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2021 TBC Analysis Empty 2021 TBC Analysis

Wed Jun 23, 2021 12:15 am
Initial Thoughts:

Abby Branham, Florida State (Second Chair: Emily Hinton, Coach: Julie Howard):
Abby Branham comes into this year's TBC as one of only two sophomores, but she has certainly proven herself to be a formidable competitor and a force to be reckoned with. First and foremost, she has proven success in the 1-on-1 format. In fact, that might be an understatement given that she won Gladiator her senior year before heading to FSU. This will not be Branham’s first TBC either; she was a second chair to her former teammate Taylor Rich. This means that she is not only familiar with the 1-on-1 format, but also with the 24 hours turnaround that makes TBC the task that it is. Beyond her 1-on-1 experience, Branham is a versatile competitor. Most of her experience— and awards— were gained as an attorney, where she’s known for being crisp and precise but incredibly charismatic, a style particular to Southern Mock Trial. Importantly, however, while Branham does play a very clean and likeable style, she is not known for being particularly flashy. This could possibly be a weakness in a field of competitors known for their commanding and dynamic presence. Regardless, this year Branham closed for FSU A, leading her team to a Honorable Mention in their first NCT appearance since the 2015-16 season, and receiving an All-American Attorney Award in the process. She is definitely getting something right. Not only that, Branham has awarded multiple times as a witness, demonstrating her ability to succeed in both roles.
Branham has a strong team behind her for TBC. Her second chair is sophomore Emily Hinton, a rapidly rising star in FSU’s program. Hinton served as captain of the FSU C team that earned an ORCS bid during this past spring, and competed at both ORCS and Nationals. While Hinton has competed as both an attorney and a witness, her awards lean heavily to the witness side—a good balance for Branham. Given the pair’s performance at nationals, Hinton should be a strong second chair for her teammate. Rounding out the group is FSU mock alumna Julie Howard, serving as coach. An accomplished attorney whose mock career was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Howard previously coached Taylor Rich at last year’s TBC. Her prior experience with the competition, in addition to Branham’s, is sure to be an asset. Overall, Branham is well-situated to make a splash if she is able to match her competitors’ presence in the courtroom.

Seva Castleberry, Duke (Second Chair: Jacob Hervey, Coach: Eric Roytman):
Seva Castleberry is an incredibly clean advocate. His statements are clear, concise, with long effective pauses for emphasis. Cross examination is where Castleberry really shines. He asks quick questions that get right to the issue and is ruthless with his witness control, which is effective on even the very best witnesses in the country. He often does this after managing to throw his opposing counsel off with a barrage of objections on their direct. Despite his fiery cross style, however, Castleberry always seems incredibly composed during trial, which may help him stand out in a competition that tends to make everyone look a little shaky. Castleberry brings with him plenty of TBC experience: he was the second chair to last year’s winner, Sonali Mehta, and he won the award for best second chair. Our biggest concern is that he enters the tournament with just one attorney award. But it would be a mistake to underestimate Castleberry on that basis alone, especially in a competition like this one. He represents Duke University, a program fresh off an incredible season where both their A and B teams placed in the top 5 in the country (yes, you read that correctly). Duke is overflowing with talent, which could explain Castleberry’s low award count. One of those talents is his second chair, Jacob Hervey. Hervey impressed as a freshman this year on Duke B. He has a good hold on the rules of evidence and was a convincing expert witness. However, the fact that Castleberry and Hervey did not compete on the same team during the AMTA season might be something that hinders their performance at TBC. Hervey also has just one year of college mock trial experience under his belt, which makes him the least experienced second chair. Lack of experience on Hervey’s part could end up hurting Castleberry’s odds during the 24 hour prep period. It will certainly be interesting to see how he is able to assist Castleberry during the tournament. This group will be coached by Duke’s head coach, Eric Roytman. Roytman was a 2-time All-American at Ohio State and a former TBC competitor himself. He coached Sonali Mehta to a TBC victory last year, and has helped elevate Duke to three top-5 NCT finishes in three tries. We know that Castleberry and his crew understand what it takes to be successful in the 24 hour prep period, and we have no doubt that they know how to win in the online format. Overall, we expect Castleberry to do well in this field, but not to stand out. And with the highest witness award count in the field, he’s an early favorite for best witness.

