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2018 TBC Analysis Empty 2018 TBC Analysis

Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:51 pm
Tournament Format
This year’s Trial by Combat is the first-ever 1-on-1 collegiate mock trial tournament. Modeled after similar law school competitions such as Baylor’s Top Gun, Trial by Combat is the newest tournament for Justin Bernstein, who also created a similar high school competition known as Gladiator. 16 of the top competitors in the country will compete in a 4-round format. In the four trials, each competitor will perform once as a prosecution attorney, once as a prosecution witness, once as a defense attorney, and once as a defense witness. Attorney scores are weighted at 70% of a competitor’s overall score. The competitors only have 24 hours to prepare the case, and are only allowed to work with one coach or teammate.

Prep Time
One of the most unique elements of Trial by Combat is its tournament format. Most of the competitors at Trial by Combat have experience preparing a Nationals case in four weeks, but that’s nothing compared to the 24-hour prep time of Trial by Combat. This could be a huge boost to two types of competitors: (1) competitors who are used to writing their own material and (2) competitors who bring along experienced coaches. During the AMTA season, competitors have months to memorize and perfect material. Trial by Combat will reward adaptability and quick thinking, not only through its 24-hour prep time, but in the tournament ballot itself. One of the seven categories that judges will be scoring is “Improvisation”. Some competitors are more used to performing a set script, while others depend on off-the-cuff innovation. This difference could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

With such a short amount of time to prepare the case, coaching will be crucial at Trial by Combat. Each competitor is only allowed to have one coach helping them read through the case and prepare material. Some of the top coaches in the country are represented at Trial by Combat - Miami’s Neal Schuett, Georgia Tech’s Will Warihay, Cincinnati's Josh Leckrone, and Northwood’s DeLois Leapheart. On the other hand, coaching may look very different with only 24 hours than it does with several weeks. Coaches who are used to making decisions for their students will be forced to give the students a bit more of a free hand.

The competitors at Trial by Combat are some of the most accomplished competitors in AMTA. However, most of the participants are known primarily as attorneys - at Trial by Combat, witness scores account for 30% of each competitor’s performance. In a field of so many incredible attorneys, witnessing could be a make-or-break difference. Competitors like Enrico Trevisani and Rachel Sommers, who have both earned All-Americans as witnesses and attorneys, could have an extra edge. Deniz Tunceli, the only member of this field better known as a witness than as an attorney, may be relying on witnessing to set him apart. On the other hand, competitors who generally stick to attorney roles will have to prove themselves as witnesses.


Deisy Abarca-Espiritu, University of Rochester
Deisy Abarca-Espiritu has been part of a team that has had an impressive rise over the last few years. After getting two teams through Lancaster last year, they qualified a team through the most difficult ORCS in the country this year(and also the ORCS closest to Philadelphia, so we know she does well in this judging pool), earning a spot to Minneapolis where Abarca-Espiritu earned herself an All-American. Abarca-Espiritu has an impressively tenacious style (even to a fault). Witnesses who are used to getting away with wishy-washy answers on cross or subtle misstatements of fact should beware. Abarca-Espiritu will pursue her points until she has the witness agreeing to what she wants them to say. She can also make a cross with very little material or just a few simple points to work with seem substantive and hard hitting, which may come as an advantage with a short case and little prep time. Where Abarca-Espiritu may suffer is polish. Rochester has a tendency towards a more polished and less off-the-cuff style than other east coast programs and it remains to be seen whether she will be able to put together that level of polish on such short notice. Abarca-Espiritu has chosen to bring along her teammate, current senior Zachary Marshall-Carter, as a coach. Marshall-Carter only has a few awards to his name, unlike some of the other coaches (Regionals last year, Black Squirrel this year) but, on the other hand, the experience of having been on a team with her coach may help build the kind of trust and teamwork that will be critical for a 24-hour prep time.

