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2022 TBC Analysis Empty 2022 TBC Analysis

Wed Jun 15, 2022 10:59 am
Before we get to the analysis, we wanted to plug our new instagram @mockanalysisismydrug! We’ll be posting some of our predictions and analysis there as well as some of our sneak peaks to future posts (just like we did for this one) so if you want to stay up to date about all things Mock Trial, give us a follow!

Initial Thoughts:

Varun Aggarwal, Georgia Tech (Second Chair: Naman Sarda, Coach: Will Warihay):
Anyway, here’s Aggarwal. The latest pawn in Will Warihay’s sick and twisted game will show up in Los Angeles as perhaps the biggest underdog. And that’s not just because he has the fewest awards in the field. No, it’s because Varun Aggarwal isn’t Georgia Tech A’s fearsome closer—he’s their B team’s. That’s right, Aggarwal spent basically all of this past season on Georgia Tech B slowly building his resume in the shadows. But don’t let that fool you. When both of Tech’s teams walked into the courthouse at the terrifying Atlanta ORCS last March, it was Aggarwal’s B team that emerged with a bid to the NCT, not the A team. That same B team (with a few edits) traveled to Lancaster, where they fought their way to a sixth place finish in the Doss division, and Aggarwal earned himself an All-American. Now it’s time to see if the pipeline from B team to NCT podium to All-American will get clogged at the TBC stop. Aggarwal’s greatest strength in fighting through a potential blockage will be his polished style. On direct and cross, he’s always laid back and in control. He isn’t fazed by sudden changes during round and can adapt on a dime, a skill which will serve him well at a tournament where no one is well rehearsed. While giving speeches, he’s confident and suave, with a taste for pizzazz. But that taste is a mere morsel, as Aggarwal prefers to stay level at all moments. And there lies his biggest problem. In Los Angeles, he won’t be the loudest or the flashiest, and in a competition where standing out is everything, that could be a problem. That said, don’t count Aggarawal out just because he won’t be flashy—if man, myth, and legend Stephen Douglas Johnson (the second!) taught us anything in 2019, it’s that being the simplest and cleanest performer in the room can take you pretty far. But Aggarwal isn’t the only pawn in this game. Joining him is his second chair Naman Sarda. Interestingly, Sarda was a member of the Georgia Tech A team that didn’t make the cut at ORCS. As a fourth year with a handful of trophies to his name, Sarda’s more exuberant style could explain Aggarwal’s choice to bring him along. With only 8 awards between the two, it seems a smart move to complete the Tech Trio with experienced coach, Will Warihay. This will be Warihay’s fourth crack at a spot on the podium, having coached Harsha Sridhar and Sarah Stebbins at both of her appearances. Since Stebbins is returning to the field this year as a coach, we’re fascinated to see a potential face off between a current and former player on Warihay’s chess board. Although neither previous competitor of his broke through to semis, having a coach who knows how to get through the grind of 24-hour case prep can’t be overlooked. LA will decide whether Aggarwal is just a sacrificial pawn, or if he’ll prove to be Georgia Tech’s knight in shining armor.

Thomas Azari, UMBC (Second Chair: Lauren Wotring, Coach: Ben Garmoe):
Thomas Azari is the nicest guy in the room. He’s always smiling, he’s always joking around at tournaments, he’s always yelling enthusiastically at opening and closing ceremonies. Thomas Azari is a good competitor because he’s commanding on cross examination, he can capture a jury’s attention during an opening statement or a closing argument, and he has an excellent grasp of the more technical aspects of advocacy. But Thomas Azari is a great competitor—a Trial by Combat competitor and a legitimate threat in a field packed with talent—because in every aspect of trial, in the way he speaks to witnesses, in the way he hands the judge documents, in the way he responds to objections, it is entirely obvious that he is the nicest guy in the room. But Mr. Nice Guy will enter Trial by Combat 2022 with something of a chip on his shoulder. We all know UMBC didn’t set the world on fire at NCT this year. No All-Americans for Azari. No podium appearance for the team. For a guy that’s won a National Championship, that has to sting just a little bit. So in LA, at his last-ever collegiate mock trial competition, in a format at which his school has distinguished itself—there’ll be no more Mr. Nice Guy for the fifteen people in between him and one last victory. As discussed, Azari’s greatest strength is his charisma. He oozes likability and that’s half the battle in any trial. But his greatest weakness is that he can sometimes go too far. He can get overly informal, he can be too friendly, and he can overreach. It is easy for confidence to become overconfidence, for charm to turn to bluster. When it comes to witnessing, Azari does have a track record, although he hasn’t flexed his witnessing muscles in quite a while. As a freshman, Azari was a character witness on the 2019 UMBC team that nearly went to the final round before losing a close Round 4 matchup to Yale. So he’s got witnessing chops, even if they are a tad rusty. He’ll be bringing coach Ben Garmoe along to help, and really, we can just copy-paste our Ben Garmoe section from the past few years here: he’s orchestrated UMBC’s meteoric rise to the upper echelons of collegiate mock trial, he got a new job this year as the Salsbury Director of Trial Advocacy at University of Maryland Law school, and he has a podcast. Rounding out the group is second chair Lauren Wotring, who is an All-Regional, All-National, and All-American attorney herself. Wotring and Azari have shared an attorney bench for a number of years and their well-established sparkling chemistry will surely serve them well in Los Angeles. Given their result at this year’s NCT and the strength of their graduating class, TBC 2022 could be the last hurrah for this UMBC dynasty. We’ll see if Azari can capture that elusive sword for the Retrievers.

