LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas debate team turned in a dominating performance at a tournament hosted last week by Gonzaga University. The KU team of sophomores Jacob Hegna and Henry Walter won first place at the tournament while top-ranked Harvard University finished second. Two other KU teams finished in the top five teams. The KU duo of seniors Chris Birzer and Mac Cook took third place, and sophomore Sion Bell and junior Quaram Robinson finished in fifth place. Robinson was the second-place individual speaker at the tournament. A fourth KU team of freshman Saif Bajwa and senior Amit Bhatla qualified for the elimination rounds at the tournament.
KU’s performance was particularly impressive given the depth of the national field competing at the tournament. Other schools debating at the tournament included Arizona State, Baylor, California State-Berkeley, California State-Fullerton, Dartmouth, Emory, George Mason, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Harvard, Indiana, Kentucky, Mary Washington, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Puget Sound, Rutgers, Southern California, Texas, Texas-Dallas, UNLV, Washington, Wyoming, Wake Forest, Weber State and West Georgia. There were 79 total teams competing at the tournament. Eighteen of the top 20 teams in the country were in the tournament, and every team ranked in the top 10.
After two days of competition involving all 79 teams, the top 32 teams qualified for single elimination competition on the final day. Entering elimination rounds, Bell and Robinson were the fifth seed, Hegna and Walter the 10th seed, Birzer and Cook the 11th seed and Bajwa and Bhatla the 29th seed. In the round of 32 Bell and Robinson defeated Michigan State, Hegna and Walter defeated Oklahoma, and Birzer and Cook defeated Central Oklahoma. Bajwa and Bhatla were knocked out of the tournament by Harvard.
In the round of 16, Bell and Robinson defeated Weber State, Hegna and Walter defeated Baylor, and Birzer and Cook defeated Southern California.
In the quarterfinals Hegna and Walter defeated Berkeley and Birzer and Cook defeated Michigan while Bell Robinson were knocked out by Harvard. Hegna and Walter and Birzer and Cook met each other in the semifinals, and Hegna and Walter advanced to the finals as the higher-seeded team based on one-tenth of a speaker point difference in the preliminary debates.
Hegna and Walter met Harvard in the final round, and Kansas took home the championship trophy.
“We are thrilled with the performance of all of the debaters,” said KU assistant coach Brendon Bankey. “This was the first time in more than 25 years that KU has had three teams in the final eight of a major national tournament.”
KU took home some other awards as well. KU coaches Brett Bricker and Scott Harris received the top coaching award, and Bankey won the Halloween costume contest for his portrayal of Kenneth Bone.
The latest College Debate Rankings have three KU teams ranked in the top 20 teams in the country. Bell and Robinson rank sixth, Hegna and Walter ninth and Birzer and Cook 12th. Two other KU teams rank in the top 35 with Katz and Fry ranked 30th and Bajwa and Bhatla ranked 34th.
Photos, from top: KU Debate at Gonzaga; winning team of Jacob Hegna and Henry Walter with Coach Brett Bricker and trophy.