Benjamin Crosby, Patrick Henry (Second Chair: David Bainbridge, Coach: Sue Johnson):
Fresh off leading his team to a second place finish in their Nationals Division (just half a win away from tying with finalists Yale), Patrick Henry College captain and All-American Benjamin Crosby comes into TBC as a powerful attorney. He’s clean in his presentation and able to convey a convincing presence even online; this, thanks to his plethora of public speaking experience. In addition to mock, he’s been a National Oratory Competitive Speaker and he’s a member of the Patrick Henry Moot Court team. His Moot Court experience in particular implies a bit of experience improvising that could prove valuable for him in the 24 hour prep period. He’s also especially strong on the Rules of Evidence; all of this combines to give Crosby a very polished and composed feel—even when he’s working on his feet. However, this style may prove to be his weakness as well: he can come across as more rigid and strict than some of his TBC counterparts, which may be divisive among judges. As for witnessing, Crosby does have an All-American award to his name as a witness from 2019, and two more witness awards throughout his collegiate career so far. Crosby’s overall award count is roughly par for the course at TBC and may give the impression that he isn’t primed to stand out in this star-studded field; however, this number appears far more impressive once you account for the fact that he competes on PHC—a consistently high-finisher at Nationals flush with talented competitors—and tends to split closing duties with his TBC second-chair, fellow All-American David Bainbridge. Bainbridge was the highest awarding attorney in PHC’s nationals division this year, and he’s sure to make a strong second-chair for Crosby. Having co-captained PHC A, Crosby and Bainbridge are sure to be extremely familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition to his raw skill as an attorney, Bainbridge also brings a more relaxed style that, if he can pass it along to his teammate, may help Crosby cover his primary weakness. As his coach, Crosby brings Sue Johnson—another team member with a wealth of public speaking experience. Johnson oversees PHC’s mock trial, moot court, and debate teams, so she’s sure to be very familiar with both Crosby and Bainbridge’s styles and thinking. Put together, these three almost definitely bring the most extemporaneous speaking and quick-prep experience in the field (despite this being PHC’s first time at TBC) so we’ll expect Crosby to excel at that aspect of the competition. Overall, Crosby is a solid competitor, and while his credentials point to a trajectory of success in this field of competitors, his rigid attorney style might be his one downfall if it proves too polarizing; but that remains to be seen, and we expect him to be a formidable competitor in this year’s competition.

Bennett Demsky, Tufts (Second Chair: Fatima Lawan, Coach: Steven Becker):
Bennett Demsky can hold his own against tough competition. He comes into this field in the upper range of awards, and nearly half of them have come from this season alone. That’s no small feat, especially considering the fact that he shared a bench with senior Will Wilson. Stylistically, he is one of the more dynamic players in the field. He thrives on responsiveness—whether it’s a cross or a closing, he’s able to quickly change his material to match the trial he is in. He isn’t tied to his scripts and that could set him above the pack in a 24-hour prep period. As a speaker, Demsky can verge on being too aggressive at times, but he’s generally able to pull off a very flashy style without losing substance. Demsky is quick on his feet making and responding to objections, and this Tufts team will surely have at least one clever argument up their sleeve on tournament weekend. However, Demsky does have some weaknesses. First, he is not an opener, and his fast-paced, aggressive style may not translate well to opening. Second, Demsky is not a witness. In previous years, that wouldn’t have been too big a concern. But this year, nearly every competitor at TBC has witnessing experience in some capacity. Demsky will have to witness in half of his preliminary rounds, and he could fall short in meeting that challenge given the talents of this field. But if Demsky is able to overcome those weaknesses, we expect he could perform very well at TBC. Second chairing for Demsky is Fatima Lawan, the incoming President of Tufts Mock Trial. Lawan won a witness award at GAMTI and was an attorney on the Tufts A squad that took second place in their division at NCT this year. Her experience witnessing should definitely help the Tufts team on TBC weekend. As a coach, Demsky will be bringing Steven Becker, a former TBC competitor currently attending Harvard Law. Becker had a very successful AMTA run and made his mark in the virtual mock trial world as a member of the OLT Champion team. His prior experience at last year’s online TBC should be a big asset to the Tufts group. Becker and Demsky have worked together during TBC before, so we expect that the Tufts group will hit the ground running come competition weekend.

