Looking out her window at the blue sky on Sunday, UMBC Mock Trial President Sydney Gaskins ‘21, political science, remembers thinking, “What a beautiful day to win a national championship.” But she didn’t quite realize exactly what becoming a champion would feel like. Now, she knows.
On the evening of April 18, UMBC defeated Yale University to win the American Mock Trial Association National Championship for the first time in program history.
The final round was a nail-biter for Retriever fans tuning in online. Five of the eleven judges voted for UMBC, five went for Yale, and the final judge stated it was a tie. To determine the winner, the judges tallied the scores from all their final round ballots, which put UMBC ahead of Yale, 1,360 to 1,355. The five-point margin was the second-closest winning margin in AMTA National Championship history.
Confident and prepared
Gaskins has been widely recognized as one of the top mock trial competitors in the country. With her on Sunday (over Zoom) was UMBC’s well-rounded, practiced team, whose combined efforts made the victory possible. Team members included Thomas Azari ‘22, political science; Natalie Murray ‘22, biological sciences; Maria Kutishcheva ‘24, political science and Russian; Zinedine Partipilo Cornielles ‘23, political science and financial economics; Lauren Wotring ‘22, political science; and Thomas Kiley ‘21, political science.
They were assisted by three team members who provided technical support: Sunnah Brooks ‘23, political science; Brinda De Tchappi ‘23, political science; and Poushali Banerjee ’23, health administration and policy.
“I’m always confident in my team’s ability,” says Azari. “But I was on the edge of my seat.”
The last time UMBC faced Yale was in the fourth round of the National Championships in 2019. UMBC narrowly lost, with the teams splitting the round’s ballots 2-2. Since Yale had more ballots going into the round, they moved on to the National Championship final that year.
UMBC’s win comes after an undefeated regional season and 8.5 wins at the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS).
“It was one-hundred percent the right time and our time,” says Gaskins, about their win.
Success requires sacrifice
Mock Trial coach Ben Garmoe ‘13, political science, says the team’s national championship title is a dream come true, reflecting hundreds of hours of hard work. UMBC Mock Trial has made it to the national championship competition in three out of the past four seasons. Even knowing they would be competing with 650 teams this year, and that they’d have to rework their approach for a Zoom environment, they had their eye set on the final from the very beginning.
“The team has given up so much to get to this level,” says Garmoe. “It is a testament to their individual character that they’ve decided that they want to be great at this activity and that they’re willing to commit so much time, dedication, and energy to it.”
Their sacrifices paid off by earning the team not just the national title, but also individual honors. Every team member earned all-American titles for competing in the final round of Nationals. Gaskins also earned a double-sided All-American Attorney award for both defense and plaintiff. Azari earned an All-American Attorney award and Murray won an All-American Witness award.
These awards come after Gaskins earned a double-sided All-National Attorney award and Kiley earned an All-National Witness award at ORCS, the semifinal level competition. The four total all-American titles set a UMBC Mock Trial record for the number of all-American awards earned.
UMBC Mock Trial also earned the Spirit of American Mock Trial Association Award, honoring their commitment to the principles of civility, justice, and fair play.
Community members who wish to support the UMBC Mock Trial team can do so directly through this webform.
Article by Morgan Casey ’22, media and communication studies, for UMBC News. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.