Elizabeth Bays, Yale University
For Elizabeth Bays, being on the best team in the country isn’t enough. Being on Yale’s A team isn’t enough. Closing for that A team isn’t enough. Bays, as a sophomore, was already captaining and double closing for Yale A last year. She led that same team to their third straight final round. Since then, Bays has been making a name for herself. Her style is smart and aggressive, honed by years of hard work and polishing. Bays is able to switch between precise, calculated questioning and highly adaptive improvisation as needed. As the only member of this field who competed in Gladiator (the high school version of Trial by Combat), Bays will have an edge over her competitors in experience with 1-on-1 mock trial. But just like the rest of the field, she has never competed on 24 hours of preparation. Her limited witness experience may hurt her - she has only competed as a witness in a few trials and has never won an award. As evidenced by Yale A’s less-than-stellar performance at this year’s National Championship, Bays has a bit of a polarizing style. Her aggression sometimes puts off judges in the Midwest, but she shines on the East Coast and has won awards in Pennsylvania in the past. She will be helped in her preparation by her father, Tim Bays. Tim Bays’ main experience coaching mock trial seems to be coaching his daughter (he’s a philosophy professor with no J.D. and no mock experience of his own) although it’s unclear in what capacity he’s been helping since Yale is famous for not having coaches. This can be seen by Yale’s choice to not nominate any coaches for the W. Ward Reynoldson Award in 2015 and 2016 - the fact that Bays was one of Yale’s honorees in 2017 could tend to indicate he did something useful.

Christopher Grant, Northwood University
Christopher Grant exploded onto the national stage last month as the highest ranking attorney in the Minneapolis Division at the National Championship, and the only attorney in the division to win awards on both sides of the case. While the rest of the country is just getting familiar with Grant, he has been a household name in Midwest Mock for months. Grant’s team -- Northwood University -- is a classic mock trial powerhouse that has fallen off in recent years. This season, he carried The Nicest Team In The Country back to nationals for the first time in three years, picking up all-regional and all-national awards along the way. Chris is flashy and aggressive on cross, and smooth as butter in closings. He has charisma in spades, and he always puts on a show for the jury. Given the success of his performance style, Grant hasn’t often been forced to win crosses or objections on their substantive merits, instead relying on his flair to pick up points. It will be interesting to see how this strategy fares against the high-level competitors he will see at Trial by Combat. Regardless, Chris Grant will certainly be extraordinarily entertaining and memorable in the courtroom, and, as he demonstrated at the National Championship a few weeks ago, he is a force to be reckoned with. Grant will be bringing along long time coach of Northwood, DeLois Leapheart. Leapheart has been a member of the AMTA board for years and is the Reynoldson Award winner for 2009 when she coached a team to an National Championship victory.

Kaitlyn Harper, Northern Illinois University
For the past few years, Harper has been the star of Northern Illinois University’s mock trial program. From publically available tab summaries, Harper has been one of only two attorneys at NIU to win any attorney awards in the past two seasons. She has brought home more than a dozen awards in her career (including AMTA awards as high as the ORCS level and invitational awards at a number of tournaments primarily featuring nationals level teams), proving herself as one of the best in the Midwest. Many of her awards are either double-sided awards or 20-rank awards. This means that Harper is used to being the best attorney in the courtroom and to performing on both sides of the case. This experience will serve her well at Trial by Combat, just like it has served her well at NIU. Harper has helped carry NIU to the National Championship in 2016 and 2017 - quite an accomplishment for a program founded in 2012. However, NIU has struggled at the national stage and Harper has left two national championships empty-handed without an All-American award. A victory at Trial by Combat would solidify her place among the best. Helping her is long-time coach Mitch Pickerill (who has coached teams from multiple universities to the National Championship), which should bring her an extra level of comfort in Philadelphia.

Stephen Johnson, University of Cincinnati
Stephen Johnson comes from a program that exemplifies classic Midwest mock. While Cincinnati failed to make it out of an unpredictable Hamilton ORCS this year, Johnson has been a standout member of this traditional powerhouse for several years now (and as a senior returning for a fifth year, he’ll have another chance to bring his program back to Nationals). Johnson plays a straightforward, easy-to-follow style of mock that has consistently worked well for him, earning him over a dozen attorney awards in the past four years. Like many Trial by Combat competitors he’s known primarily as an attorney, with a sole witness award earned in the fall of 2014. Johnson is likeable and confident in the courtroom and tends to have a thorough understanding of the cases he plays, though it remains to be seen whether this is just the result of a level of preparation that will be impossible here. His biggest challenge will be competing with the flashy, dramatic presentations of many of his competitors, as Midwest styles can often fall flat outside of their region. Johnson will be assisted by his coach, Joshua Leckrone. Leckrone is the longtime coach of Cincinnati Mock Trial and an alum of that same program. Those used to watching AMTA final rounds may also know him as one of the color commentators for the last few finals (which should also give you a picture of his views on mock trial).