Raahema Durrani, UVA (Second Chair: James Orr, Coach: Toby Heytens):
Durrani has been a consistent presence on the circuit for years. She competed at Nationals her first year at UVA and has been there every year since (with the exception of 2020, for obvious reasons). Unlike many of the other competitors on this list who got a lot of their awards in a massive burst this year, Raahema has been quietly collecting a few each year since her first. This is particularly impressive given that she’s consistently been on a star-studded bench with previous TBC competitors. Durrani’s style is pretty classically UVA, and mirrors the strengths and weaknesses of that program. She is slow, methodical, and not particularly flashy in terms of performance, but if you don’t watch out, she will rip you to shreds. We think this will serve her well in a competition where a lot of time the best predictor of success is who can mess up the least. On the other hand, it leaves her with two weaknesses. First, she may struggle to stand out against more dynamic competitors, particularly those with a louder, more commanding style. Second, she may struggle to differentiate in the same way that UVA seems to have this year at NCT. If Durrani is to differentiate, we suspect that one way she will do it is with her demonstratives. UVA has always been known for their demonstratives and Durrani in particular used them to great effect over Zoom this year, so we suspect that she will have the “use of exhibits” check in the bag going into most of her rounds. In terms of her role experience, Durrani is most naturally a closer and, as far as we are aware, has very little opening experience. She will be at her best if Bernstein decides to write a case with high content crosses she can dig into rather than a more character-focused line up. As her second chair, Durrani will be bringing James Orr, who won an All-American at the 2021 NCT and was a semi-finalist for the online closing competition last year. We suspect, however, that his biggest value-add to this team will be that he was the second chair for Dan Peale last year and he already knows the online TBC ropes. As her coach, Durrani will bring Toby Heytens, who was recently inducted into the AMTA Coaches Hall of Fame for his work with UVA mock trial. Heytens has also seen success at TBC, having taken Sabrina Grandhi to the semifinals just two years ago.

Sydney Gaskins, UMBC (Second Chair: Thomas Kiley, Coach: Ben Garmoe):
Gaskins, who has 3 or 4 times as many awards as any of her competitors, enters her third TBC as the prohibitive favorite—the only National Champion in the group and the single most decorated competitor in AMTA right now. We’ll begin with her weaknesses, because there are very few. The closest thing Gaskins’ game has to a flaw was on display in last year’s TBC final, where she was vulnerable arguing objections against Sonali Mehta. But beyond losing a few objections to Mehta, who is widely recognized as one of the most adept competitors with the rules of evidence in recent memory, there really is no category where Gaskins doesn’t top the field. Her cross examinations are incisive and can back defendants and experts alike into a corner, her dynamic range when closing is better than anyone else in the field’s, and while she doesn’t typically open for UMBC, she’s such a good presenter that she can out-open almost anyone. As for her witnessing, she won the Best Witness award at TBC her sophomore year in 2019—when two of her TBC competitors this year were still in high school. If anyone (for some reason) needs further proof that Gaskins is at the top going into the tournament, consider this: she won 9 attorney awards this year. The only person in the field who can match that is Grant, who also won 9. The crazy part is that Gaskins gave Grant a three-month head start—she didn’t start competing until January. Coming with her as a second chair will be UMBC A captain and expert witness Thomas Kiley, an All-National and All-American competitor in his own right who has been competing on the same team as Gaskins since high school. And rounding out the group is Ben Garmoe, whose primary claim to fame is probably no longer the fact that he is co-host of the only podcast covering AMTA, but rather that he is the head coach of the defending National Champions. We’ll be interested to see if anyone can emerge from the pack to match Gaskins at the tournament that surely promises to be a swan song to one of the greatest careers in collegiate mock trial history.

