For the first time in its program history, the Elk River speech and debate team made the trek to Boston for the National Harvard Speech and Debate Tournament on Feb. 17-19. Already a tremendously successful program, winning the Section 7AA tournament over the past four years, the Elks planned on making their presence known at the national level.
They did just that.
Bringing 10 members of the varsity team to the national tournament, five of them placed highly. Senior Emily Sizen advanced to the octofinals (top 48) in original oratory, while fellow seniors Tia Lerud and Lauren Lee went one step further to the quarterfinals (top 24). Junior Jazzy Gray also advanced to the quarterfinals in informative.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, senior Emmanuel Collins made it all the way to the final round in original oratory, consisting of the top six competitors. He ended up placing third, an impressive performance to say the least, considering there were more than 300 competitors in the event.
“Finishing third was extremely rewarding and special to me,” Collins said. “My coaches and I have put so much time and effort into this speech, so it was an amazing feeling to make it that far in the tournament.”
Elks head coach Allison Harmer was arguably the most thrilled to watch Emmanuel take the national stage by storm.
“Emmanuel’s success is particularly exciting because he’s worked so hard for every moment,” Elks head coach Allison Harmer said. “Emmanuel has truly emerged over the past two seasons as a leader. He’s a state competitor and captain of the team and we could not ask for a better role model.”
Harmer started helping out with the program eight years ago when there were about 10 students on the team, but since then, she’s worked her way up to the head coaching position, seeing the program grow to 45-50 students per year. This season, she said she felt the team was ready for their first invitational out of state, especially given their success at the section and state level.
Last season, the team saw Elk River graduate Elizabeth Brayden take 10th at nationals after joining the National Speech and Debate Association for the 2016-17 season.
On top of Brayden, Dylan Clausen and Emily Sizen qualified for the national tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.
In turn, the team’s success at Harvard is proof that the program is heading in the right direction, not only putting themselves on the map in the state, but in the country.
“This was a big accomplishment for Elk speech to get recognition on a national level after having a national semifinalist last year,” Harmer said.
Other members to compete at the tournament were Elly Rolfes in humor, Hannah Harder in informative, Kaja Montplaisir and Shelby Swenson in program oral interpretation, and Joe Anderson in congressional debate. Anderson has already wrapped up a spot at nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but Harmer hopes for more qualifiers when the Elks head to the National Qualifier Tournament on March 16-17.
“We have a good shot at a few more students joining him,” she said.