MSJ Speech and Debate triumphed at The Princeton Classic and the La Costa Canyon Winter Classic invitationals, which were both held virtually on December 3-6 and 4-6, respectively. Many members advanced to eliminations rounds in both tournaments while two Public Forum (PF) debate teams became co-champions of the La Costa Canyon Winter Classic tournament.
The 15 MSJ entries in the two tournaments were largely successful considering such a large pool of total competitors, with five entries placing within the top 15 at the tournaments.
At Princeton, Seniors Derek Zhang & Tiffany Zhang advanced to Doubles in Varsity PF, earning a Silver Bid to the Tournament of Champions (TOC), a series of national high school speech and debate invitational tournaments. Two Dramatic Interpretation (DI) Speech entries, Interpretation Captains Juniors Megh Basu and Nihar Duvvuri, each advanced to semifinals as well.
There were exemplary results at the La Costa Canyon tournament as well: two varsity PF teams, President Senior Serena Mao & PF Captain Senior Sabrina Cai and Sophomore Florence Zhu & Freshman Vedesh Kodnani closed out semi-finals and became co-champion teams, receiving Gold Bids, as well as Executive Vice President Senior Shamika Gavaskar, who qualified for semifinals in DI and also earned a bid.
Based on tournament rankings, competitors are able to earn bids for the TOC. This season alone, the MSJ PF team earned a total of 14 TOC bids — the most bids across all high schools in the entire country. The MSJ Speech team also gained three TOC bids to the University of Kentucky TOC and the National Individual Events TOC.
“I didn’t think I was going [to] get that far at all,” Zhu said, referencing the unexpected difficulties of virtual competitions. “I expected to be eliminated after [the] double-octo finals, so after I won, I was really surprised.”
These outstanding results are a proud testament to how the team adapted to the limitations of COVID-19.
Because of the many different factors such as WiFi glitches, delayed video cameras, and audio issues which affect performance, there is the possibility of more arbitrary judging decisions. “It’s 50% of what you put in, and then 50% is just up to the judge, [whether it’s] their bias, their own personal thoughts, or how they related with your piece,” Gavaskar said.
Especially now with online tournaments, it is a lot more difficult to connect with the audience. Rather than speaking directly to the judge or opponents and seeing their reactions, competitors talk to blank screens, which makes it more difficult to gauge their own rankings.
For now, the most competitors can do to prepare for tournaments is join MSJ Speech and Debate’s labs, which are held over Zoom each week. “Zoom has made it really easy for us to use breakout rooms [and] split [varsity] members up [to] work with everyone either individually in breakout rooms or as groups,” Duvvuri said. Though working online is not the most ideal situation, competitors are still able to receive feedback from fellow members in these labs.
“Zoom has made it really easy for us to use breakout rooms [and] split [varsity] members up [to] work with everyone either individually in breakout rooms or as groups”
However, there have still been some struggles with shifting labs online.
Members can at times talk over one another, and there’s also a lot of technical issues that the captains have to account for. Vice President of Debate Junior Tushar Dalmia said, “It’s hard to accommodate for all the WiFi … [and] audio issues that get in the way, so transitioning fully online has been a bit difficult.”
Additionally, the social aspect, talking to your friends and meeting new people through labs and tournaments, has always been “what keeps a lot of people going to [Speech and Debate], so it’s a little sad that that’s not there anymore,” Basu said.
Despite the lack of in-person interaction, team spirit in online tournaments has not died out. Students are still able to form new connections and skills. “After a lot of our rounds, we’ll have Zoom meetings to debrief [which is normally] hard when you’re on opposite sides of campus, but when everyone can easily hop on a Zoom call, … there are a lot more opportunities to communicate with each other,” Mao said.
Ultimately, MSJ Speech and Debate has adapted virtually and are looking forward to future tournaments. Gavaskar said, “We hope to carry the momentum we’ve had [at the La Costa Canyon Winter Classic and The Princeton Classic invitationals] to future tournaments [such as] ASU, Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley.”
Cover image by News Editor Alina Zeng