Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore will send two Mock Trial teams to the national semifinals following strong showings at recent Regional Championships. The team continues to grow from a new club chartered just four years ago to a regional powerhouse.
In an impressive underdog victory, Mock Trial’s A Team placed first out of 28 teams in their Regional Championship on February 20. The A Team, led by captains and co-founders Asher Sered ’11, Jon Schaefer ’11, and Candice Nguyen ’11, went undefeated. On March 19, they will participate in an Opening Round Championship, or ORC, in Washington, DC for a chance to compete in the National Championship. Their season record currently stands at 30 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie.
The A team had been highly successful over the course of the season, earning accolades at invitational tournaments at Penn, Buffalo, and Rochester. Yet Sered noted that few expected Swarthmore’s success at invitationals to translate into success at Regionals, though the tournament structure is essentially the same. “Other teams saw us as underdogs…some teams had maybe heard of us because of the successes we had at invitationals, but nobody expected us to win.” Schaefer described the team’s success more colorfully: “To the Mock Trial circuit, Swarthmore’s Mock Trial team taking the top spot in the Philadelphia Regional is about as surprising as Latvia ascending to become a major world power after World War III.”
The affectionately named Team Beasts, one of Swarthmore’s two B teams, placed a strong ninth at a regional championship in Easton, PA. Team Beasts faced reigning national champions NYU in two out of four rounds and managed to win 4.5 out of 8 ballots, earning a high strength-of-competitor score and an honorable mention award. Though only eight teams from each regional advance to ORCs, Team Beasts’ ninth-place finish was strong enough to earn an open-bid slot at an ORC in Hamilton, OH, where they will compete on March 19. Swarthmore’s third team, Team Slam, did not advance past the regional championships.
Mock Trial’s recent successes are the latest chapter in the club’s Cinderella story. Swarthmore has a history of strong Mock Trial teams, but the club was defunct in 2007, when Sered, Schaefer, and Nguyen arrived on campus as freshmen. They promptly re-founded the club, and Mock Trial has grown in both size and strength each year since. This year, the team has 28 full-time members, and is moving past Regionals for the first time. “At times I almost cant believe how far we’ve come…thinking back to freshman and sophomore year, we really didn’t know what we were doing – just flying by the seat of our pants,” said Sered.
Quitterie Gounot ’13, a member of Team Beasts, praised the ability of the co-founders to create such a sustainable and successful program. “We’re all really excited for Jon, Asher, and Candice, because they’ve worked so hard to make this happen, and we’ve really started to see the program blossom. Even after they graduate, we’ll still have teams that are really strong.”
The captains’ dedication to putting such a strong club together is particularly impressive given the lack of structural support for Mock Trial from the college. Swarthmore is unusual among Mock Trial teams in that it is completely student-run, as Wen Huang ’14 noted. “We don’t have a coach. We have some attorneys who come in and guide us, but [the students] do all the logistical stuff.” Huang said that Swarthmore is also at a disadvantage given its size and lack of accompanying law or grad school. “Some of the best Mock Trial programs in the country have thriving grad schools – NYU, Columbia, Yale, Harvard.”
Swarthmore’s Mock Trial team may be less pre-professional than teams at other schools. Huang noted that the skills Mock Trial develops, such as public speaking and persuasion, are commensurate with the goals of a liberal arts education. “I think a lot of people come in thinking, ‘I’m doing Mock Trial, and the next step is law school,’ but you get a lot out of Swat Mock Trial that doesn’t necessarily pertain to law school.” Indeed, Schaefer entered college planning to go into law, but is now looking at jobs in psychology research.
The captains are clearly proud of the team’s ascendance, although Sered is quick to deflect praise onto other members of the team. “In the sense of the growth of the team, I couldn’t be happier. The success of the A team is a testament to the success of how wide a group of freshmen and sophomores we have. Our team is mostly underclassmen.”
Though the story of the team’s meteoric ascendance is compelling, the captains are looking forward, not back. “For the future of our team, it would be great to get a shot at Nationals and to see the competition at the highest level. Mock Trial on the national scene is dominated by a fairly small group of programs that every year make it to Nationals – to break into that is really hard to do,” says Sered.
To compete at Nationals, Swarthmore first needs to make it through the ORCs, which take place on March 19-20. 24 teams compete in an ORC, and six teams from each tournament will advance to the national championships in Des Moines, IA.