Before the tournament, the Mock Trial team sits in the jury box at the Harbor Justice Center. Back row: freshman Ming Zhu, sophomore Ian Tompson and juniors Jack Christian and Mehdi Lacombe. Front row: freshman Sarina Rye and juniors Blake Lincoln and Gabi Alvarado
On Nov. 11-12 the MockTrial team competed in a tournament outside of Sacramento County for the first time in Country Day history.
The seven-person team was invited to the Beach Ball Classic, a tournament for California’s best teams, in Irvine and participated in four rounds over a period of two days.
Coach Rick Lewkowitz said he has been familiar with this invitational-only tournament for awhile.
“It’s one of the few scoring tournaments in the state,” he said. “So it was too good (of an opportunity) to pass up.
“It was a way of bonding too. Spending those three days together – not doing just MockTrial, but having a little fun – helped build the team camaraderie.”
SCDS placed 14th of the 22 schools, winning one round, losing two and tying one.
Scoring was done by two judges, who listened to the trial and then scored each school out of 10 points. At the end of the trial, the judges’ scores were added and the team that each judge had winning received one vote (ballot).
The team’s first trial was against Redlands High School; arguing for the defense, SCDS was defeated, 0-2.
Junior attorney Jack Christian attributed the loss to the high caliber of the Redlands team, which was the state champion in the 2014-15 season.
“(Redlands) won their county championship,” Christian said. “And we have never even won (a county championship).”
Later that day SCDS faced La Jolla Country Day School and tied, 1-1, while putting on the prosecution case.
Although the team tied, Lewkowitz said that this was the team’s strongest trial of the tournament.
“It was a great team effort,” he said. “Everyone (was) involved. (La Jolla Country Day) was a pretty good team too. They have won the San Diego County championship the last three years in a row.”
The next morning SCDS faced Citrus Valley High School, defeating them, 2-0, on defense.
Christian said that this was the team’s best performance of the tournament.
“All of our witnesses were very strong that morning,” he said. “They all answered questions well and had a good presence in the courtroom. It kind of all clicked after having that experience the day before of a couple hard trials.”
Lincoln attributed the win to the SCDS’s confidence level.
“(Citrus Valley) was good, but we were definitely better,” Lincoln said. “They weren’t a slacker team. So the fact that we were strong and confident and ended up winning was a good sign.”
Lewkowitz also said that confidence was a factor of the win.
“Confidence is a big deal when you’re in a situation where there’s a lot of thinking on your feet and public speaking,” he said.
Later that day SCDS faced its final competition in the tournament: La Reina High School.
La Reina won the state championships from 2010-13 and was runner-up in 2014, so it wasn’t a surprise when SCDS was defeated, 0-2, while on prosecution.
One judge awarded La Reina six points more than SCDS and the other 10.
“Even losing to La Reina, I’m pretty sure (our team) knows that they weren’t that far from being in a position of beating those schools,” Lewkowitz said.
Although they won only one round throughout the tournament, the team was proud of their results.
“They actually exceeded my expectations,” Lewkowitz said.
“(We were able to take) advantage of other teams’ slip-ups and were able to correct them quickly,” he said.
Christian said the team had a good persona in the courtroom.
“Some of the (other teams’) witnesses were very rehearsed, (but) our witnesses did a very good job of not sounding rehearsed,” Christian said. “We’re a very likeable team, and we’re not overbearing or quiet. We have a natural, friendly presence, which a lot of scoring judges like.”
Junior attorney Mehdi Lacombe said the team had memorized most of their lines.
“We were all off our notes,” Lacombe said. “Some of the other teams were reading off their notes.”
In addition, the team now knows what they need to improve on in the upcoming weeks.
“We need to work more on our cross and direct examinations,” Lacombe said. “There were a couple of questions we saw other teams asking that we weren’t asking and need to incorporate.”
Christian said that even though the team did well at the Beach Ball classic, the team still faces many challenges and this year.
One such challenge is the team’s small size of 13 people.
“We have to have multiple people doing multiple roles,” Christian said. “It makes things a little bit more complicated.”
And doubling up on roles occurred during the tournament.
Due to members saying they couldn’t attend at the last minute, the team had to quickly rearrange.
For example, junior attorney Gabi Alvarado had to take on a witness role at the last minute because the original witness didn’t attend the tournament.
And Lincoln had four roles.
On the defense and prosecution, Lincoln was both the pre-trial attorney and expert witness.
“He joked that he was a mirror image of himself,” freshman Sarina Rye said.
Another challenge is that Country Day’s team is younger than in previous years.
The team has no seniors and only four juniors; the rest are sophomores and freshmen.
“For some of these roles, freshmen have never done or experienced MockTrial before,” Christian said. “It’s not really about the level of their talent because they all have talent.
“They just need to develop their speaking skills.”
Lincoln said that the team faces a confidence issue because of their young team.
“It’s a good thing we have younger kids because they can carry the team when us juniors aren’t around anymore,” he said. “(But right now), a lot of the younger kids are still trying to figure out how it works.”
Lewkowitz said the youthfulness has indeed been an issue for the team.
“But we’re making it less and less of an issue the more (the younger kids) go into scrimmages and tournaments like (the Beach Ball Classic),” he said.
Lewkowitz himself is a major change to the team.
Lewkowitz, the attorney coach at Elk Grove High School for the past 14 years and the attorney coach at Christian Brothers High School five years prior to that, replaced former coach Wayne Strumpfer this year.
And he said he’s still getting used to having practices only on Sundays.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge with the Country Day program,” Lewkowitz said. “The two schools that have dominated for almost four years in the county competitions are Rio Americano (High School) and Elk Grove. And they practice all the time.”
For example, the Elk Grove team had practices on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon and on Monday to Thursday from 3:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“(Lewkowitz) is trying to figure out how to best fulfill our three hours a week,” Lincoln said. “It’s a lot stricter, scheduled and hardcore (this year). It’s going to help build the younger kids’ confidence levels earlier along, which is what they need.”
Lewkowitz also said that the tournament and future scrimmages will definitely help in the long haul.
“They’ve seen the best (in the) state,” he said. “And they know they aren’t that far off from beating them.”