Elizabeth Grant, Stanford (Second Chair: Ayesha Pasha, Coach: Thom Scher):
Elizabeth Grant’s selection for TBC comes as a shock to absolutely no one. One of the most well-known names in the Mock Trial community, Grant is a mock trial powerhouse. This year alone, Grant has racked up 9 individual awards, many of them coming from tournaments where she double-awarded, showing she’s capable of excelling on both plaintiff and defense within just one weekend. Throughout her collegiate career, Grant has been in the spotlight despite being surrounded by very talented competitors. Last year, she won 4 individual awards despite sharing a bench with TBC-competitor Josie Bianchi, who she second-chaired for last year, and this year, she shared a bench with All-American Azam Janmohamed. What Grant has proven time and time again is that she’s capable of dominating among even the most talented of competitors. Grant’s style has translated completely to the virtual format. She has a calm and captivating voice that keeps judges on the other side of the screen engaged, she’s known for her outstanding openings and calculated crosses, and she regularly finds room for insightful objections without becoming needlessly technical. One weakness that may keep her from going as far as she wants is that she is an opener. In her collegiate career, Grant has opened the majority of the time, so her expertise in writing and delivering closings could cause her to fall short. The other area of concern has been Stanford’s polarizing performance this year. It's not clear what exactly led them to fail to qualify out of ORCS—and that may well have nothing to do with Grant—but given that all three members of her TBC team have been drawn from that ORCS squad, there’s at least a little room for concern. Her second chair is outgoing SMT President Ayesha Pasha, one of AMTA’s finest when it comes to witnesses. She will be capable of helping Grant in the witness section of this tournament. Throughout the season, Grant mainly dealt with character witnesses, but Pasha earned an All-American as an expert. Next on her team is one of the most successful Mock Trial coaches in AMTA, Thom Scher. Scher has plenty of experience at TBC. He coached Jack Seigenthaler to a 3rd place finish in 2018, and Josie Bianchi to a 6th place finish and the Best Opening award in 2020 (not to mention coaching two Gladiator winners and a runner up). The question for this team will be whether this mix of competitors will be able to figure out how to win it all in less than 24 hours? We will have to wait and see.

Travis Harper, Harvard (Second Chair: Stella Asmerom, Coach: Sarah Stebbins):
Harper, along with Abby Branham, is one of two sophomores in the field—joining Gaskins as the only three people ever to compete at Trial by Combat after just two years of experience in AMTA. It’s no coincidence that Harper is a member of such a select group. Fresh off a season in which he won a perfect 30 rank All-National award, an All-American, and Harvard’s first top finish at the NCT since the days of Jordan Alston-Harmon, Harper is one of the most versatile competitors in the field and should not be underestimated. Despite closing all year long for Harvard, Harper is probably one of the stronger openers in the field—a fact that can easily be backed up by his second place finish to Sonali Mehta in last year’s online openings competition. His closings are dramatic and flashy, but he manages to still be quite clean and polished while wowing the judges. If he has a weakness, it’s probably cross-examination, where he will sometimes bite off a bit more than he can chew and end up needing to rein in a witness. This could be an issue with witnesses as clever as those found in TBC. His witnessing experience, however, is a definite strength in a field of attorneys—Harper is a true double threat who can play (and has played) criers, characters, experts, and defendants. Interestingly enough, this TBC may involve a 1-on-1 rematch for Harper. His senior year at Gladiator, Harper was beaten by Branham on her way to the title and then crossed by her as witness in the final round. He may be out for revenge on TBC weekend. Second chairing for the Harvard bunch is sophomore Stella Asmerom, who co-captained with Harper this year. Harper and Asmerom have never competed on different teams during their time at Harvard—they both competed for Harvard A as freshman, proving that the two work well together. Coaching is Sarah Stebbins, a two-time TBC competitor and 4-time All-American with Georgia Tech who now attends UCLA School of Law. While Stebbins coached Harper in high school at Atlanta International School, the pair form the first competitor/coach duo in TBC’s admittedly brief history to share zero collegiate affiliation whatsoever. We’ll see if their high school chemistry makes up for the fact that they haven’t done mock trial together in any formal capacity for a bit.