Ali AlEkri, Chicago (Second Chair: Sam Farnsworth, Coach: Sam Jahangir):
If anyone’s going to give Azari a run for his money as the nicest guy in the room, it’s Ali AlEkri. But in truth, that’s not quite the right way to describe it. AlEkri isn’t a guy, he’s a gentleman. He has class, dignity, and an air of politesse that goes into everything he does—and defines his persona in the courtroom. Whether he’s on the stand or in the well, you can be sure of three things: Ali AlEkri will speak eloquently. Ali AlEkri will charm. And Ali AlEkri will be a goddamn gentleman. How that will play out in LA is tough to say. On the one hand, AlEkri is one of the most versatile competitors here. He has a whopping nine witness awards that he’s picked up playing characters and experts, so we expect there isn’t much he’ll be worrying about when it comes to his two witnessing rounds. AlEkri also specializes as an opener, which will help him with a key checkmark that we could potentially see some of the career closers in this field struggle to pick up. If AlEkri can maintain his biggest strength—the slow, deliberate, and methodical composure he exhibits—then he could really distinguish himself in a tournament where polish and calm are usually the first things to go out the window. But there are tradeoffs to the style AlEkri employs. As anyone who caught his final round cross of fellow TBC competitor Travis Harper will be able to tell you, aggressiveness doesn’t suit AlEkri. He has a lot of tools in his toolbox, but a sledgehammer isn’t one of them. The same reserve that can lead to him seeming polite, calm, and gentlemanly can also hold him back from seeming like he is connecting with the witness or passionate about his case. That didn’t hold up AlEkri on his final round bench because, let’s face it, his co-counsel Ethan Hsi had enough fuel in the tank to light that fire for the both of them, but in LA, AlEkri’s composed detachment may not be Hollywood enough for judges without Hsi by his side. Coaching AlEkri will be UChicago’s longtime coach Sam Jahangir, who has one of the all-time best TBC coaching records. Between being part of the team that brought Regina Campbell to fifth place in 2019 and the team that brought Sahil Nerukhar to sixth place in 2021, Jahangir has shown he’s got what it takes to coach competitors to success on a few short hours of prep—and after being agonizingly close to a semifinal appearance twice, we expect he’s hungry for a breakthrough. Second chairing for AlEkri is UChicago’s mock prodigy Sam Farnsworth—the final round middle who is really damn good for a sophomore. While Farnsworth has no 24 hour case prep experience, we expect that in LA—as always—he’ll be ready to play ball.

Elizabeth Baldwin, Rhodes (Second Chair: Sheridan Hardy, Coach: Anna Eldridge):
Baldwin is the latest success story that belongs to the perennial powerhouse program that is Rhodes College. She had an extremely successful winter season, awarding at one of the toughest invitationals in Windy City and at ORCS before captaining her team to a 9th place finish at Nationals. Her biggest strengths are her ability to absolutely decimate an opposing witness with sheer presence on cross examination and her passionate closing arguments. She utilizes an efficient, matter-of-fact style that gives the impression that she is never out of control. But that is only when everything goes as planned. Baldwin does have a tendency to go down rabbit holes, and if she has to deal with some of the more crafty witnesses in this field, that could be cause for concern. In theory, Baldwin should be one of the competitors most prepared to hit the ground running with 24 hour prep. Of the 36 schools that have sent a competitor to Trial By Combat in its five-year existence, Rhodes is among an elite group of seven that have qualified someone four or more times. For all the other schools in that category—Virginia, Georgia Tech, Yale, Chicago, Stanford, and UMBC—that experience has translated to results: a podium placement here, an individual accolade there. But to date, we’ve never heard a Rhodes competitor’s name called out by Bernstein during closing ceremonies (unless you want to count the time Daniel Elliott was drafted to talk about cocaine in a terrifying British accent). It’s tough to say whether that means Rhodes hasn’t figured out the right approach to getting content off the ground on short notice, or if it’s just that their aggressive, in-your-face style can’t be reproduced in less practice time. Either way, history has us slightly apprehensive about Baldwin’s chances. Supporting Baldwin as second chair is Sheridan Hardy, an interesting but very reasonable option. Hardy is primarily a witness for Rhodes, but what she lacks in attorney experience, she makes up for in her dynamic with Baldwin. Together, the two seniors led Rhodes back to the NCT after their well-known one year hiatus. It’s also worth mentioning that Baldwin herself was second chair last year to Natalie Manoogian, so she’s no stranger to TBC—she knows what she needs out of her second chair. Now let's move on to her coach: Anna Eldridge. Eldridge is living proof that some mock trial legends aren’t merely competitors: she’s one of the most accomplished and respected coaches in the game—and it definitely doesn’t hurt that she’s no stranger to coaching at TBC. That being said, past years have not translated into results for Eldridge, so we’re wondering if she’s learned from past years and if she has what it takes to assist a competitor to a semifinal berth.

