Courtesy of UMass Lowell Mock Trial team
Andrew J. Sciascia
At the end of a remarkably successful season, the UMass Lowell Mock Trial team paid a visit to the hallowed halls of Yale University – arguably the nation’s most prestigious Ivy League undergraduate university and law school – on Feb. 15 for the American Mock Trial Association’s 2019 New Haven Regional Tournament.
And following a weekend of grueling competition with a number of the East Coast’s best and brightest private university mock trial teams, UMass Lowell came away with much to show for their efforts – a 7-1 record, a second place finish and a place at the Open Round Championship (ORCs) this March.
“[The team] goes up against schools like Yale, Harvard and Clark. These are good schools. I am pretty proud of them. I tell them beating Ivies is good for the soul,” UMass Lowell Mock Trial coach, and professor of criminal justice, David McCauley told the Connector in the days leading up to the tournament.
It seems manifest to say McCauley’s team has not only taken that adage to heart going into the 2019 tournament season but made it their motto.
Headed into the tournament two weeks ago the team was ranked at 153 in the nation, UMass Lowell knew things would not be easy; especially considering the prestigious names, and immense funding, behind their opponents.
Yet, programs like Yale, Brown, Colby and Quinnipiac – some represented in the competition by not one but two, or even three, full teams – could not stand up to UMass Lowell’s tremendous record. Coming up just short of a perfect record after splitting a trial with the University of Vermont, UMass Lowell could only be topped by Bowdoin College as a result of technical scoring throughout the weekend.
In fact, excellent performances from public universities like UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst at New Haven resulted in disappointing ends to the competitive seasons of wealthy household teams from Suffolk University, Boston University, Dartmouth College and even Yale.
“The fact that we, as a relatively poorly funded team relying on two amazing and dedicated volunteer coaches, can rise to their level and in fact surpass them is pretty amazing. We take a lot of pride in being able to hold our own against teams with major structural advantages,” said Mary Joens, Pre-Law vice president and engineering major.
New Haven did not give UMass Lowell an opportunity to take pride in their team effort alone, however. The team was also able to celebrate four individual awards as the tournament came to a close. Among those were two witness performance awards, one of which went to Joens, and two attorney awards, a plaintiff and defense award, both going to team president Sam Fredericksen.
And all this is ancillary considering the fact that their performance at Yale grants the team an opportunity to compete at ORCs, thus putting UMass Lowell in position to make a bid for the National Tournament later this spring.
“Hopefully we will be serious contenders and become the first UML team to ever move on from ORCs. We expect case changes to be released on Sunday, and from then our main focus will be to adapt our material,” said Joens.
This being the growing program’s third trip to ORCs in program history, and their second in as many years, a lot rides on the team to succeed.
With the National Mock Trial Association’s official changes to the case material looming big this weekend, the team’s marketing chair and treasurer Hannah Casey told the Connector that anxiety and intensity is building.
Luckily, the team’s minuscule number of returning members – just Fredericksen, Joens and secretary Ryan Callahan – say they have the utmost faith in the six new competitors that came on in the Fall 2018 semester.
“Our newbies are the backbone of this team. They jumped right into the team, learned really quickly and dedicated themselves to the team. They’re the ones who have carried us this season,” said Joens.
Belonging to that set of new members that helps to solidify the backbone of the team is senior Jack Castor – the recipient of the other witness award given to UMass Lowell at New Haven. Castor’s score of 18 points made him the second highest ranked witness in the entire region at the tournament.
“As a newbie, I was surprised with how warm and welcoming the group was during my first couple meetings. Although we are an extremely competitive team, we are like a big family in this endeavor together. I was able to become a witness early on, was given responsibilities and became a force to be reckoned with at my first tournament,” said Castor.
Castor believes that it is this family atmosphere combined with the team’s “Bad News Bears”-esque, “scrappy” underdog posture that has made UMass Lowell so successful this season.
When ORCs roll around in just a few weeks, the underdog UMass Lowell mock trial will be setting its sights once again on another slew of top-notch teams from well-funded and well-connected schools like Harvard, Princeton, Tufts and Brown.
But regardless of whether UMass Lowell earns a Nationals bid on March 16 and 17 or not, the consensus seems to be that the team is only going to continue on its astronomical upward trajectory – so long as more passionate students come out next season.
“We want to leave this club better than what we were given – which was pretty good… I want to go to nationals… Because I know we will be capable of it… This regionals was just the start,” said Casey.