MERCER – The Mercer High School Speech Team, competing in only its second week of forensics due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, turned in an impressive overall performance Jan. 30 in the 1st Team Pittsburgh Winter Invitational. The one-day online event, hosted by the Pittsburgh District of the National Speech and Debate Association attracted a large and diverse field of 224 competitors representing 28 schools and four states. The event was held as a one-year replacement for the annual Mercer Rotary Tournament, a “live” event which could not be held due to restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Competition was held in 13 different individual events, five team debate events, as well as student congress. Certificates and individual awards will be mailed to all place winners in the various events. In individual events in which Mercer competes, speakers were scheduled for four rounds of head-to-head competition which determined the award winners. Overall, nine Mercer speakers won awards for placing in the top four of their events, including three first place finishes, two second places, a third place, and three fourth places.

The youthful Mercer team, consisting of one senior, no juniors, 11 sophomores, three freshmen, and 12 eighth and seventh graders, was led by third-year extemporaneous speaker Luke Lasko, a sophomore, who won the first place awards in the United States extemporaneous division... and along with it, he picked up his first of a necessary three bids this season which could allow him to be an automatic qualifier to this year’s PA High School Speech League State Tournament. (Bids are awarded to students who achieve high placements at major invitational competitions during the season.) In four rounds of speaking on domestic issues (a different topic in each round), Luke was awarded three first place rankings and a second to win the event by two points over his closest rivals, speakers from Pine-Richland High School, North Allegheny High School, and Upper St. Clair High School.

Not to be outdone was Mercer’s fourth-year duo interpretation tandem of sophomores, Ainslee Konkle and Willow Myers, who claimed first place in their specialty. The pair received two first places and a pair of thirds from their four judges after placing fourth at last week’s season opener in the Pine-Richland virtual tournament. Konkle and Myers also claimed their first bid of three necessary to become auto-qualifiers to state competition.

Two experienced Mercer performers annexed second place finishes in their specialties on Saturday. Senior speech team president Emma Taborek picked up the second runner-up finish in as many weeks with another solid performance in poetry interpretation. Emma, now has accrued two of the necessary three bids that would automatically give her a state tournament berth. Emma was awarded two first places and a pair of seconds which placed her just one ranking being the first place winner. Meanwhile in humorous interpretation, fourth-year performer, sophomore Alexander Hamilton, received two first place ranks, a second, and a third, good for the runner-up award in a strong humorous field. Hamilton’s second place finish brought him his first bid of three that he would need to be exempted from district qualifying competition this season.

Sophomore Aidan Dadich, a first-year speaker in original oratory after spending his first three seasons in oral interpretation, turned in a solid performance on Saturday by winning third place honors. In four rounds of speaking, Aidan was ranked first on two ballots and third on two others.

Three Mercer sophomore performers withstood the test of competing in large and competitive events as they won fourth place awards. Alyssa Warholic, beginning her first year in forensics, actually finished in a five-way tie for first place in prose interpretation, but placed fourth based on the first tiebreaking criterion, reciprocal fractions. Alyssa was consistent with two first places, a second, and a third in four rounds. Her fourth-place standing in a large event also gave Alyssa her first auto-qualifying bid to the state speech tournament in March. Jacqui McDonald, a second-year performer in humorous interpretation, won the fourth place awards in a talented field; and in dramatic interpretation, Lilly Davis won fourth place honors with a first place ranking, two seconds, and a third.

The Mercer Speech Team will continue its shortened season with two online competitions this week.

Today, the team will participate in a two-round Catholic Forensic League tournament and on Saturday (02-06-21), twenty-four team members will compete in the Hampton Talbot Virtual Tournament.

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