As snow began to blanket Eugene last Sunday night, about 40 members of University of Oregon’s Mock Trial club returned from the Municipal Court of Seattle, carrying three trophies, each standing over a foot tall.
Hours earlier, the four UO Mock Trial teams sat together wearing their team sweatshirts in a room on the top floor of the courthouse, which overlooked the Space Needle and Seattle skyline, awaiting the results from their regional competition. The competition began on February 23.
Out of the 22 teams from 10 different universities, only seven would receive bids to move on to the Opening Round Championship Series, or ORCS, the tournament that determines who moves on to nationals.
For Mock Trial president Aviva Kaye-Diamond, the stakes were high. As a senior, “this was going to be my last weekend of mock trial, so I was trying to prepare myself emotionally,” she said.
Mock Trial is a student-run organization that competes with other schools across the nation in a simulated trial scenario. Roughly 50 students make up five different teams of varying skill levels within the club. Beginning in fall term, the teams practice multiple times a week working on one case for which some people will be plaintiffs or prosecutors, defendants, or witnesses in a civil or criminal case created by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). Winners are determined by whichever team had the strongest argument and best preparation.
That weekend, Gonzaga University was announced in first place. UO competed against them in the final round.
“I was shaking, like visibly shaking, but I also felt serenely calm. I had this feeling that were were either going to get two teams or get nothing,” Kaye-Diamond said.
Then, the announcer called University of Oregon in second place. The A team had secured a bid to ORCS. All 40 members jumped to their feet and cheered. Again, the announcer called University of Oregon, this time the B team, in third place.
As captain of the B team, Kaye-Diamond stood up and walked down the aisle to accept the award. As she sat down, she heard the announcer tell Oregon to stay standing; their third team was in fourth place. In addition, five members were given personal awards for their individual performance during the trial.
“It was a roller coaster there for a minute,” said sophomore Noah Jordan, a member of the A team. “Obviously you don’t expect to get three bids but I think that the fact that we did get three bids was a reflection of the fact that this year’s definitely been heavy on the workload,” he said.
Per AMTA rules, a maximum of two teams from each school are allowed to move on to the ORCS for a total of seven teams. So while the program earned three bids, only the A and B teams will be moving on to the next round of competition.
The UO Mock Trial team is a relatively new program and has only participated in seven competitive seasons. Until last year, the team didn’t have a coach. Now, second-year law student Drew Betts coaches the team after having participating herself for three years during her undergraduate studies.
Last year, the team did not get a bid to the ORCS. Though disappointing, Betts said last year’s loss drove the team to work even harder this year. Team leaders made changes to the way the teams were formed and some teams practiced more than 20 hours a week.
“It’s really exciting to come and bounce back after a rather unsuccessful season last year that didn’t feel fair based on where I thought we were at competitively,” Betts said. “To walk away from regionals feeling like our hard work has been recognized is really satisfying. It gives the program a sense of confidence and momentum that is tangible in the rounds that follow the success.”
Betts said as a newer team with fewer resources, UO Mock Trial is an underdog compared to other, more established programs.
“We are successful directly because the students put in the work to make sure that they’re successful and I think that that really shows,” she said.
If the team is successful again next weekend, it will be the second time the program has qualified for nationals. The first time was in 2016 when the team took 10th in its division.
The next round of competition takes place in Santa Monica next weekend, March 9 and 10. For more information about Mock Trial, visit their Facebook page.