Katelyn Hunt, Miami (Second Chair: Kayla Groneck, Coach: Neal Schuett):
Hunt has a clean, reliable style that can only be described as clinical—from her objections to her crosses to her statements, she presents herself with a serious and slow polish that we’ve come to expect from Miami’s competitors. While this makes Hunt a force to be reckoned with in any courtroom, the ruthlessly competent brand of mock she’s earned her laurels in also means she has a more understated presence, which could prove a detriment in a field of more dynamic attorney styles. That said, her streak of top-tournament award wins this year (GCF, GAMTI, and GOT, to name a few) indicate that Hunt has had no trouble vaulting the hurdles of online mock or distinguished fields in the past. We expect Hunt to show a strong mastery of objections, as she is almost never caught without a compelling and correct argument. One of Hunt’s greatest assets in the one-competitor-team format will be her versatility. She got her start with Miami’s A team as a witness, and in her time since she’s regularly held positions as both opener and closer on both sides of the case, meaning that there’s few roles she won’t be familiar with assuming. Hunt is also one to watch because of her status as an alternate at last year’s TBC, which in a field of only one returner could mean an important advantage. Second chairing for the Redhawks will be Hunt’s longtime co-counsel Kayla Groneck, a two-time All-ORCS attorney who has been competing alongside Hunt on Miami’s A team for the past two years. Groneck also worked with Hunt last year as the TBC alternate, so this team has worked in precisely this format before. Coaching this group is longtime Miami coach and AMTA board member Neal Schuett. Schuett was the head coach for Miami’s NCT win in 2018 and also coached Dani Kunkel at the first Trial by Combat that same year. Most notably, despite not having a lot of witness experience, Kunkel won the best witness award at that TBC while competing against two All American witnesses in Enrico Trevisani and Rachel Sommers. Hunt has the same lack of witness experience as Kunkel, especially relative to the rest of this field, but we will be interested to see if Schuett can translate the same witness success to this year.

Jafar Khalfani-Bey, UC Davis (Second Chair: Sorcha Wylde, Coach: Rick Lewkowitz):
Khalfani-Bey comes into TBC as one of the competitors with the most variability. On the positive side, he’s one of the most experienced attorneys in the field. He’s competed at ORCS all four years, and nationals two of his four years (would have been three if not for 2020). This year in particular, he won attorney awards at every tournament he attended except for Nationals, including Regionals and ORCS. His experience competing as an opener, closer, and witness (and succeeding at all of them) puts him in a good position for TBC. Stylistically, Khalfani-Bey’s strength is his movement. He moves around more than the average competitor with large and effective hand motions. While UC Davis’ results this season seem to indicate that the gesturing was effective over Zoom, we’ll be curious to see if that facet of Khalfani-Bey’s game impacts him positively or negatively at TBC. Additionally, he’s usually on the more personable side of the scale, which will be an interesting contrast to some of the more aggressive competitors at the top of this pack. But while Khalfani-Bey’s experience in AMTA is a strength, his weakness is a lack of experience at TBC. Most of the other competitors have either competed in TBC, prepared the case as a second chair or coach in last year’s TBC, or are bringing along a second chair or coach who has TBC experience. Joining this team is second chair Sorcha Wylde. Wylde and Khalfani-Bey have been teammates for the past three years and they co-captained the Davis team that finished with 7.5 wins at NCT this year. This team’s coach, Rick Lewkowitz, has coached UC Davis for the past six years. Davis has earned a bid to the NCT in five of those years. Lewkowitz has coached at Gladiator a few times before, so Khalfani-Bey won’t be without 1-on-1 experience, but Gladiator doesn’t feature the 24 hour prep period, and the worry for this team is that they will struggle to get the schedule down.

Riya Lakkaraju, Emory (Second Chair: Sara DeLacey, Coach: Elias Neibart):
Lakkaraju enters TBC as one of the most well-decorated competitors in the field. Not only does she have TBC experience as a coach last year, but she won more awards than anyone else on the AMTA circuit during the 2020-2021 season. Her ten awards this past year include five AMTA season awards, awarding as both an attorney and witness at regionals and nationals and as an attorney at ORCS. She is one of only three competitors with two All-Americans, she has the second most witness awards, and she’s tied for the third most attorney awards and second most overall awards. Her success as both an attorney and a witness makes her one of the favorites to do well. Stylistically, she comes off as extremely personable and knowledgeable while still captivating in the courtroom. One place where Lakkaraju might struggle is with diversity in witnesses. Lakkaraju has mainly won her awards working with experts, both portraying an expert and directing/crossing experts which means depending on which witnesses are used, she might have a huge advantage or be at a disadvantage. She has experience working with non-expert witnesses, but her success has come mainly from experts. Since there is usually one professional witness, we think this might work to her favor. Lakkaraju is joined by her second chair Sara DeLacey. DeLacey’s award count puts her above other TBC competitors and if it weren’t for the one person per school rule, DeLacey might also be competing. While closing for the opposite side as Lakkaraju, DeLacey earned six attorney awards this season and the two helped lead Emory to its 4th place finish in the Nelmark division. Coaching Lakkaraju is Elias Neibart, who Lakkaraju coached last year. This makes Lakkaraju and Neibart one of a number of pairs who have had experience working together in the TBC format and we expect them to use their experience last year to their benefit. This Emory crew is known for taking risks and reaching for case theories and evidence points that other people don’t. This can help them when it hits but can also collapse very quickly. In a field of opponents with great skill, but little time to prepare, we could see this approach end in a boom or bust return. Emory also has a reputation for scrimmaging more than almost anyone else, which will likely propel Lakkaraju as other competitors find themselves drained by the 24 hour prep period.