Sara Campbell, Yale (Second Chair: Christina Robertson, Coach: Alvin Winston):
There’s talented, and then there’s Sara Campbell talented—stealing the show in the NCT final round against one of the greatest mockers of all time. There’s successful, and then there’s Sara Campbell successful—steering her team to first and third in her division over the span of two Nationals appearances. There’s skilled, and then there’s Sara Campbell skilled—following up her 2021 final round appearance and All-American by tying for the top All-American attorney award in the Doss Division this year. Campbell is polished by Yale standards. Her calm, smooth style is a departure from Yale’s typical way of doing things over the past half-decade; the Yale teams of yore, while excellent, weren’t exactly known for their polish—they won by being dramatic, by being creative, by beating teams into submission by sheer force. That’s not to say Campbell can’t be all those things too: we’re sure she’ll be showier than many of the other competitors here. But it’s worth noting that she goes about doing mock trial in a slightly different way than past Yale TBC competitors. There are a few other factors that could distinguish Campbell from the competition. For one, she brings with her a wealth of experience with opening statements. In the final round last year, her characteristically calm and measured opening garnered individual praise from the judging panel. Meanwhile, her All-American from this year came on the side where she was closing, so she has a good shot at pulling both statement checks in any round. Campbell’s attorney performances are complimented by her stellar witness performances. While not the focus of this tournament, Campbell's ability to portray a posh, elegant, and refined witness may give her the boost needed to overtake some of the "witness-lacking" performers in this tournament. We also know from GAMTI 2020 that she’s got the range to pull off a crier. But Campbell isn’t the only stellar witness on this team—Christina Robertson, an All-National witness, will be acting as Campbell’s second chair. Robertson has been a staple on Yale’s teams for four years, and she’ll be able to offer invaluable input on directs and crosses, while the guidance of All-American attorney Alvin Winston will ensure Campbell receives well-rounded support. Granted, this is a young team, as Winston is a recent graduate himself. But fielding a younger team isn’t necessarily disadvantageous: the Winston-Robertson-Campbell trio is composed entirely of Yale Mock Trial alumni, meaning they are familiar with each other's unusual preparation techniques and share the institutional knowledge that routinely places their program at the top of NCT. Characterizing this trio as anything but experienced and highly capable of success would be patently incorrect. With diverse individual strengths, a widely-appealing personal style, and a well-rounded team behind her, Campbell will make a formidable opponent in Los Angeles.

Benjamin Crosby, Patrick Henry (Second Chair: Caleb Knox, Coach: Elizabeth Ertle):
In a field with five returning competitors, Benjamin Crosby heads into Trial by Combat this year as perhaps the most underrated. But let’s not forget: Benjamin Crosby was an All-American witness in Philadelphia back in 2019 before some of this field was even old enough to compete in AMTA. A real chameleon of a competitor, Crosby can play any role at an NCT level—with an ability to examine and portray experts, characters, and party witnesses alike. And he is whip-smart, a perfect fit for the crisp, information-heavy, and hyper-realistic style that Patrick Henry College has employed to great effect these past few years. He has one of the highest floors of anyone in the 2022 TBC field—there is almost no chance that Crosby implodes or does anything particularly polarizing. To top things off, he’ll without doubt have the best haircut in Los Angeles. The problem is that his ceiling may be lower than he’d like it to be in Los Angeles. The Patrick Henry style of mock at times veers into the territory we might expect in moot court (unsurprising given how many of their competitors do both at a high level). But these kinds of law-intensive arguments may not be as successful with a judging pool that has historically preferred high drama storytelling to nitpicky argument. We’ll be interested to see if the understated style that’s served Crosby well is his undoing in sunny California. As a witness, Crosby is a real talent. He’s got enough spunk to swing playing a character, and enough gravitas to pull off a defendant, and not infrequently he mixes the two—something he demonstrated in last year’s final round. But in this year’s field, Crosby will be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses: half of the field has won a witness award, and Crosby’s experience on the stand, while helpful, is not all that unique. Accompanying Crosby to Los Angeles will be second chair Caleb Knox, who won an All-American witness award last year and joined Crosby on PHC A’s bench this past season. What’s more interesting than Crosby’s choice of second chair is his choice of coach: Elizabeth Ertle. She will be replacing Crosby’s coach at TBC 2021, the head of the PHC Forensics machine, Sue Johnson. Ertle is the Patrick Henry graduate who led the team to their first NCT berth long before they were regularly being discussed as possible champions. She’s an extremely experienced and talented coach, an excellent litigator, and part of the group that’s turned PHC into a perennial juggernaut. Some people may be surprised by Crosby not taking Johnson, and that’s a fair assessment, given how historically rare it is to make a coaching swap for TBC. However, it’s worth remembering that there is precedent for success after switching coaches before a second run at Bernstein’s gauntlet: Stephen Johnson failed to place with Josh Leckrone in 2018, switched coaches, and won it all in 2019.

