) Director on ASUP’s Executive Board. 

Although she is looking forward to the competition in February, the regional competition begins on the same day as CPB’s biggest event of the year, Dance of the Decades. Nelson is disappointed that her “two loves” have to conflict, but did not even hesitate when making the decision to travel with her team to the regional competition.

“I could never not do this,” Nelson said. “This is the smartest group of people I have ever met.”