MERCER – Seven Mercer High School Speech Team members, all sophomores, competed in an annual rite of passage during the Memorial Day weekend, the 70th Annual National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament, which was, for the first time, held virtually due to the restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In spite of the change of venue, more than 2,800 students from across the country took part in speech and debate competition. Over 1,300 of those students competed in individual speaking events in four preliminary rounds. The top performing speakers in each event advanced into four elimination rounds with the top six speakers in each event meeting in a final round. All of the participants had to earn the right to compete in this national event by placing in diocesan championship tournaments during March.

Mercer qualifiers were led by fourth-year performer Alexander Hamilton, who advanced into the octofinal round of competition (usually the top 48 performers in an event) in dramatic performance. Hamilton, who specializes in humorous performances, was ranked 17th out of 274 in dramatic after four preliminary rounds. His 12 preliminary round judges (3 in each round) awarded him seven first-place rankings, two second places, and three fourth places. He was eliminated in the quarterfinal round, but placed in the top 25% of his event.

Another of Mercer’s 4-year performers who was entered in dramatic performance, Lily Davis, was close to qualifying into the octofinal “break round.” After her four prelim rounds, Lily was in 83rd place, just three rankings out of the last qualifying spot. Lily, who specializes in dramatic (serious) literature, was awarded three first-place rankings, three seconds, a third place, three fourth places, and a pair of fifths in her four qualifying rounds, which placed her in the top 30% of performers in her specialty.

Mercer’s five other national qualifiers, all of whom received received a number of high rankings in individual rounds during the weekend, did not advance into elimination rounds. They were Luke Lasko in extemporaneous speaking, Jacqui McDonald in dramatic performance, Kendal Hartman and Alyssa Warholic both entrants in oral interpretation of prose and poetry, and Abby Redmond in declamation.

Three other Mercer students will compete June 14-19 in the oldest and largest of the two national qualifying tournaments, the National Speech and Debate Association National Tournament, which will also be held virtually. The duo interpretation team of sophomores Willow Myers and Ainslee Konkle and freshman dramatic interper Isabella Smith earned the chance to compete at nationals by placing at the Pittsburgh District NSDA qualifying event in mid-March.

Willow and Ainslee will be double entered at nationals, competing in both synchronous (live) duo interp and asynchronous (pre-recorded) duo interp.

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