Mock Trial on Top, No Debate

UC Irvine’s gloried and much revered Mock Trial team was recently ranked as the top team in the entire nation by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA), the governing body for intercollegiate mock trial competition. The rankings are based on team performances over the past three years at Regionals, the Opening Round of Championships and Nationals. The UC Irvine team was ranked over elite teams from a number of top-tier and flagship universities across the country, including but not limited to: Harvard, Duke, Yale, Columbia, Berkeley, UCLA, UVA and Northwestern. The first place national ranking of Irvine’s Mock Trial team is made even more impressive by the fact that this is not the team’s first time at the very top.

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

In fact, their most recent ranking represents a previously unprecedented feat as the team now harbors the distinction of being the first team in the history of college mock trial to be ranked first in the nation for the second straight year. But according to UC Irvine Mock Trial President, Misha Euceph, the rankings were never something the team cared much about.

“Our goal was winning every invitational we could, qualifying two teams for the National Championship Tournament and then winning the title,” Euceph said.

Irvine’s Mock Trial program consists of two teams, Team A and Team B. Although Team A holds the top spot in the nation for the school, the program’s Team B was also able to reach the National Championships and rank among the top 50, a distinction which only six other colleges in the nation hold. Given that the AMTA is made up of approximately 600 competing teams, their achievements are nothing short of extraordinary. According to Euceph, “[the A and B teams] always have a playful competitive spirit with each other.” The two teams feed off of each other and are really just two parts of the same whole.

“When our A team missed the championship by a hair, and our entire program was sobbing. Everyone had the same level of emotional investment,” recalls Euceph, describing their 1-point defeat in the round preceding the finals in the National Championship Tournament in Washington D.C. On top of this all, the program is relatively new. The program was created over eight years ago in 2005. The team began with a slow start in its first year and failed to make it out of Regionals. But before long, the team was able to reach elite status as the past six years have resulted in six consecutive top 10 finishes. When asked what makes it so successful and differentiates the organization from any other one she has been a member of, sophomore Taryn Reid said “I feel like it’s the cohesion and family environment of the program, as well as how heavily involved our coaches are.”

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

“We all have so much fun together while working extremely hard.” Fresh out of having completed her first year with the program, Reid’s experience has been more than she could have ever expected. She calls being a part of it “absolutely amazing.” So far Mock Trial has afforded her incredible friendships, opportunities to travel countrywide and coaches who push her to her very best. When asked about how she felt about the team’s national ranking, Reid said, “Honestly, being number one in the nation just motivates me to work harder to keep up the success of all the competitors before me.”

With that kind of attitude from one of the organization’s youngest members, it comes with little to no surprise that the program as a whole has soared above and beyond expectations, records and professional standards. And this is no accident, as Mock Trial means far more to its dedicated members than just an extra-curricular activity or resume booster. Euceph and the team see the organization as a way to give back to the school.

“[Members of the program] give up sleep and food and so much of their social lives and sometimes even have to sacrifice academics to represent our school in the way that we do,” Euceph said.

“I’ve never seen a group of people with such tireless work ethics so focused on the same exact goal,” Vice President Laureen Bousmail of both teams, en route to Nationals, said.

“We changed scripts the night before trials and stayed up hours to memorize. We focused on minuscule details that could impact our results.” And, clearly, the relentless efforts and tireless work ethics of their members have not gone unrecognized or unrewarded. The program has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades and has maintained a penchant for breaking records and coming out of invitationals on top. Unsurprisingly, many of the program’s former members have gone on to study at some of the nation’s best law schools. What is largely self-evident about the organization is the insatiable hunger and passion of its members for what they are doing.

Nonetheless, the top ranked team in the nation is anything but selfish, as Bousmail attests, “We don’t care about individual recognition. We don’t care about titles. We don’t care about hierarchy. We care about having fun while winning and we care about doing that as a team.”

“Above all else, we’re a family. It’s easier to succeed with your family by your side.” In the upcoming year the program will have to fare without its head coach, Justin Bernstein, who will be stepping down. Bernstein has been at the helm since the founding of the program. No other person is more credited with the tremendous success of UC Irvine’s mock trial program than him.

“He was selfless, relentless and inspirational,” Bousmail said of Bernstein. “He brought things to our program that I could never put into words.” Two of the Mock Trial program’s coaches, Marissa Oxman and Michael Smith, will assume Bernstein’s reins together, as co-head coaches. Although they each have big shoes to fill, both of Bernstein’s successors have been coached by him and are well acquainted with what it take to be the best in the nation.

In addition to this, the team has graduated six seniors, including some of their top talent as three out of the four attorneys who competed on their top team at the National Championships are gone. While the loss of such important role players is undoubtedly a setback, the team remains optimistic about their future. UC Irvine Mock Trial has come a long way since its inception in 2005 and Bernstein leaves it with a formidable reputation. But the current program and its members are far from complacent. They are as hungry as ever, in spite of the stratospheric success which they have enjoyed over the past couple of years. They are determined to continue pushing the envelope and ultimately win as a team what has long alluded them: a National Championship Title.

“And now, we have this desire to really do this for our former head coach, Justin, and to finally get our program the title that it deserves,”  Euceph said. The tight-knit group of some of the best and brightest students that UC Irvine has to offer has helped put the school on the map by making collegiate mock trial history. All in all, the program not only embodies teamSwork, hard work and selfless values, but also what it means to be a UC Irvine student and Anteater.

“We represent the school and the students who attend it. We are proud to be Anteaters,” ays Bousmail said. “It’s not just our program’s success. When we win, we win as UC Irvine. We don’t want people to ever forget that.”

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

Courtesy of UCI Mock Trial

After the graduation of the Class of 2013 in June, the organization stands at approximately 20 members. But they look to add some more amazing Anteaters this upcoming fall to join them on their quest to win a national title, once and for all. The organization has no quota but has been known to be selective. The current president, who admits she was scared out of her wits to try out for the team four years ago, couldn’t be more glad to have done it, looking back.

“I have had some of the most extraordinary experiences, faced some of the hardest challenges, and met some of my best friends in this program, my future bridesmaids and my lifelong mentors,” she says.

“There’s nothing in this world that would make me happier than for someone else to have the kind of experience that I have had.”