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Debate team fights through Cavalier Clash

Freshman Silas Benevento-Zahner and Hayden Kirwan prepare for their first round at Cavalier Clash.

Freshman Silas Benevento-Zahner and Hayden Kirwan prepare for their first round at Cavalier Clash.

Sam Heie

Sam Heie

Freshman Silas Benevento-Zahner and Hayden Kirwan prepare for their first round at Cavalier Clash.


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High schoolers littered the Lawn of the University of Virginia Dec. 1 for the second annual Cavalier Clash debate tournament. The competition was an invitational meet with schools from Virginia and Maryland in attendance.

The HHS debate team of ten competitors and two coaches left from the high school at 11:20 a.m. on Dec. 1 for an early arrival to their afternoon rounds.

Among the ten competitors were four freshmen JV Public Forum debaters. Freshman Stella Alexiou was one of the few freshmen attending the renowned tournament.

“I was expecting to get crushed. We were expecting everyone to be on the same level as our captains. We had really low expectations because we hadn’t won a round in competition yet,” Alexiou said.

The tournament has a reputation for having higher tier debate schools in attendance, especially schools from Northern Virginia where debate programs are vast. Alexiou’s expectations and nerves were calmed after the first round in which she and her partner, freshman Emma Lankford, debated a team from Northern Virginia.

“The first round went a lot better than we were expecting. Having Mr. Cosner there watching us really helped. We lost but that definitely eased our nerves a little,” Alexiou said.

Alexiou and Lankford approached the second round with new expectations of their opponents and eased nerves. Alexiou believes the combination of these two factors led to their success.

“Our second round was the one where everything kicked in. We started getting better in synch and we actually started competing. After that round, we were sort of like, ‘oh, these people aren’t that much better than us,’” Alexiou said.

This was the first win in a competition for Alexiou and Lankford who had previously competed in two district tournaments.

Competitors debated four preliminary rounds, two on the night of Dec. 1 and two on the morning of Dec. 2, from which the power pairings for quarter finals were decided.

When the results for quarter finals were announced, Alexiou encountered a pleasant surprise.

“I was really shocked when we found out we got into quarter finals. I did not expect us to go that far. [This was] the first round we had ever won was at Cavalier Clash and now we were moving onto the quarterfinals. That transition was a shock to us,” Alexiou said.

The freshman power team broke through to semifinals where they were eliminated by a team they had lost to in preliminaries.

Alexiou and Lankford weren’t the only ones who broke through to the quarterfinals. The junior team of William Daniel and Sam Heie broke through to the varsity Public Forum playoffs.

“I didn’t think we would make the playoffs based off of our initial four rounds, so I was kind of a bit sad when we were waiting for the playoff results. By the time the matches came out, I was kind of over it, but when the matches came out, we were in as the eighth seed,” Daniel said.

Coming in as the eighth seed, Daniel and Heie were to face the first seed, the only team at the tournament with a perfect record. Despite being the underdog, Daniel and Heie won.

“We destroyed them. They hadn’t seen a case as good as ours and we just shut them down. We had responses to everything they had claims. After that, I sort of thought, ‘hey, we could win this because that was the first seed team,’” Daniel said.

From there, Daniel and Heie progressed on through the semi-finals round in which they won on a three to zero vote in favor of them. The last hurdle between Daniel and Heie and the first place trophy was an Oakton High School team. Daniel and Heie had lost to this team in preliminaries.

“Our opponents in the finals round were prepared. During the round, their speeches were incredible and it felt like they were beating us. We definitely debated very well, but we didn’t think we had won. When they announced that we had won, we were kind of surprised but just super hyped,” Daniel said.

The joy was short-lived, however, when Daniel and Heie were approached while waiting for their trophy with a complaint from a team they had beaten.

“The complaint was about the quarterfinal round and it was only raised after we had finished the final round and we had won. It was about a piece of evidence that was used throughout the tournament that was allegedly ‘misleading.’ I’m still up in the air about that one,” Daniel said.

The statistic was in question due to what was identified as a ‘misleading paraphrase’ that the opponents found unfair.

“They claimed that this piece of evidence was the sole reason we had won that round. I 100 percent disagree with that. The statistic in question was a big reason that the quarterfinal round was decided but there were three or four other voting points that she stated that were just as big if not bigger for her reason for decision,” Daniel said.

There was opposition from Daniel and Heie as well as Aaron Cosner, the HHS debate coach, to the proposed disqualification. After discussion of the issue was held between the directors of the tournament, a compromise was reached: Daniel and Heie would still claim their first place trophy, but so would their competitors from the final round.

Daniel was not pleased with the compromise.

“I was really angry. At the time, it felt like we didn’t really do anything wrong and that these big Northern Virginia schools could just push us around because they’d never heard of us. It was just such frustration,” Daniel said.

Despite this, Daniel is able to find condolence through the final scorecard.

“We still got first… No matter how many times they’re going to tell themselves they got first, there’s always going to be an ‘L’ next to their name and a ‘W’ next to ours for the final round,” Daniel said.

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Debate team fights through Cavalier Clash