ESU Debate shocks nation with epic, clutch performance

February 14, 2013

Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith hold their trophy from the Owen L. Coon Debate Invitational at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The ESU Debate team turned-in an epic performance last weekend. The Owen L. Coon Debate Invitational at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL plays host to the largest and most competitive regular season tournament of the Spring semester. And after 45 hours of debating Saturday, Sunday, and Monday the team of Ryan Wash (Senior communication major) and newcomer Elijah Smith (sophomore political science major) placed 2nd losing to the top team in the country from Georgetown in the finals (which concluded at 2:30am Tuesday morning).

“We have had a lot of success in the last two seasons,” said Samuel Maurer, Director of Debate at ESU.  “But this is by far the best single tournament we have had competitively in decades.”

In intercollegiate college debate, there are no divisions that would cordon-off ESU from the top competition in the country.  And although some tournaments attract only a few schools from the region around it, tournaments like Northwestern attract the very best of the best from every corner of the US – from Los Angeles to Boston, every competitive debate team is in attendance making the competition incredibly cut-throat.

“Northwestern is a big tournament because of first-round at large bids” explained Maurer. It is the last tournament before nationals in March when teams can competitively make the case for how they qualify to the national tournament.

Only 80 teams of the hundreds that compete nationally are invited to the National Debate Tournament (NDT) in March. The first set of teams to receive bids are the teams the NDT committee deem had the best regular seasons.  The top 16 teams in the country receive first-round at large bids (FRALB) to the NDT. Last season, ESU earned its second-ever FRALB (the first coming in 1976) with the team of Ryan Wash and LaToya Williams-Green (now a master’s student at Wake Forest University) as they were ranked the 9th team in the country.

This season, Toya Green graduated, leaving a void that someone would have to step-in and fill.  “We knew replacing Toya – who was last year’s Debater of the Year nationally – would be difficult,” Maurer explained “but our goal all the same has been to get our second first-round in a row.”

Going into Northwestern, ESU was not going to receive a FRALB and the odds looked remote at best. Due to a partner change, Emporia had fallen from the #10 team in the country (easily a part of the top 16 for the FRALB) out of the top 25. It looked like all hope was lost for the FRALB.

“We speculated prior to the tournament that our performance at Northwestern would have to be stellar to turn it around.” remembers Christopher Loghry, Assistant Debate Coach at ESU. “We needed to show the [NDT] committee that Ryan [Wash] could still perform at the highest levels with a different partner with little to no reputation.”

And perform they did.  Emporia SW (Smith and Wash) won 12 debates in a row over 3 days before losing their first debate of the tournament in finals to the team of Arsht and Markoff from Georgetown university – by all indicators the best team in the country. During their run to the finals, ESU defeated the #4 team in the country (Harvard BS), the #5 (Wake Forest LM), the #9 (Harvard DT), the #11 (Michigan State HR), the #15 (Oklahoma CL), and  the #25 (North Texas KP). Ryan Wash was rated the 3rd overall speaker, the best speaker award won by an ESU debater at that tournament as far back as the record books go. The tournament performance was also ESU’s best ever. ESU’s winning streak also included wins over each of Harvard’s top 3 teams. 

“This tournament will doubtlessly send us up in the ranking,” explained Maurer. “Now the question is how much and we’ll just have to wait and see. I am very confident that the FRALB is back in play for us now.” FRALB’s will be released early next week.

The tournament was a tremendous success for ESU debate. Maurer explains “It’s not just that we did so well, its that we did so well in the clutch. If we were going to accomplish our goals for this season, we needed a stand-out performance and what we got was legendary. Emporia is definitely the buzz of the college debate community right now.

“Ultimately,” concluded Maurer, “the FRALB bid is a terrific honor but just another way of getting to the NDT. Our goal is championships. If we are awarded the bid it will certainly simplify that goal as we will not have to qualify through the district tournament. What we are taking away from Northwestern more than anything else, however, is that we can beat anyone in the country. [FRALB] or not, if we debate at nationals the way we debated at Northwestern, we’ll be putting a sign on the highway.”

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