Bennett Demsky, Tufts (Second Chair: Margaret Veglahn, Coach: Steven Becker):
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Let’s take you all the way back to the beginning. In 2020, Bennett Demsky got close. Captaining Tufts B through the hallowed halls of Lancaster at ORCS, he led the Jumbos to a heartbreaker of a 6-2 honorable mention finish. Flash forward to 2021 and again, this time on Zoom, Demsky got close. Captaining Tufts A, he hurdled a monster CS of 43 to come second in his division at the NCT. The summer of that same year, while hundreds of other competitors across the nation took a step back from mock, Demsky went back to the grind and took a spot as one of Bernstein’s elite 16 at last year’s Trial by Combat. You saw the memes, you know the results—once again, Demsky got close—fighting through a brutal schedule against the 3rd, 5th, and 6th place finishers to miss out on that sword by a single checkmark on a single ballot. And then, Lancaster. Where it all began. True to form, Bennett Demsky attended his final Nationals and, despite all our predictions to the contrary, just got close. A supervillain origin story for Mr. Demsecondplace if we’ve ever heard one. Right off the bat, we know Demsky’s going to be at the head of the pack in terms of rhetoric, responsiveness, and experience, and at the back of the pack in terms of witnessing and height. As an attorney, Demsky is a cold-blooded killer. Some have said that he has the greatest flair for the dramatic since the late, great, Nick Ramos. He’s got the skill to write all-time mock content and the talent to throw it out the window when he needs to, and both of those things can lead to some ridiculous highs during a Demsky performance. But he isn’t unbeatable either. Sometimes the risks Demsky takes to make big moments can expose enormous weaknesses. Everyone remembers his cabinets, but anyone who’s actually watched the 2021 TBC final round can tell you that his cabinets may have lost him the trial, when Audrey Shepard forced him to close them after an objection. Another weak spot is his witnessing. Anyone who saw a Demsky witness at 2021’s TBC knows that it… definitely happened. And in a field with four All-American witnesses, Demsky should not be sitting so comfortably with only his ability to wear a bowtie. Helping Demsky are Steven Becker and Margaret Veglahn, a formidable pair—Becker was a well-awarded TBC competitor himself who currently attends Harvard Law and is known for his facility with the rules of evidence, and Veglahn is an All-Regional attorney whose calm courtroom presence will surely serve as an excellent counterweight to Demsky’s shenanigans. In short (no pun intended), all the pieces are there for Demsky to leave LA with a sword in his carry-on luggage. History tells us he’ll at least get close. But is Bennett Demsky second to none?

Marra Edwards, Furman (Second Chair: Lilly Meyer, Coach: Lawrence Hilton):
On June 26th, 2022, the sun will set on fourteen of the greatest AMTA names of the last four years. This year’s Trial by Combat is a last hurrah for a whopping seventeen All-Americans, three division champions, and twelve graduating seniors who have been doing the best mock trial in the country for almost as long as most people currently on the circuit can remember. On June 27th, they’ll be gone. And regardless of what happens on TBC weekend, Marra Edwards will just be getting started. Edwards will enter the TBC field this year after a rapid ascent to stardom this spring. She’s a junior who had a relatively low award count before the start of this past AMTA season. So what changed? We’ve heard rumors that before AMTA bad boy Dr. Glen Halva-Neubauer retired from Furman Mock Trial, he gifted Edwards with the secret of competition known only to former AMTA presidents. Perhaps she was bitten by a radioactive member of the 2016 Yale team. All we know is that something happened in those early winter months, because when it came time for Marra Edwards to step into AMTA competition, she stepped up big time. This season, she awarded at every AMTA tournament (a feat dubbed the Triple Crown by UMBC competitors) and was the sole attorney to win All-American attorney awards on both sides of the case. And lest anyone think that Furman’s 2-10 record in Lancaster means those All-Americans came against easy competition, we’d point out that she was in no way beating up on the bottom of the bracket—those All-Americans were earned against honorable mention Wisconsin, honorable mention Juniata, and second place UCLA. Edwards is excellent on cross, commanding and adaptive to witnesses—an essential skill at TBC. But her strongest quality is how believable her advocacy is. She isn’t overly “mocky,” like some of her competitors at TBC can be, and that could be an asset with some of the judges Bernstein imports from the law school circuit, who prefer a more realistic style. This is Furman’s first time at TBC, so to handle the 24-hour prep window, Edwards will bring Lawrence Hilton, who works with Furman Mock Trial and is all too familiar with the short preparation period and the one-on-one format: while attending Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law, Hilton was chosen not once, but twice, to compete at Baylor Law’s Top Gun Competition, where he finished in the quarterfinals both years. As second chair, Edwards will bring Lilly Meyer, a rising junior who is a relative unknown. While Meyer might not have the award shelf of some of the other second chairs in this field, she does have something perhaps more important: an established dynamic working with Edwards. On June 27th, win or lose, Marra Edwards will be right at the top of the college mock trial world. Our only question is whether or not she’ll be holding a sword when she is.

