Nine Talking Saints Headed to National Speech and Debate Championships

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

HELENA – Four Carroll debate teams will head to Denver University in Colorado April 14-16 while one individual events performer competed at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, last weekend.

First-year student Michael Fuller of Helena competed at the National Individual Events Tournament in three events: prose interpretation, program oral interpretation (POI) and impromptu speaking. Fuller did not advance in his events but gained valuable knowledge from the experience.

"You get there winning regional tournaments, then you get to nationals and you realize the others are God Kings and Untouchables, and you realize you’re not there yet," said Fuller, who filled notebooks with observations. "I could sometimes tell who would win the early rounds, but in the final rounds they were all so good I had no idea. They were so good it was terrifying – in the best way."

Fuller’s prose was a whimsical story about a man’s dedication to saving squirrels, while his POI featured a collection of voices of transgender youth, struggling to adjust in a not-always-supportive society.

Brent Northup, coach of the Talking Saints, says current coaches and former members of the team have joined forces to help Fuller prepare.

"Sometimes it takes a village to get ready for nationals," said Northup. "Assistant coaches Anna Hoerner and Tanner VanWyck have worked with Michael, and alums Nik Griffith and Hanna Hillier also volunteered time to help him. Wonderful to see three generations of team members working together."

The NIET is the nation’s premiere individual events championship, featuring the finest performers from across the nation. In college speech and debate, all schools of all sizes compete in one division. That means Carroll locks horns with 70 colleges including the University of Texas, the University of Alabama and Arizona State University.

Carroll will send four teams to the United States Universities national championships at Denver University from April 14-16. Two upper class teams will be joined by two first-year teams to compete at one of the largest debate tournaments in North America. Close to 200 teams are expected to compete where the favorites will include Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

Competing will be juniors Tori Hill from Glendive, Montana, and Becca Poliquin from Phoenix; junior Freddy Gray of Idaho Falls and sophomore Haley Meredith of Jerome, Idaho; first-years Kelsie Watkins of Snohomish, Washington, and Peri Dropping of Redmond, Washington; and first-years Kennedy Bahm of Missoula and Sofia Minudri of Moscow, Idaho.

Hill and Poliquin advanced to the quarterfinals at the United States Western Championships at PLU in Tacoma on March 25-26. Poliquin was 10th best speaker and Hill was 11th.

"We always consider ourselves a scrappy underdog," said Poliquin, "so it was really empowering to do well against such good teams."

The first-year teams warmed up for nationals by attending the North American Women’s Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia. Top teams, all consisting of female-female partnerships, from across Canada and the United States competed.

"It was fun to compete against such great teams,” said Bahm. "In our first round we met Harvard, Cornell and the University of Toronto."

Sophomore Kavida Naidu of Mauritius and first-year Faith Scow of Helena also competed in Vancouver.

“It was an enriching learning experience,” said Naidu, who was particularly impressed by Duke and Harvard.

Scow's reaction to the powerful field of teams was simple: "Wow!"

Carroll's young teams did not advance, but gained a wealth of experience.

"It was a little overwhelming at first," said Watkins, "but it was great to see so many great teams and to learn new strategies we can use next time."

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