Montana Love, Yale (Second Chair: Kynzie Clark, Coach: Elizabeth Bays):
Montana Love knows how to win. And since her sophomore year of college, in true Bayesian fashion, that’s exactly what she has done—closed, captained, and taken Yale A to the final round. As an individual competitor, Love works best when she can play to her directness. In closings, she is effective and to-the-point with a notably intuitive style of argumentation. Even with shorter preparation time, Love is always prepared and never haphazard—a rare and valuable trait at Trial by Combat. On top of her impressive prep skills, she has also demonstrated that she’s good on her feet—her intelligent objections and responses rarely lose. And while it’s possible her tidy style may come off as less personable than her more charismatic counterparts at TBC this year, Love’s ability to be dynamic when she needs to be should not be underestimated. Love has been walking in the shoes of AMTA greats for a number of years now, and even though she probably won’t be pulling out a tape measure at Trial by Combat, you shouldn’t let her clean style fool you into thinking you won’t see any fireworks from her on tournament weekend. When it comes to witnessing, Love has zero experience. While we’ve seen competitors with limited witnessing experience do quite well at TBC due to the unique scoring system that places a premium on credibility and realism, we’ve also seen them struggle mightily. We’ll be interested to see how Love’s witnesses turn out. There to help her figure it out will be Kynzie Clark, who returns to second-chair Yale for the second year in a row with a TBC-worthy resume of her own. Clark has competed in every final round since she’s been in college, both as an attorney and as a witness. She co-captained Yale with Love this year and her versatility is sure to be an asset on competition weekend. Elizabeth Bays is Love’s coach. As of this year, Bays (along with Stanford coach Thom Scher) is one of two people to participate in every single TBC since its inception—twice as a competitor and now twice as a coach. At a tournament where experience with the format has proven to be indispensable, Bays has plenty of it. If there’s one concern we have, it’s Yale’s penchant for outside-the-box thinking. While their whacky theories have been extraordinarily successful at the NCT, they haven’t helped Yale reach the same level of success in a one-on-one tournament with severely limited prep. In 3 tries, Bays has never managed to take Yale to the semifinals at TBC. We’ll see if Montana Love can do something about that.