Elizabeth Grant, Stanford (Second Chair: Meredith Fenyo, Coach: Jack Seigenthaler):
Is there a tab summary without Elizabeth Grant’s name on it? The Stanford star is undoubtedly one of the first names to come to mind when reflecting on the constellation of personalities that have dominated AMTA these past few years. With her ability to take control of a room and entrance a jury with her composed yet emotive style, Grant owns the courtroom from the very first moment she steps into the well. That dominance carries over into cross examination, where her strong witness control and phenomenal presence make her a tough performer to outshine. Her speech and presentation are clear cut, picture-perfect, and she possesses the ability to be responsive without losing that polish when it comes to objections. There are very few attorneys here who will be able to match Grant on the more technical aspects of trial advocacy. But while Grant has proved herself to be the best opener in the field, it has been a while since she has closed—an area we expect she’ll be brushing up on while preparing. One thing to watch for will be a performance quirk of Grant’s that she’s featured her entire career: mock voice. Grant, like many mock trial attorneys—especially those that competed in California high school mock trial—adopts a speaking style where she overemphasizes certain syllables, deploys a deliberately slow cadence, and adds a certain amount of formality to her speech pattern. This could be Grant’s Achilles’ heel if she happens to go up against opponents who opt for a more casual tone. But let’s be honest, if Grant’s mock voice was going to be a problem for her, she probably wouldn’t be walking into TBC 2022 with by far the highest attorney award count in the field. And, after all, it is what the California judges seem to prefer. Grant has chosen one of the strongest sophomores in the country, Meredith Fenyo, as second chair. Fenyo has been on Stanford A since she arrived, and is now the President of the program. Although Fenyo has yet to receive an award at the Regional, ORCS, or National level, this year is shaping up to be Fenyo’s year as a potential closer, with veteran members of the program graduating. With ample experience at Gladiator (finishing as a semifinalist in 2020), Fenyo will surely be of assistance in drafting quality one-on-one material and honing in Grant’s performance. Grant and Fenyo won’t be doing it alone: the two will be coached by two-time TBC competitor Jack Seigenthaler. Seigenthaler is one of the most decorated alumni of Stanford Mock Trial, with 2 All-National Attorney Awards, 2 All-American Awards, and an impressive 3rd place finish at the inaugural Trial by Combat in 2018. With this tournament as Grant’s final shot to win a major trophy, and her first in-person TBC, the rest of the field should quake in fear of what Grant will bring to the courtroom.

Travis Harper, Harvard (Second Chair: Stella Asmerom, Coach: Sarah Stebbins):
All hail the king. Travis Harper II, perfect thirty-rank All-American attorney, final round witness, National Champion, will fly into Los Angeles this June as the crowd favorite. In a competition format that places a premium on versatility, Harper is perhaps the field’s most versatile competitor—with an ability to open and close interchangeably and to play any type of witness. In a competition format that requires dynamism, Harper is arguably the field’s most interesting competitor to watch. And in a competition format that demands intelligence and adaptability, Harper’s command of the rules of evidence and his remarkable ability to ignore his script and just vibe is matched by very few others. There’s a reason why Harper was picked last year as one of just three sophomores ever to compete at Trial by Combat, and there’s a reason why he is the only sophomore besides Sydney Gaskins to place in the field. The guy just has remarkably few holes in his game. To the extent he will have a weakness in June, it’ll likely be content. His scripts will be good, but like we mentioned before, Harper does have a tendency to go off-script and riff, and if he slips up and makes a mistake, he could be vulnerable against a polished competitor with more put-together material. But that’s a big if. There are plenty of competitors even in the TBC field who get by on the strength of their presentation and often find themselves on the back foot when things go awry—and Harper isn’t one of them. Harper won’t lose witness rounds. Anyone who hasn’t seen his portrayal of Courtney Rudd in the NCT final round this year should go watch it. He can cry, he can do accents, and he can play experts pretty well, too. Harper will be bringing back the same team that helped him at TBC last year, second chair Stella Asmerom and coach Sarah Stebbins—a group that has 9 All-Americans between them, the most in the field by a mile. Asmerom, a long-time co-captain of Harper’s, is a two-time All-American as of this April, and she and Harper have as much experience working together as any duo listed here. Stebbins is 4-time All-American (one more than Harper, but he does have one year left) with Georgia Tech who now attends UCLA School of Law. She coached Harper in high school and is not affiliated with the Harvard Mock Trial Association. Now, Trial by Combat is as unpredictable as any mock trial competition can be. But we’re sure of one thing: on the morning of Sunday, June 26th, Travis Harper will be at counsel table, dressed in an impeccable suit, staring down his breakfast—the three cans of Red Bull in front of him, ready to lay it all on the line for the chance to lean a gigantic sword against his Richard Calkins trophy.