Mike Kleynman, Rutgers University
Kleynman shocked everyone by being the only 30 rank attorney at nationals last year. But, what made this performance even more impressive was the fact that Kleynman was just a sophomore at the time. While Kleynman spent the first half of this year abroad, once he returned he resumed right where he left off; taking awards at regionals, ORCS, and then on both sides at nationals. Kleynman benefits from a very aggressive council table. While he has a very soothing, calm, controlled demeanor, the rest of Rutgers tends to be more aggressive (typical of northeastern strength). Kleyman also is very good at remaining unfazed under pressure. At this level this can be expected from all the competitors, but his composure stands out whether he is winning, losing, or if the outcome is unclear. Particularly on objections, Kleynman really shows his confidence and smooth delivery. As a witness, we are excited to see how Kleynman does. He has some experience witnessing from his freshman year and his raw likeability plays well particularly with overly aggressive or easily rattled attorneys. Kleynman will be assisted by Rutgers coach Michael Roberts, who coached the 2012 National Championship runner ups.

Danielle Kunkel, Miami University
First and foremost, Danielle Kunkel is a champion. Last month, Kunkel led Miami Mock Trial to their first national championship in 17 years. This makes her one of only three Trial by Combat competitors to have competed in an National Championship final round (along with Bays and Tunceli), and that experience will pay dividends in Philadelphia next month. Kunkel is professional, confident, and commanding in the courtroom. She is known for her aggressive objection arguments and she strikes fear in the heart of witnesses with her impeachment-heavy cross examinations. This aggressive style works especially well when she crosses defendants, but can have mixed results when she faces more sympathetic witnesses. This was apparent in the National Championship final round, when Kunkel performed a particularly cutting Foley cross and impeachment which, while effective at making her points, often made her look unkind to Yale’s Foley. While Kunkel has always been able to score points and win awards with sheer polish and commanding presence, it will be interesting to see how Kunkel’s style works against the elite competitors at Trial by Combat. Kunkel will have the assistance of one the nation’s elite coaches, Neal Schuett, the head coach of Miami’s team. Schuett has the rare achievement of winning AMTA championships as both a coach and competitor -- he won two national championships as an attorney for Iowa University in 2002 and 2003. Schuett and Kunkel have proven that they can win together, and there is every reason to think they can do it again.

Dylan McAuley, University of Richmond
Of the 16 competitors hand-picked by Bernstein, McAuley is certainly the outlier in this field. This season, Richmond A went 4-3-1 at regionals, relying on their B and C teams to earn them 2 bids to Wilmington ORCS where they again failed to make it out. When comparing individual awards, McAuley is last in this field with only 3 attorney awards. So why then did Bernstein pick McAuley? Last year was one of Richmond’s most accomplished seasons in their history. They dominated the regional and ORCS season finishing with a 6-6 honorable mention at Los Angeles. McAuley himself has a polished and slow style that renders him likeable to most judges and unlikely to offend or polarize. In other words, while he’s not the flashiest or most performative member of this field he may be one of the more consistent. McAuley will be coached by his teammate, Jabari Lucas. Lucas is one of the most well awarded competitors in the Richmond program with two All-American awards. Lucas is, however, an interesting choice in a competition that is 70% based on attorney performance since all of Lucas’s awards are as a witness. This may, however, lend an edge to McAuley, who has no witness awards of his own, in picking up a few extra points on the witness side against competitors and coaches who are more attorney focused.

Nick Ramos, New York University
Ramos is pure New York. He is aggressive, responsive, and very off-the-cuff. He is willing to take risks and deviate heavily from scripts or plans when he sees an opportunity. This will serve him well in a tournament where improvisation will be key. On the other hand, sometimes his risks are too risky and can get him badly derailed or make him look unkind or unprofessional particularly when he isn’t entirely prepared. Ramos is also exceedingly good at evidence law, so competitors should expect to be harassed with objections they were not expecting and had not prepared for. In general, competitors who thrive on polished and predictable trials may be about to meet their downfall if they have to go against Ramos as an attorney, because he will have some clever curve balls up his sleeve. While he has not excelled as a witness the way he has as an attorney, he has witnessed a few times on the AMTA circuit. As a witness, Ramos tends to continue his powerful delivery. He has historically not played character witnesses, but his unique vocal tone and speech pattern make his witnesses engaging anyway. Ramos will be working with Amanda Tuminelli who has been coaching NYU for the last few years and so has experience working with him. Tuminelli herself was the captain and president of NYU mock trial during one of their most successful periods and earned herself an All-American by competing in the 2010 NCT final round.

