Last Thursday, the Mock Trial team won its first competition of the year against St. Francis High School, earning 54 percent of the points.
But the team members don’t have long to celebrate as their next opponent will be Elk Grove High School, which took first place in the county last year.
The results of the Feb. 12 competition, though, were clear as soon as the teams introduced themselves, according to junior Emma Belliveau, who played closing attorney.
“(Last year’s coach) Jeanine (Boyers) would always stress that the introductions are where you see who will win,” Belliveau said.
“(The St. Francis team) started introducing themselves, and they would stutter and forget what to say. And when the pre-trial attorney got up, she was reading off of notes the entire time!”
Junior Emma Brown, who also played an attorney, agreed.
“It was pretty obvious that we were going to win,” Brown said. “St. Francis’s introductions were a dead giveaway!”
Senior Aishwarya Nadgauda, another attorney in Thursday’s trial, said that St. Francis’s dependence on notes was their downfall.
“If they had to respond to something, it really threw them off their game and they struggled to get their footing again,” she said. “The way you differentiate yourself is by being able to make arguments based on what’s going on in the trial that day. They were unable to do that, but we could.”
But a reliance on notes wasn’t St. Francis’s only problem – two of their witnesses lied on the stand and were impeached.
Nadgauda and Belliveau were each responsible for one of those impeachments.
During her cross-examination, a witness lied to Belliveau with only 30 seconds left for questioning.
In order to impeach a lying witness, the attorney must point out the lie to the judge, using documents from outside the trial. With only seconds to go, though, Belliveau didn’t have time to go through that pile of statements.
“(Nadgauda) had already found the page and line number for me to read,” Belliveau said. “That saved a lot of time for me.”
For Belliveau, this instance represented the reason for Country Day’s win. She said she thinks a lot of the trial’s success is owed to the group’s “cohesion.”
“One of the things (coach) Wayne (Strumpfer) likes to stress is that we need to be able to work together and figure things out quickly (during the trial),” Belliveau said.
Presiding judge Shanae Buffington also wrote many compliments for individuals in her comments.
For Brown, she noted an “outstanding use of empathy for (the) defendant” and an “excellent use of hand gestures.”
And for Nadgauda, the praises included “excellent use of facts” and “excellent cross of witness.”
In addition, Buffington noted that the witnesses were “very realistic.”
According to Brown, though, the team already knew that St. Francis would probably lose based on past competitions.
“I knew that (Belliveau) and (Nadgauda) had a lot of experience (as attorneys) and that our witnesses were going to perform well,” Brown said. “We knew that we were going to do well just looking at our team and all the practice we had put in.”
Belliveau agreed. “In the back of my mind, I thought we were going to win,” she said. “But I kept telling myself not to be cocky because (I didn’t want to be) too confident.”
According to Nadgauda, Country Day’s ability to respond to St. Francis’s arguments was the deciding factor in their win.
“(Belliveau) did a really good job in the closing argument,” Nadgauda said. “She incorporated a lot of stuff that had actually happened in the trial.
“That’s really hard (to do) because in your mind, as the trial’s going on, you have to add things here and there (to your argument).”
The team’s next competition will be Feb. 18 against Elk Grove’s gold team. (Elk Grove has two Mock Trial teams: one “blue,” one “gold.”)
This time, though, Country Day will be playing prosecution rather than defense, and the Elk Grove team has a solid reputation as a hard team to beat.
“In years past, St. Francis hasn’t been up to our standards,” Belliveau said. “But Elk Grove is always the strongest (team). They’re extremely professional, well prepared and intimidating.”
Nadgauda, who’s been on the team since her freshman year, said Country Day has never won against Elk Grove because of Elk Grove’s greater practice time and dedication.
“I don’t think they’re necessarily smarter than us, but they spend so much more time on (Mock Trial),” Nadgauda said. “They meet every single day, and Mock Trial is their number-one priority.”
For Belliveau, a big obstacle at the Feb. 18 trial will be keeping calm.
“I mostly need to keep my nerves down and be ready to respond to objections,” said Belliveau, who will be playing an attorney again. “If I get overruled, I can’t let that affect my performance.”
As for the rest of the team, Belliveau said they’ll need strong witnesses who are confident in their answers so as to avoid impeachments.
“We really need to be prepared for objections and not get flustered,” she said. “And our witnesses have to be strong about what they know and be sure that everything they’re saying is the truth.”