Riya Lakkaraju, Emory (Second Chair: Sara DeLacey, Coach: Elias Neibart):
For as long as any of us can remember, the standard by which excellence has been measured in AMTA has been the All-American award. As of this April, Riya Lakkaraju has received college mock trial’s highest individual honor four times over, putting her in an elite category of mock trial competitor, where she stands shoulder to shoulder with names like Stern, Grandhi, Gaskins, Fields—and placing her squarely atop the rest of this year’s field as TBC 2022’s most decorated competitor. She’s got the hardware for a reason: over the past two years, there really hasn’t been anyone better at mock trial than Riya Lakkaraju. Presentationally, she is the best in the field, and it’s not very close—only maybe Harper and Liz Grant will be able to match her sheer presence in the courtroom. She’s one of the most experienced closers on the circuit, as her trophy cabinet can surely attest, but anyone who’s watched her Trial by Combat rounds from last year on YouTube can tell you that she may actually be a better opener. She’s one of the only competitors in the field who can tell a story just as well as she can persuade judges with the sort of righteous indignation that has become her trademark style when closing. As a cross-examiner, she can absolutely bulldoze the witness in any number of different ways. And, obviously, Lakkaraju has witnessing ability in spades too, although her experience is largely as an expert. One could argue that her 5th place finish last year—where she narrowly missed out on the semifinals—was a direct result of Bernstein’s decision not to include an expert or investigator witness in the case for the preliminary rounds, a decision that forced Lakkaraju out of her comfort zone as a witness. This year, if there are professional witnesses in the case, anyone witnessing against Lakkaraju should prepare themselves to win very few check marks. In terms of weaknesses, Lakkaraju may struggle to get clean quickly on 24-hour prep. This is nitpicky, because she’ll probably be better at this than some of the field, but in high level rounds, she could chase ghosts on cross, which may have been her downfall in her Round 4 with Demsky last year. Accompanying Lakkaraju will be Sara DeLacey, her former co-captain and a well-awarded competitor who won the Best Second Chair award at last year’s TBC, as well as Elias Neibart, a former TBC competitor in 2020. This is the Emory group’s second year working together at this competition, and Lakkaraju and Neibart’s third year together, so these guys know what they’re doing. Everyone competing at Trial by Combat should be warned: fear Riya Lakkaraju. She’ll hit you in round and send you home without hardware just as sure she’ll turn around the next morning and send you eighty emails asking you to judge the high school invitational tournament she runs. She’ll make it look easy. She always does.

Juliana Mayer, Duke (Second Chair: Jacob Hervey, Coach: Eric Roytman):
Juliana Mayer is next in line. In 2020, Duke’s star opener Sonali Mehta stormed to the final round and overcame Sydney Gaskins (and her plush leather rolly chair) for the title. In 2021, their star opener Seva Castleberry placed third, losing to a set of Ikea cabinets (and Bennett Demsky) in the semifinal. And now, it’s Mayer’s turn. This spring, just like her predecessors, she opened while captaining Duke A to their 5th place NCT finish and picked up an All-American for her trouble. So will she be able to continue Duke’s semi-final streak at TBC? Part of that impressive track record might stem from the fact that Duke likes to graduate their star competitors from closing to opening, which gives Mayer real statementing versatility in a competition that can get closer-heavy. And you can’t talk about Mayer without mentioning her coach, Eric Roytman—himself a 7th place TBC finisher who coached Duke to their double top-five finish at last year's NCT, and both Mehta and Castleberry at TBC. Roytman’s experience writing in the 24 hour prep window and raw mock smarts may be one of Mayer’s greatest assets, especially as a first time competitor at this competition without previous second chair experience. Mayer is joined by All-National attorney Jacob Hervey, a sophomore this year on Duke A who must have enjoyed second chairing for Castleberry in 2021 so much that he’s doing it again. All of which is to say, you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger institutional memory in this competition than Duke and the Roytman Cerebellum™. But if her scripts will be her strength, what we’re wondering is whether Mayer will have the in-court presence to back them up. Stylistically, she’s got a lot to work with: she has access to a cool, emotive demeanor that sneaks into her openings and directs, then mixes it with flashes of fire and drama that will have you listening to a cross and realizing Mayer is a lot more punchy than Mehta or Castleberry. But Mayer is not known for responsiveness, and sometimes—in an objection battle or cross—that fire goes a little too far and she can appear to lose track of her composure. Against the caliber of presenters she’ll be facing, Mayer will need to toe that line perfectly, and even then, there will be stronger personas than her own. She’s also in the half of the TBC field without a witness award, so just how she’ll fare against career double threats is a bit of a question mark. But bet against Duke and Juliana Mayer at your own peril. Anyone going into a round against her should know they’re facing a star attorney with what might be the best content in the field.

