Freshman Kathleen Hancock, juniors Alexandra Negrich and Duncan Voyles, and senior Graham Deese, and freshman Henrey Deese and Lucy Meckler led the debate team to a second place finish at the National Forensics Asso­ci­ation tour­nament Monday. Graham Deese | Courtesy

With the help of three upper­classmen, debate team coach Matthew Doggett took a group of freshmen and nur­tured them into this year’s National Forensics Asso­ci­ation runner-up.

Six debate team members com­peted in the NFA tour­nament Thursday to Monday, per­forming better than any pre­vious Hillsdale squad in the Lincoln-Douglas debate tour­nament of 24 teams.

“Had we won our quarters round, there is a good chance that we would have been national cham­pions,” said Doggett, assistant pro­fessor of rhetoric and public address. “To let you know how dif­ficult our chal­lenge was: Western Ken­tucky has eight full-paid schol­arship debaters and three full-time debate coaches.”

The NFA is the final tour­nament of the year and also deter­mines the national Lincoln-Douglas debate champion. Doggett said this makes the tour­nament dif­ficult, because the best Lincoln-Douglas debaters from around the country par­tic­ipate.

It is also nearly three times the size of the Pi Kappa Delta National Tour­nament in which the team took fourth place in March.

“The best place we have ever received as a team at NFA was fourth place sweep­stakes,” senior Graham Deese said. “Going into the tour­nament, we would have con­sidered our­selves lucky to crack the top five, and Doggett was expecting us to finish around seventh. Needless to say, we are very happy with our per­for­mance this weekend.”

Graham Deese and freshmen Henrey Deese and Lucy Meckler all made it to the quar­ter­finals of the tour­nament, making them three of the top eight stu­dents. Graham Deese had an excep­tional per­for­mance, entering the 32-con­testant elim­i­nation rounds seeded 30th and beating the third and 14th seeds.

Henrey Deese said he was impressed with his brother’s final per­for­mance as a college debater.

“It clearly meant a lot to him to advance farther than he ever had before,” he said. “He inspired us throughout the tour­nament, pushing us to work harder and helping us stay focused. We cer­tainly wouldn’t have achieved the success we did without him.”

Judges ranked junior Alexandra Negrich in her second time at a Lincoln-Douglas tour­nament as the second best novice. Junior Duncan Voyles and freshman Kathleen Hancock also com­peted.

Although the event fell on Easter weekend, Hancock said the team’s success was worth the sac­rifice.

“It was a little dis­ap­pointing to miss out on an important holiday, but the smile on Doggett’s face when we won the second-place sweep­stakes trophy makes it feel a little more worth it,” she said.

The team is still young, and with only one member grad­u­ating, the debate team has even more room for growth in the next three years.

“To finish in second was totally unex­pected,” Doggett said. “To do so well is both a good and bad thing, because it let’s us know what we can do but puts pressure on us to live up to these lofty stan­dards.”