Eric Roytman, The Ohio State University
When Eric Roytman speaks, you can tell he believes every word he says. With every speech, every examination, every argument, Roytman convinces judges that his opponents’ cases are full of holes and that their arguments are weak. His no-nonsense style leaves adversaries with nowhere to hide, and he excels in breaking down their arguments and jumping on mistakes. He has shone as Ohio State’s opening attorney this year, winning his second straight All-American as a defense opener. Roytman’s opening expertise on both sides of the case gives him a distinct advantage in setting the tone of a trial. However, working as an attorney for both prosecution and defense has meant that Roytman has not been able to hone his skills as a witness in the past few years. (Perhaps Trial by Combat will be a chance for Roytman to bring back his long-lost Russian accent witness.) He also enters Trial by Combat without the help of his long-time coach Alex Bluebond. But his coach Megan Keenan, a former Ohio State competitor and University of Virginia coach, is just as capable. Keep an eye out for a possible Roytman-Kunkel rematch - the two Ohio rivals faced off at both ORCS and the National Championship this year - their intense round two trial at the National Championship fell to Miami, and Roytman may be looking for revenge.

Jack Seigenthaler, Stanford University
What happens when you give Prince Charming a beautiful baritone voice and an iron-clad knowledge of the law? You get Jack Seigenthaler. Seigenthaler is extremely smooth and comfortable in the courtroom and is a clear performer at heart. We can expect to see Seigenthaler own every courtroom he steps inside. Despite his commanding presence, Seigenthaler maintains a charming and controlled demeanor, which will make it interesting to see pit him against aggressive attorneys like Kunkel, Ramos, or Bays. We expect Seigenthaler to also have a strong showing as a witness as his warmth and likability will serve him well on the witness stand. But at Trial by Combat, charm won’t be enough, and Seigenthaler will need to prove the depth of his mock trial skill. Seigenthaler will be coached by Stanford’s coach, Thom Scher, someone who has worked closely with Justin Bernstein in the past, and whose Mock credentials are unquestionable. Scher also has the advantage of having coached 1-on-1 mock trial before at Bernstein’s Gladiator where he has been coaching since its inception including coaching the 2016 champion Yale’s Andy Parker.

Rachel Sommers, Columbia University
Rachel Sommers is eminently reasonable. She puts together cases that are easy to follow and that just make sense. Her smooth polished style very rarely waivers even when she meets something unexpected. She doesn’t rely on flashy tricks to make her point, rather, she uses a mix of logic and smooth presentation to win the jury onto her side. All of this will come as an advantage in a tournament where demonstratives are banned and where competitors won’t have much time to rehearse their delivery. Sommers is also one of the few competitors at this tournament with significant witnessing experience. Like her attorney persona, her witnesses are calm, reasonable, and likeable. She specializes in experts and straight portrayals which do not rely on jokes or funny accents. This will, again, be an advantage, particularly on a ballot where one third of the witness score is from the category of “credibility.” The biggest concern with Sommers is that sometimes she can get lost against a competitor with a bigger or flashier personality. Many of the competitors at Trial by Combat will have just that. It will be interesting to see how Sommers’ brand fares against competitors who are just as competent and intelligent as she is but bring more flair to the courtroom. Sommers has chosen to bring along former teammate Nick Zurawski as her coach. Zurawski certainly has a Mock Trial resume that will come in handy with numerous attorney awards and a reputation for improvisation. That said, they have fairly strong stylistic differences in the ways that they both think about and perform mock trial that may not be helpful. It worked for several years on their National Championship teams, though, so it may work here too.

Zeke Starr, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Zeke Starr may be one of the less well-known competitors in the field, but he’s certainly no less dangerous. He has led a program who made it to ORCS for the first time in 2014 to the National Championship two years in a row and earned many individual awards along the way. He was the top ranked attorney at Duke’s Tobacco Road invitational this year, where his team placed second, taking ballots and ranks from UVA, Florida, and Furman. Mixing aggressive questioning with a casual southern presence, it’s anybody’s guess how his style will work for Philadelphia judges, but we are excited to see what he brings to the table. Starr’s weakness may be his lack of witness experience, but given his charming demeanor as an attorney the transition may be smoother than most. Starr will be coached by Erika Hyde, who before working with Tennessee Chattanooga and coaching them to the last few NCTs was a coach for Duke (including during their 2012 championship winning season) and a competitor for Vanderbilt where she attended the National Championship Tournament as a senior.

