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.”