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Speech, Debate Teams Make Voices Heard Nationally, Finish Year Strong

The UT Dallas debate and speech teams finished the year with strong performances at national tournaments.

“It was a good year. Both teams were more competitive and set the stage for even more growth and success,” said Scott Herndon, director of the debate and speech program.

The debate team made strides this year with a strong showing at the Cross Examination Debate Association national tournament. Front row, from left: Ragya Kaul, Evan Gilbert, Solomon Watson and Dustyn Beutelspacher. Second row, from left: Alex Baez, Max McCarty and Hayden Iske. Third row, from left: coaches Scott Herndon, Hunter McCullough and Phil Samuels.

Three UT Dallas debate team pairs advanced to the finals of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national tournament, held in April. At CEDA, junior Evan Gilbert and junior Alex Baez ended in a tie for 17th overall, while the pairs of sophomore Ragya Kaul and freshman Dustyn Beutelspacher and freshman Solomon Watson and sophomore Max McCarty both tied for 33rd place. Kaul and Beutelspacher also qualified for the National Debate Tournament, held in March.

There were 115 two-person teams at the CEDA tournament. UT Dallas was one of only five universities to advance three or more teams to the elimination round.

“It’s been awhile since we had three teams in CEDA,” Herndon said. “It’s quite an accomplishment and shows the upward trajectory of our squad.”

Members of the UT Dallas speech team also earned spots in national tournaments this year. Sophomore Deepalakshmi Elangovan and junior Annika Russell represented the squad at the American Forensic Association national tournament. In addition, seven students qualified for the National Forensic Association national tournament: Elangovan, Russell, junior Hadia Zahid, junior Justin Burch, junior Shannon Cotts, junior Marghi Jani and freshman Gatha Joshi.

The speech team recently finished its first year as part of the UT Dallas program. Front row, from left: Marghi Jani and Gatha Joshi. Second row, from left: Justin Burch, Vanessa Vigil, Deepalakshmi Elangovan and Cameron Walker. Third row, from left: Hadia Zahid, Brad Skiles (coach) and Shannon Cotts.

The speech team, created by students last year, recently became part of the debate and speech program. The move provided additional funds for speech team members to compete at regional and national tournaments.

Zahid, an information technology systems major who led the formation of the speech team, said she was excited by the progress of the team and the ability to participate in national tournaments. 

“I’m very thrilled with how things are going. I didn’t expect us to be able to go to nationals so quickly but, thankfully, we did well,” she said. “I hope the team will continue growing and that we can go to even more tournaments. Hopefully, by the end of my senior year, we can participate in 10 to 11 regular tournaments throughout the school year, while also going to both national tournaments.”

The speech team is coached by Brad Skiles, a manager in the Office of Information Technology.

“It’s difficult for first-year competitors to be successful at national finals due to the lack of experience,” Skiles said. “I’m tremendously proud, however, that so many of our students qualified for the tournament and have seen what it takes to compete at the very highest level.”

Since neither team is losing members next year because of graduation, Herndon said he expects both teams to improve.

“When you look around and you think how young the members of the teams are, and you realize that every single one of those students will be back next year, you naturally expect them to all get better,” he said.

Media Contact: Phil Roth, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2193, [email protected] , or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].