Natalie Manoogian, Rhodes (Second Chair: Elizabeth Baldwin, Coach: Anna Eldridge):
Manoogian is this year’s Rhodes competitor, a senior attorney and witness who got the nod over stalwart Rhodes attorney (and Rhodes football player) Matthew Mussalli. Manoogian comes into the tournament with four qualifying awards, and off a season in which Rhodes failed to make it to the NCT for the first time in over 3 decades. Due to her relative lack of awards and Rhodes’ struggles in the ‘20-21 season, it’s easy to see why Manoogian could be considered an underdog. First, Manoogian does not have as much elite mock experience as last year’s Rhodes contestant Richard Madden, having only competed for Rhodes A this past season. Further, Rhodes contestants haven’t proven able to get an edge at TBC, where crunch-time preparation and a near-total lack of witness prep, completely contrary to Rhodes’ traditional style, are the norm. All that said, there are serious reasons for optimism with Manoogian. The team success critique is more or less baseless, with Rhodes A having finished with the third-highest PD of anyone at the 1A ORCS and the highest CS of the ORCS at 29 (losing out on a brutal +19 +8 -1 split against UVA B). Additionally, Manoogian had gone to the prior NCT, slotting in as an attorney for a Rhodes B team that took the first bid out of Memphis in 2019 (but which finished with an even record at the NCT itself). There are also reasons for optimism with Manoogian as it regards her personal style of mock. Manoogian displays many of the typical Rhodes traits as an attorney, with a tenacious, polished, and unbudging style on cross. However, Manoogian has a penchant for objection-making and improvisational cross-examinations that one would not expect from an Elliott or a McClain. This may have cost her some awards in invitational season, but it raises her ceiling in a field where polish alone fails to distinguish. Lastly, Manoogian is a seasoned and versatile witness, having awarded both as a defendant and law enforcement officer. Of course, reaching as far back as UVA’s Deniz Tunceli, the transferability of witness experience to TBC success is dubious, and attorney specialists like Gaskins and Goodchild have had no trouble separating themselves in witness rounds. However, as those who saw Mashell Rahimzadeh’s rounds last year can attest, witness experience certainly can help. If Manoogian holds her own in the attorney rounds, she is likely to have an edge in the other two. Helping Natalie work towards the sword are second-chair Elizabeth Baldwin and coach Anna Eldridge. Eldridge is one of the most accomplished and respected coaches in all of AMTA. After years working as an assistant coach with Marcus Pohlmann, Eldridge made her first year as head-coach a rousing success, coaching the team to a second-place finish and Rhodes’ first final round in years. Importantly, Eldridge also has TBC experience as a coach. Baldwin also brings impressive pedigree to Manoogian’s team. A junior with All-Regional and All-National attorney awards under her belt, Baldwin captained Rhodes’ B team this year and is positioned to provide strong support and experience to Manoogian.

Sahil Nerurkar, Chicago (Second Chair: Ali Alekri, Coach: Sam Jahangir):
While Nerurkar may not have the bombastic style of previous Chicago TBC competitor Regina Campbell, you shouldn’t expect him to fade into the wallpaper on tournament weekend. Nerurkar has built his brand of mock trial by refusing to sacrifice precision for charisma, and he maintains a memorable and personable presence in every trial he participates in. What Nerurkar lacks in the drama of his predecessors he makes up for in his precision and coherence. Every cross, statement, and direct he touches is logical, cohesive, and bulletproof—all moving in service of his overall case theory like cogs in a well-oiled machine. Nerurkar’s ability to break down a case to its essentials and translate it clearly and simply will be a significant asset to him if he’s able to utilize that same skill set under a more substantial time crunch. And while he isn’t going to aim for shock and awe the way Campbell did on cross or closing, Nerurkar’s innate confidence shines through in his delivery. As we’ve come to expect from attorney competitors trained at Chicago, Nerurkar is excellent with evidence law. He’s quite adept at making and responding to objections relative to most of the other competitors in this field, and he’s not afraid to take a risk with a high-risk, high-reward argument that others simply haven’t thought of. Another of Nerurkar’s advantages will be his experience with witnessing—in his time at Chicago, Nerurkar has earned 3 of his 9 awards portraying a character witness, and depending on the lineup of this year’s case, that familiarity could give him a distinctive edge over his competition. Nerurkar’s second chair is rising junior and witness Ali Alekri. The pair awarded as All-Americans at this year’s NCT—as an attorney and witness respectively—and have demonstrated that they know how to win together. Alekri is known on the AMTA circuit for immensely engaging portrayals of experts and characters alike. They will be bringing Sam Jahangir as their coach. Originally a graduate of a successful Northwestern program, Jahangir has coached Chicago since his days at Chicago Law and has brought the team to a number of top 10 finishes, including a third place finish in 2019. He was also the coach for Regina Campbell’s 2019 TBC run in which she took fifth, suggesting that he knows how to guide a competitor to success in this format.