Sarah Stebbins, Georgia Institute of Technology
When Sarah Stebbins joined Georgia Tech they had an AMTA power ranking of 184 and a single ORCS appearance to their name. A few years later, they were the fourth-ranked team in the nation. It is hard not to draw a connection between this rise and the dominance of Sarah Stebbins. Stebbins is the most awarded member of this incredibly stacked field, having led her program to three top 10 finishes at the National Championship in three years and having collected four All-American awards along the way. Stebbins has a very down-to-earth style of mock trial, not reliant on theatrics and flair. Instead, she sets herself apart with her clean, simple presentation of devastatingly clever arguments. Stebbins’ confidence and adaptability will undoubtedly lend itself to the compressed schedule of this tournament, making her a serious threat to even the most dangerous competitors. It will also make her less polarizing (and, therefore, less likely to lose valuable points) than some of the flashier competitors. While very little is known about her ability as a witness, she has won an award as a witness before at Elon’s Carolina Classic Invitational at 2014, so she may be better prepared than some of her competitors to assume that role. Stebbins will be bringing Georgia Tech coach and AMTA President-elect, Will Warihay, to assist her.

Enrico Trevisani, University of Arizona
Trevisani comes into Trial by Combat with a lot of momentum. On the way to one of Arizona’s best finishes in recent history, Trevisani picked up two All-American awards in Minneapolis. He is one of the only competitors in the field (along with Rachel Sommers) to have All-American awards as both an attorney and a witness. Not only that, but Trevisani has won attorney awards as a mid (ORCS 2018), a closer (ORCS 2017), and an opener (2018 NCT). This sort of versatility makes him a strong all-around threat. As an attorney, Trevisani brings a huge amount of swagger to the courtroom, where his voice and presence give him a boost. But at Trial by Combat, Trevisani will be facing (perhaps for the first time in his career) attorneys who are his equal in talent and charisma. As a witness, Trevisani found success this year as Detective Nichols and Agent James, playing a brash but charming Brooklyn officer. If the Trial by Combat case includes a police officer, Trevisani will be in his element (even more so if he brings out his infamous mustache). Trevisani will compete with the assistance of his teammate Nick Beachy. The two have worked well together, helping take Arizona to the National Championship for the past two years - Beachy’s theory-building should be a good addition to Trevisani’s style and presentational skills. Trevisani ended his senior season at the top, and he will need both his witness and attorney skills to continue that streak.

Deniz Tunceli, University of Virginia
Tunceli comes into Trial by Combat as one of the most award-winning competitors in the country. He has competed for one of the top teams in the nation for four years, picking up four All-American awards and a National Championship along the way. But almost all of Tunceli’s accolades have come from his witness performances. As showcased in both the 2016 and 2017 final rounds, Tunceli tends to play a charming Turkish immigrant for most of his characters, which could be a bit of a problem for Trial by Combat. Justin Bernstein has indicated that the Trial by Combat case is written for competitors who typically compete as attorneys - this might mean police/expert-style witnesses who are typically played in a more subdued manner. Tunceli has only won a single attorney award in his career at Virginia, making him one of the least proven attorneys in the competition. But that award was earned at GAMTI, proving that he can set himself above the highest levels of competition as both a witness and as an advocate. Tunceli will be bringing a member of the sizable UVA coaching staff, Ryan Leonard, to help him. This may be a surprise for those who would have expected UVA head coach Toby Heytens, but with Heytens’ new job as Solicitor General of Virginia, perhaps it isn’t shocking. But at UVA even their non-head coaches are impressive. Leonard attended the National Championship with Delaware himself and then returned to coach Delaware to a top 10 finish before moving to UVA, where of course, the program has seen considerable success. Virginia competitors and coaches seem to have cracked the code to consistent mock trial success - Tunceli looks to cement this legacy at the inaugural Trial by Combat.

Individual Award Breakdown
When possible, these numbers were taken from the website of each competitors’ respective team. When these records were unavailable, we used publicly-available AMTA tab summaries. If we missed any awards, we invite any competitor to message us or post below with a list of individual awards and we will update the table.

2018 TBC Analysis Maimdc10
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