UC mock trial team makes elite national competition
Team brings home All-American awards
Each spring, in hundreds of nondescript rooms across the country, around 700 collegiate mock trial teams compete. Team members collaborate to create compelling arguments, for both the mock defense and prosecution, to win their respective cases.
Tensions run high and each team member must be fully prepared and in character to advance to the national competition. Only 7% of all collegiate teams qualify.
The University of Cincinnati's team joined the elite competition this year for the first time since 2019, appearing in April in the American Mock Trial Association’s national championship in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
UC’s team is comprised mainly of students from the College of Arts and Sciences, with more than two-thirds of the nationals team enrolled in an A&S major.
The UC Mock Trial Team had the unique opportunity of competing with all-female team with co-captains Divya Kumar and Zophia Pittman-Jones leading.
Kumar, who has been on the team since her first year at UC, is a third-year history major. She was awarded an All-American Attorney Award at Nationals.
“I really doubted myself and my abilities for a long time in mock trial,” Kumar says about her reaction to the award. “This year, I didn’t win any individual awards throughout the season, and it never bothered me, because we were a better team.
“The difference with an All-American is once you’re an All-American, you have the title for life. At tournaments, judges will introduce themselves as All-Americans. It’s a really big honor.”
Receiving an All-American award means that the competitor ranked high in their role based on the decision of two to three judges in each round of the competition. Kumar was ranked high in 26 of 30 ranks in her role as a defense attorney.
Other schools that competed were the University of Chicago, the Washington University of St. Louis, Ohio State University, and Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale University. Harvard won the competition in the final round against the University of Chicago.
Fellow team member Anna Sciarretti also received an All-American Award but for her role as a witness for the prosecution. She ranked high in 23 out of 30 ranks.
The competition challenges students in not only their legal knowledge but their performance chops, as well. Sciarretti’s winning character witness spoke with a southern accent and “wasn’t all there,” which she says worked for the case.
“The strength that I bring is entertainment,” Sciarretti says. “Sometimes it sticks with the judges and sometimes it doesn’t, but it just seemed to stick this time.”
Sciarretti, a third-year political science and law & society major, joined the team at the beginning of her first year of college at UC.
“I’m really excited to return next year as an All-American,” Sciarretti says. “I couldn’t have won the award without my team pushing me and my coaches pushing me. Divya and I winning these awards is a win for the entire team, because we couldn’t have done it without their help.”
Zophia Pittman-Jones, team co-captain, UC mock trial president and fourth-year political science student, was on the team when they last went to Nationals in 2019. This trip to nationals, she says, was different. “It felt like a sisterhood,” she says.
Kumar agrees. “Every single person on this team was focused on the team and how we can work together and fill in the gaps for each other,” Kumar says. “And we were focused on having fun.”
Sciarretti mentions the passion each member felt to make it to nationals. “Something that really gave us some fire was that we were extremely close to going to nationals last year,” she says. “We had a lot of fire to prove ourselves this year. The teamwork and how well we all worked together helped us make it to Nationals.”
The UC Mock Trial Team is led by coaches Austin LiPuma, Joshua Leckrone and Nick Plymale, all of whom competed in mock trial in their college careers. One of their responsibilities is putting the team members into roles that will play to their strengths.
“It’s very performative, and a lot of the stuff that we do is not at all realistic, especially with the character witnesses who have goofy accents and jokes, but that’s what makes it more fun, for the judges and the competitors,” Kumar says.
The skills learned in mock trial can help in the classroom and beyond.
“With mock trial, we’re learning a lot of real life, legal terminology and the process of the judicial system. That really helps inform my work with Arts and Sciences and in my classes,” Pittman-Jones says. She also says that her public speaking and memorization skills improved through mock trial.
If you want to go to law school, mock trial is one of the best activities you can sign up for at UC, according to Kumar.
The most important part of mock trial, according to the competitors, has been the friendships made. “I’ve met the closest friends that I’ve ever had in mock trial,” Pittman-Jones says.
Featured image at top: UC mock trial co-captains Zophia Pittman-Jones and Divya Kumar introduce the team at the national championship. Credit/Jessica Lorenzo, University of Florida
By Bryn Dippold
Student Journalist, A&S Department of Marketing and Communication
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