James Orr, Virginia (Second Chair: Ethan Marx, Coach: Kevin Baker):
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Los Angeles will be a story of redemption for this TBC competitor. After spending his senior season captaining one of the best programs in the country, this competitor wrapped up their senior season in underwhelming fashion in Lancaster—taking home far fewer accolades than we’d have bet on.” If this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that schtick, then you’re one of the special few who read our posts straight through. While it’s true Orr isn’t particularly unique because he almost certainly has a chip on his shoulder, we’re repeating our usual spiel again because we suspect Orr’s NCT angst is going to motivate everything he does in Los Angeles—he won’t just be aiming to avenge UVA A’s lackluster finish this year, but their middling Nationals record last year as well. He’s only got one shot left to bring it home for the Cavaliers, and he’s got to do it by winning the only award UVA doesn’t have sitting somewhere: a giant fucking sword. As an advocate, expect great things from Orr. He’s big, he’s powerful, and with the right content, his technical proficiency will make him devastatingly clinical. While it may not be what he’s known for, Orr actually opened for UVA at ORCS this year, so that’s another formidable part of his game. He won’t have flash, but he will have gravitas—and that’s a stylistic tradeoff that’s paid off well for the UVA competitors who have been to Trial by Combat before. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that UVA has a history of success with the 24-hour format. With Sabrina Grandhi taking 3rd in 2019, Dan Peale taking 5th in 2020, and Raahema Durrani taking 4th in 2021, it’s clear that even if the Cavaliers have never broken into a final round, they’ve still got a plan of attack for handling 24-hour case prep that is nothing if not effective. Given that Orr was second chair for Peale and Durrani’s successes, we can bet he’s going to use that knowledge as an asset. Coaching Orr will be All-American Kevin Baker. While All-American Kevin Baker has never coached for Trial By Combat before, All-American Kevin Baker coached the dream UVA B team that placed fourth at this year’s National Championship Tournament. He’s here in the shoes of Toby Heytens and Ryan Falcouner, both members of the AMTA Coaches Hall of Fame, which should tell you something about the spark of mock trial genius that All-American Kevin Baker surely holds. Living vicariously through Orr (and maybe second-chairing along the way) is kid Gladiator and newly minted All-American Ethan Marx, who bested Bernstein’s gauntlet in 2020 and is no doubt eager to do it again. Can James Orr and company avenge UVA’s demons and break through to their first final round in a few years? We shall see.

Ruby Scanlon, Northwestern (Second Chair: Megan Munce, Coach: Nat Warner):
Ruby Scanlon has been a promising name on the brink of stardom since she entered AMTA and won a 20-rank award at her very first tournament. She was promptly put on Northwestern's A team and closed for them all season in 2019. She returned to that position in 2020, where she made some waves as the top-ranked attorney at the first powerhouse Great Chicago Fire (after the demise of the Downtown). Since then, Scanlon has slowly built one of the highest award counts on our list (behind only Lakkaraju, Grant, and Azari), and we suspect she may have won even more if she hadn’t had to share a bench for the last two years with All-American opener Tahj Burnett. Unfortunately, COVID-19 and Zoom weren’t great for Scanlon. She did win some awards, but she and her team generally underperformed expectations on Zoom. But the return to in-person has brought back success for Scanlon—with five awards just this spring (after not competing in the fall) and an All-American attorney award to cap things off. Contrary to the beliefs of the AMTA reps, Scanlon is not a witness. She did not win an All-American witness award—that was a screw-up at the awards ceremony. Her witness experience seems limited to a single witness award for playing an expert during invitational season, so we expect that she may struggle a bit if Bernstein decides to assign a character witness at TBC. On the other hand, that same witness assignment may give her the upper hand in her attorney rounds: unlike most high-ranking attorneys, Scanlon does not typically cross experts or party witnesses (although she has done both and can pull them off). Instead, Scanlon is at her best with eyewitnesses and characters, which may help her differentiate in a case like the one Bernstein wrote two years ago, U.S. v. Bassett—where a character cross has to square off against a cop cross. Scanlon‘s closings will also be a highlight. She has more closing experience than most of the field, having closed at least one side of Northwestern’s A team all four years, double closing for the last two. In statements, Scanlon showcases a performative style somewhat reminiscent of her early years as a California speech and debate star. Scanlon will be bringing Megan Munce as second chair, the outgoing President and former B team captain of Northwestern Mock Trial who joined Scanlon on bench this year and is likely to be an asset to Scanlon when it comes to knowledge of the rules of evidence. They will be coached by Nat Warner, who, despite coaching a truly alarming number of teams (currently Northwestern, Wesleyan, and Columbia), has never coached a TBC competitor before. But this won’t be Warner’s first crack at the 24-hour prep window: in 2021, he coached Harvard Law School competitor and Northwestern alum Joy Holden to semifinals at Top Gun, the even more grueling law school version of this tournament.

