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Carroll's Talking Saints win Grand Sweepstakes at speech and debate tournament

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Talking Saints

Carroll College’s speech and debate team the Talking Saints talked themselves to the top at the Mahaffey Memorial Tournament on Nov. 11-13.

Carroll College’s speech and debate team the Talking Saints talked themselves to the top at the Mahaffey Memorial Tournament on Nov. 11-13.

Winning more than 40 awards, Carroll College’s Talking Saints defeated 47 colleges and universities from 17 states to win Grand Sweepstakes at the tournament hosted online by Linfield College of McMinnville, Oregon. Twenty individual Carroll team members won awards.

“Frankly, I was surprised, even shocked,” said coach Brent Northup. “We had worked hard, but we have a young team so I figured we needed to be patient. But the team decided there was no reason to wait, I guess.”

The Mahaffey is one of the nation’s oldest tournaments, dating back to 1930. This year’s 92nd edition was one of the largest in Mahaffey history.

Leading the Saints was sophomore Anna Brown of Olympia, Washington, who won seven awards across four genres, earning her special Marshall Award recognition for overall achievement. Carroll swept the BP debate awards, winning first and second in open, and winning second, third and fourth in junior. Eleven Carroll debaters won speaker awards.

Carroll’s 10 first-year students, six of whom had no high school debate experience, have received awards this semester. The team welcomes students with no previous experience.

“We recruit compassion and work ethic, not speech experience,” said Northup. “We have high school basketball stars, pre-med majors and a skier who spent weekends on a ski rescue team – and all of them are shining. Anna Brown was a basketball player. And senior Roisin O’Neill who won debate with Vinny Gallardo, was a lacrosse player. Seeing people go from scared newcomers to champions is pretty special.”

Carroll first-place winners included senior Hellie Badaruddin of Missoula, who was named best speaker and finished second in debate with junior partner June LePage of Lewistown, who won junior impromptu. Sophomore Spencer McDonald of Missoula won junior After Dinner Speaking. First-year student Olivia Smith of Bozeman won novice prose.

The first-year debate team of Paxton Shepperd of Rigby, Idaho, and Charlie Said of Seattle completed a stellar first semester by finishing second in junior debate. In three tournaments they finished second twice, and won the tournament in Calgary.

Joining Shepperd and Said in finals were Catherine Dudley of Indiana and her partner Jack Garvin of Spokane, Washington, plus Mary Knight of Denver and partner Lola Baerlocher of Uniontown, Washington.

“Paxton and Charlie were winners in high school. Charlie won a national championship and Paxton was third,” Northup said. “Sometimes top high school debaters have trouble adapting to a new form of debate, but both have accepted coaching gratefully.”

Competing online meant all 30 Carroll competitors were spread out across campus — in library study rooms, science classrooms and even in dorm rooms. The whole team gathered in the squad room to watch the awards online.

“Watching awards together felt more like a celebration than anything I’ve seen since my first year,” said senior president Roisin O’Neill. “When somebody was announced for an award, the entire room cheered to make sure they felt celebrated.”

The team sought each other out between rounds for support.

“Every team member debating in our little corner of St. Charles rushed to our room after a particularly tough round — to laugh, to cry, to commiserate,” said sophomore Katie Payne of Helena. “All before hugging, straightening our blazers and rushing off to hear the next motion. It is these little touchpoints of real connection that get us through the online format.”

Baerlocher, a high school basketball player from a rural town of 409, joined the Talking Saints because she wanted to be part of a team in college. She and her partner Mary Knight of Denver reached finals of junior debate. Baerlocher also placed second in novice impromptu speaking.

“It was fun to try out individual events and just settle into our groove,” said Baerlocher. “My debate partner and I were able to really mesh and combine our styles in a way that brought us a lot more confidence and enriched our debating.”

First-year student Olivia Smith threw her arms in the air when she was announced as winning novice prose, and her friends swarmed to hug and congratulate her.

“That was a great moment and being with the team made it all the more sweeter,” said Smith. “I am so thankful to be a part of an amazing group of people. They are all truly my family.”

The win put the Talking Saints in position to earn their 33rd consecutive regional title, which will be awarded at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington, on Jan. 29.

“Certainly a good start,” said Northup. “But we need to finish strong.”

Megan Michelotti can be reached at megan.michelotti@helenair.com.

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