Clay Owens, OSU (Second Chair: Michael Li, Coach: Brian Dressel):
Stylistically, Clay Owens epitomizes the classic Ohio State attorney. Commanding, charismatic, and dynamic, he has a presence and a power that in any courtroom—online or not—is hard to ignore and even harder to beat. While being a highly decorated competitor is hardly unusual for Trial By Combat, Owens is distinctive not only because of how much he’s awarded but also the roles in which he’s managed to do it in. Not only did Owens award as a middle attorney, he managed to do so as a junior alongside one of Ohio State’s all-time greatest benches of Matt Besman and Maddie Driscoll. This means that not only is Owens a stellar statement-giver, but he’s been able to distinguish himself amongst elite competitors with just his skills on direct, cross, and objections. In a format that’s won by checkboxes, not points of advantage, Owens’ ability to demonstrate mastery with every moment of trial makes him a significant threat. As is the tendency for OSU, Owens runs the risk of being a polarizing presence due to his higher-energy style, but given Ohio State’s previous successes at TBC don’t expect that to count him out. Owens himself is a returner to the 24 hour case prep format that Trial by Combat requires, having been a second chair for Matt Besman last year. Given that experience, we’ll be interested to see whether Owens can improve upon the notable weakness Ohio State faced during that particular outing, namely their lackluster use of digital demonstratives. Owens’ second chair will be former OSU mock president Micheal Li, a distinguished opening attorney in his own right. Having been double-sided statement givers on bench together all year, we expect Li and Owens to have excellent synergy and work together well as a team. Owens will be coached by Brian Dressel, who took over as the head coach for Ohio State mock trial after Alex Bluebond stepped down. Ohio State as a program has maintained a high standard of success since Dressel has taken over, but Dressel has also never coached at TBC before. Last year, Besman brought two students with him. So we will be interested to see if bringing their actual coach instead of teammates either changes the dynamic here or possibly changes the results.

Audrey Shepard, UCLA (Second Chair: Camille Schaefer, Coach: Elizabeth Smiley):
Audrey Shepard comes into TBC as a competitor who knows how to dominate the 1-on-1 format. During her high school mock trial career, Shepard competed in Gladiator for three years. In her junior year, she swept the 2017 final round 7-0 to take home the Gladiator helmet. Move forward to the collegiate level and Shepard continues to show she knows how to stand out among the rest. While Shepard has the second lowest total award count of the 16 competitors, it’s important to note that Shepard managed to win those awards while competing on one of the best teams to compete in AMTA this year: UCLA A. At Nationals, she picked up her first All-American attorney award while competing on a team that finished with 11 wins and one of the highest CS’s at the tournament. In order to win TBC, you need to stand out among the best of the best, and Shepard’s ability to still pick up plenty of awards on a very talented team that goes against other very talented teams shows she’s capable of doing exactly that. Audrey Shepard’s style is very well-known in the West Coast mock trial community. A style many competitors can only dream of emulating, Shepard is known for her almost terrifying ability to take command of a trial, present very polished, straightforward, and captivating opening statements and closing arguments, and for her ability to connect with the jury. One of the biggest things to look out for is whether or not Shepard is able to translate all of her phenomenal in-person mock trial skills to the online format. Some of the best parts of Shepard’s style may have been hidden this year, and that could ┬ákeep her from standing out against top competition on TBC weekend. Second chairing for Shepard will be Camille Schaefer, an All-National and two-time All-Regional Attorney. Schaefer was one of the captains that took UCLA A to a 3rd place finish at the NCT and a Great Chicago Fire victory this year, so she’ll be a definite help to the UCLA prep team. Audrey is coached by AMTA candidate board member Elizabeth Smiley. Smiley doesn’t just have the best last name in the tournament—she is a strong coach and a fierce competitor. A long-time University of Arizona coach and competitor, Smiley has moved quickly up the ranks of the UCLA coaching staff since her move to Los Angeles. Her signature style of coaching fits perfectly with Audrey’s abilities: Smiley shines at writing simple and smart material, and Audrey shines at performing it. Shepard managed to become the first junior to win Gladiator back in 2017—let’s see if she’s able to repeat history with TBC.

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.

CompetitorCareer AwardsAttorneyWitnessAll American
Abby Branham11921
Seva Castleberry6150
Benjamin Crosby8532
Bennett Demsky9901
Raahema Durrani9900
Sydney Gaskins31301*4
Elizabeth Grant131301
Travis Harper6421
Katelyn Hunt8620
Jafar Khalfani-Bey7610
Riya Lakkaraju13942
Montana Love6601
Natalie Manoogian4220
Sahil Nerurkar9631
Clay Owens7700
Audrey Shepard5501
* In addition to her attorney awards, Gaskins won “Best Witness” at the 2019 TBC so we have added that as a witness award.

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