The Rutgers University Debate Union (RUDU) earned its greatest accomplishment in team history yesterday with a run to the National Championship Final Round by Quinn Maingi & Sean Leonard. The junior/sophomore duo are just the fourth partnership in the 2000s without a senior on the team to make it to the National Final. They also became the first team since University of Virginia in 2003 to make the National Finals from a public institution.
Here are the official accomplishments earned by Rutgers this weekend:
Quinn Maingi & Sean Leonard – 2nd Team
Sean Leonard – 18th Speaker
Quinn Maingi – 20th Speaker
Vidhaath Sripathi – 8th Novice Speaker
After two grueling days of competition on Friday and Saturday, in which Maingi & Leonard defeated many of the best teams in the nation, it was announced at the Saturday night Banquet that they had become just the third team in RUDU history to reach the elimination rounds at Nationals. Ashley Novak & Chris Bergman made octofinals last year and David Reiss & Kyle Bomeisl did the same in 2011.
Maingi & Leonard faced Bates in octofinals and won a 2-1 decision, marking the first time ever that Rutgers won a National elimination round. They went on to rematch against a Johns Hopkins team they had beaten in preliminary rounds and carried the quarterfinal by a 4-1 margin. In semifinals, they faced a Harvard team that had made elims as the top seed, winning all six preliminary rounds including a win over them in prelims. But Rutgers smashed their eight-round winning run at Nationals with a 4-1 win that put Maingi & Leonard in the National Finals.
Despite losing the Final to Yale on a unanimous decision, Rutgers’ intense debate duo has electrified a debate league normally dominated by Ivy League elites. Harvard had won the previous two National Championships and the Ivy League has collectively won 14 of the last 17 American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) titles. The other three were won by Boston University, Johns Hopkins University, and Stanford University. The lone public institution to ever win a National Championship on APDA was the US Naval Academy in 1984.
RUDU finished the 2013-2014 season ranked fifth on APDA in the College of the Year (COTY) rankings. It was Rutgers’ fourth straight year in the top ten and tied for their second-highest finish. The team record was set last year at third. And while the team set a school record with eight qualifications for Nationals, no one among the five teams preparing to attend the Championship saw the run to Finals coming. Indeed, Rutgers entered the octofinals with the #13 seed of the sixteen teams who made the cut, making the Championship Final appearance all the sweeter.
The partnerships that Maingi & Leonard defeated in elimination rounds were ranked 4th, 6th, and 5th respectively in APDA’s Team of the Year (TOTY) rankings. The semifinal team from Harvard ranked 5th in TOTY included one of the debaters who was on the #1 ranked TOTY team. The final round opponents from Yale and eventual Champions were the #2 ranked TOTY pairing. One of those debaters was also on the #3 ranked team, meaning that RUDU’s team faced a debater on every one of the top six ranked teams at the Championships en route to taking 2nd overall.
RUDU has risen to prominence in the last five years after struggling in obscurity during its first decade on the APDA circuit. After being founded in 2001, the team never cracked the top ten in the national rankings until finishing 5th in 2010-2011. The last four years have featured countless successes and qualifications for Nationals, all culminating in this tremendous and almost unprecedented success for a state university.
Rutgers sent four other teams to the Championships, including Vidhaath Sripathi, whose top ten novice speaker finish reflects Leonard’s fifth novice speaker award from the 2013 Championships. If Leonard’s meteoric rise this year is any indication, Sripathi has the brightest of futures ahead for the team.
RUDU spent the four days leading up to the Championships all but sequestered at the “Debate House” at 11 Bartlett Street writing and rewriting cases, running practice rounds and drills, and preparing for the other teams who would be contending at the Championships. The work of the five teams and Coach Storey Clayton was supplemented by an inspiring surprise visit from David Reiss, who was on the first Rutgers team to make elimination rounds and the TOTY rankings. Reiss now lives in Austin, Texas and was flying home for Passover, but chose not to tell RUDU he would be showing up to help out.
Maingi and Leonard will be among the many returning debaters to next year’s RUDU squad who will hope to rise in the COTY rankings and again contend for a National Championship. Sripathi, Russell Potter, Arbi Llaveshi, Rachel Moon, and Nick Hansen are all returning debaters who attended this year’s Championship.