Camille Schaefer, UCLA (Second Chair: Michael Blaine, Coach: Elizabeth Smiley):
Is this the year we get back to back TBC champions from the same school? After second-chairing for last year’s winner, Audrey Shepard, Camille Schaefer had a phenomenal season, highlighted by a 20-rank attorney award at Regionals, a second All-National attorney award, and an extraordinary run at NCT—dropping ballots only to the NCT champion, Harvard A. Now, Schaefer is ready to ice the competition and secure her throne on home turf—winning a major trophy at her last ever tournament after captaining her team to consecutive 3rd and 2nd place division finishes at NCT. Intimidating, powerful, and with the flair for the dramatic for which Mock Trial at UCLA is synonymous, Schaefer is the type to keep her content both entertaining and clean. She’s not afraid to utilize the well, using her movements to take advantage of whatever space is made available to her. This kind of mobile performance on exams pulls jurors into an imaginary world in an already imaginary courtroom—till they are lost in the layers of Mock-ception. On cross, Schaefer maintains a perfectly professional and inviting demeanor while still making it seem like every single article of the witness’ dirty laundry is being aired out. Schaefer’s biggest strength, however, lies in her versatility. Sympathetic witnesses? Experts? Characters? Sure, she can direct and cross them all to the East Coast and back, but she can play them well too. Schaefer has proven time and time again that she can be the one-woman-show that excels at TBC. Her biggest drawback as a competitor lies in her lack of opening experience. We’ve seen her dazzle judges with her closings, but the adjustment to a more personable and less argumentative style could be a major shift. It’s indicative of another weakness that may hurt her in this field: Schaefer is pedal-to-the-medal, all of the time. That intensity is what makes her a singular competitor—but being able to take your foot off the gas is important every now and then. Now, the UCLA mock trial machine isn’t a solo operation. She’s backed by Elizabeth Smiley, the coach extraordinaire who shepherded Shepard to victory at TBC last year and is, along with Schaefer, one of the masterminds of UCLA’s recent success at NCT. Schaefer’s second chair, Michael Blaine, hasn’t become a tab summary regular like many other names on this list, but his time opening on UCLA A this year has readied him for the intensive weekend that is TBC. His southern charm and soft examination style could be critical in helping balance out Schafer’s more combative presence. He also brings insight as an opener that Schaefer may be lacking after spending the past few years closing out trials. Last year, UCLA missed their shot at an NCT final, but made up for it with Shepard’s big win at TBC. This year, they got even closer to a final round appearance. Perhaps history will repeat itself. Having home field advantage certainly can’t hurt.

Madelyn Whalen, UC Santa Barbara (Second Chair: Aleyna Young, Coach: Michael Li):
It’s Friday, April 8th. A warm spring day in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The sun beats down on a baseball stadium filled with fake lawyers as they prepare to vie for the title of best in the nation. UCSB takes to the podium donning sunglasses and tank tops to announce that they’ve brought the sun to Lancaster. Unfortunately, as anyone who sat through Sunday’s frigid closing ceremony will tell you, whatever they were doing didn’t work. Santa Barbara couldn’t quite bring the sun, but Madelyn Whalen brought the heat. She may be small, but her style is big. If anyone in this field thinks they can beat her when it comes to volume, they can’t (you can literally hear her from outside of the courtroom). The passionate, theatrical performances that Whalen delivers will be a huge asset to her in Los Angeles, where local judges will be accustomed to a more animated style of mock trial. There’s also no question that Whalen will be bringing versatility with her on the short drive down the coast from Santa Barbara. She is the only competitor in this field who awarded as both an attorney and a witness at Regionals and ORCS. This will certainly benefit Whalen when it comes to those witness rounds against competitors who only have experience on the opposite side of the stand. That being said, versatility for Whalen is a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure, she can witness and attorney, but she’s got a very specific niche, which is uncommon in this field. Whalen plays sad witnesses and crosses experts. If Bernstein decides to throw two characters her way come TBC weekend, this Gaucho may have trouble wrangling them in on cross. As for statements, Whalen has experience opening, but her style is much better suited for closing. Thankfully, she’ll be joined by second chair and opening extraordinaire Aleyna Young. Young will also be a huge help if Bernstein does decide to go with character witnesses this year—she won an All-American portraying Blaine Crawford as a freshman in 2021. Coaching Whalen is former Ohio State competitor and OSU-turned-UCSB coach Michael Li, who (aside from being suspiciously absent from the Buckeyes’ rounds in Lancaster) has an impressive resume in his own right: Li was a part of one the two Ohio State teams that placed 5th in 2019, and he competed on the Driscoll-Owens-BesmanTM team that looked like Round 5 material before the NCT was canceled in 2020. While he doesn’t have the same accolades as some other coaches in this field, Li’s picked up a number of attorney awards, including All-Regional honors in 2021 sharing a bench with TBC competitor and menace to society Clay Owens and Sarah Paul, the top All-American Attorney in the Doss Division. Experience sticking out amongst talented competitors could serve Whalen well in a field full of big names, and we’ll see (and hear) if that experience pushes her to the top in LA.

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
Varun Aggarwal4311
Thomas Azari151502
Ali AlEkri11292
Elizabeth Baldwin101000
Sara Campbell6602
Benjamin Crosby12842
Bennett Demsky121201
Marra Edwards6602
Elizabeth Grant202002
Travis Harper12843
Riya Lakkaraju221484
Juliana Mayer5501
James Orr9901
Ruby Scanlon131211
Camille Schaefer9720
Madelyn Whalen10551
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