Mock Trial Advances to Final Rounds of Nationals

Courtesy UCI Mock Trial

Courtesy UCI Mock Trial
One of the two UCI Mock Trial teams that participated in the Newport tournament, along with members of Gonzaga University’s Mock Trial team. Nine UCI students will advance to the next round of Nationals.

UC Irvine Mock Trial came out of the opening rounds of the American Mock Trial Association’s (AMTA) national championship with a bid to advance to finals, despite stiff competition among 24 teams.

Held in the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on March 21-22, the event pushed UCI Mock Trial to its limits.

Two UCI groups competed in the opening rounds, which were led by UCI Mock Trial President Marissa Oxman, a fourth-year dance major, and Gaya Shanmuganatha, a third-year criminology, law and society and psychology double-major, respectively. The matches were presided over by impartial judges from the Newport area. The top six teams in the competition advanced to the final rounds of nationals.

Oxman’s team advanced with a fourth place ranking, beating Scripps College with a 2-0 decision and Gonzaga University 2-0 and splitting 1-1 games with both UC Berkeley and Arizona State University. Shanmuganatha’s team slightly missed out on advancing by earning a seventh place ranking, beating Gonzaga University and UC Santa Barbara with 2-0 decisions, but split a 1-1 decision with Clairemount McKenna College and losing 0-2 to UCLA.

According to Oxman, if the team keeps up its pace, it could be walking away with the national championship next month.

“It’s right on track compared to last year. Last year we also qualified for a national championship and we ended up tying for seventh … We’re going in hoping to just do our best, and I wouldn’t eliminate the possibility that we’re in the final round competing for a title,” Oxman said.

However, before UCI Mock Trial can compete for the national trial title, it has a wealth of ambitious teams to overcome. Head Coach Justin Bernstein stressed the level of competition that the final rounds of AMTA’s national championship has to offer this year.

“[Our competition is] much stronger than it was last season because last year it was the top 64 teams that made it to the [final rounds of] the championship; this year it’s the top 48 teams. When the season began there were more than 600 teams. Now there’s going to be 48, so we’re talking about the top … 8 [or] 9 percent of the country,” Bernstein said.

Although it may become more difficult to compete from the opening rounds to the final rounds, Shanmuganatha is optimistic about the trials that lie ahead. For instance, Shanmuganatha points to her team’s match against UCLA, which, despite not being a winning effort, motivated her team to work hard.

“I think our toughest round and most fun round was against UCLA because they are a powerhouse within the state of California, and to know that we played against them, [that] we held our own and we did really well against them … was probably the highlight,” Shanmuganatha said.

Aside from the success of UCI Mock Trial overall, five members were able to pick up individual awards. Oxman and first-year political science major Neil Thakor won outstanding attorney awards. Second-year theater major Danielle Bardellini, fourth-year economics and accounting major Howard Chang and Michelle Henderson, a third-year criminology and African-American studies double-major, each won an outstanding witness award.

However, while these awards may be impressive, UCI Mock Trial only made one bid to advance a group and could consequently send a maximum of 10 of its 31 members to compete. AMTA rules are set up so that teams can be restructured. As such the UCI Mock Trial team advancing will not mirror the team that earned the bid. According to Bernstein there have been at least six UCI students who have earned individual AMTA awards over the season who will not compete in the final rounds of the AMTA national competition. Bernstein believes that though this is a testament to UCI Mock Trial’s ability, it does not make narrowing down the team members to send to the final rounds any easier.

“[Deciding] which students will represent the university at the highest level is one of the most difficult decisions that I have to make. In years past it was difficult because I was trying to figure out who was good enough to go. This year it was difficult because they were all good enough to go,” Bernstein said.

Ultimately Bernstein picked nine members to comprise the advancing team. The members who will compete are Oxman, Shanmuganatha, Bardellini, third-year criminology, law and society and sociology double-major Christian Acevedo, third-year music major Tom Collins, second-year biology major Anagha Dixit, fourth-year political science and international studies double-major, Shima Gorgani, fourth-year philosophy major Ben Larson and Brisa Simmons, a second-year biology and political science double-major.

Yet, while not every member could advance to the final rounds of nationals, Bernstein believes that their efforts were necessary for the team’s overall success.

“Our appearance in the championship is the culmination of the tremendous amount of hard work of all 31 students, and the team of nine that is going will represent all 31 of them,” Bernstein said.

The final rounds of the AMTA national championship will occur in Polk County Courthouse and the Hotel Fort Des Moines in Des Moines, Iowa on April 17-19.