The North Central College mock trial team took a big step toward building the kind of national reputation held by the College’s best competitive programs. It accepted an invitation to compete at the 23rd annual Yale Invitational mock trial tournament on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn.
North Central’s team performed well at the tournament, finishing 10th in a division of 26 teams, a number of which are from schools significantly larger than the College. The field included many of the leading mock trial teams in the nation from some of its most distinguished universities. Competing schools included the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Boston University, Tufts University and the University of Minnesota as well as Ivy League universities such as Yale, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton.
“This is one of the biggest competitions in the nation; the best teams go to this competition,” said Samantha Hasiewicz ’20, a psychology major and captain of the team. “It was something we had our sights on for a couple years. Last year, we made it through regionals and into the Opening Round Championship, and we got an invitation from Yale because of how well we did.”
Joining Hasiewicz at Yale were teammates Alexis Endres ’21, Eduenis Navarro ’19, Raine Odom ’20, Taryn Ordonez ’19, Kevin Phelan ’21, Kyla Singleton ’19, and Spencer White ’20. Their coaches, Ron Kowalczyk and Rebecca Koper, accompanied the team on the trip.
In order to finance the excursion to Connecticut, the team worked hard for months to raise funds. It collaborated with local restaurants that donated proceeds of their sales, held bake sales and raffles, asked for donations from local attorneys, and received generous support from North Central alumni. It also raised money from the sale of “Mock gear”—merchandise and apparel with North Central mock trial branding that proved very popular.
The journey to Yale was a long one, both literally and figuratively.
“We stayed at a hotel near O’Hare Airport so we could spend the day practicing,” Hasiewicz said. “The next morning, we left at 3 a.m. for a 5 a.m. flight. From O’Hare we flew into Philadelphia, and from Philadelphia we flew to New Haven.”
Once there, the team competed on Saturday and Sunday from around 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The tournament consisted of four rounds, with the College’s team representing both the plaintiff and defense side of a fictitious civil case.
The weekend, while grueling, taught the team a lot about different strategies.
“We got to see how teams from the East Coast approach a case; it’s a little bit different from how we do it in the Midwest,” said Hasiewicz. “They’re a little bit more intense and we learned how to respond to the way they present their case.”
Hasiewicz also expressed how the atmosphere of the tournament helped push North Central’s team to improve.
“We walked in and immediately felt like, ‘This is Yale, this is intense,’” she said. “We were seeing teams we had never seen before. Everyone was much more serious than we’re used to at tournaments. You could feel the energy.”
Hasiewicz hopes to someday become a criminal defense attorney for juvenile cases. She says that about half the members of the team are looking for careers in law, but everyone can and does benefit from the experience of competing.
“One of the biggest things that makes mock trial great is interacting with people and how we work together to figure things out,” Hasiewicz said. “In mock trial you get comfortable with talking to people you don’t even know about a case. You learn how to think on your feet. You learn to come up with a character—you’re an attorney or a witness and you have to become that. It’s a lot of different things.”
In 2019, the team anticipates scrimmaging the University of Michigan and attending one more invitational tournament. Their season ends with the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) Regional Tournament, the Opening Round Championship Series or ORCS, which is co-hosted by the College, and if all goes well, the team hopes to earn a bid to the AMTA National Championship in Philadelphia.
Hasiewicz feels good about their chances, as the Yale tournament gave them a lot to build on as well as a large boost in confidence.
“We did a lot better than we expected, and we earned it. We deserved to be there, so that was a really good feeling.”