The Country Day mock trial team discusses defense team strategy after their final round in the 2023 state finals (Photo courtesy of Grace Zhao)

SCDS Mock Trial places 11th at California state finals

After winning their second county competition in the 20-year history of Country Day’s Mock Trial team, the Cavs placed 11th out of 32 teams in the 2023 California High School Mock Trial Competition. For the sixth year in a row, the team has been coached by Rick Lewkowitz with the help of assistant coach and alumnus Hayley Graves.

At the March state competition, the mock trial team competed against four different schools at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, California. 

Senior, pre-trial attorney and witness Garman Xu was one of only two students to win the Honorable Jay Skelly Constitutional Law Advocacy Award for his performance as a defense pretrial attorney.

“The first round is usually the toughest in terms of working out the nerves, and we were randomly put against the 2021 state champion,” Lewkowitz said.

Although the first round against Trinity Pacific Christian (Ventura) ended in a 1-2 loss, the Country Day team then beat Oak Hills (San Bernardino) 3-0, lost to Exeter Union (Tulare) 2-1 and beat Las Plumas (Butte) 3-0.

Despite the rough start, the team performed well.

“It was the best trials they have put on all year long,” Lewkowitz said.

Junior co-captain Grace Zhao is proud of the team’s accomplishments.

“They really showed the culmination of so many hours of practice and so much passion that everyone put into the case this year,” she said. 

Country Day went through each trial, working as a team and exceeding Lewkowitz’s expectations. 

For freshman Anika Nadguada, the biggest challenge as a case-in-chief attorney was the unknown.

“We were really nervous. We weren’t sure how it was going to work out. These are the best of the best teams,” Nadgauda said. 

She said the team had good morale, sportsmanship and communication. 

Not every student in the mock trial elective had the opportunity to compete in the trials — only 14 of the 22 who attended got to compete. 

Despite eight of the team members being on the bench this season, they were extremely supportive and helpful with anything that needed to be done between rounds, Lewkowitz said.

“It was a very good team environment. They really came together as a team as the year progressed, and it really showed at state finals,” he said.

Not only did the team perform well together, but also individually. 

Lewkowitz praised Xu’s performance which earned him the Honorable Jay Skelly Constitutional Law Advocacy Award, calling his understanding of the presented issues to be outstanding.

“I wasn’t expecting to get it. I was just super surprised,” Xu said.

Zhao also described Xu’s performance as “excellent.”

“No question the judge asked him could catch him off guard,” she said.

Lewkowitz commended Zhao as well for going out of her way to help others.

“It sets a model for the students who will be the leaders next year,” Lewkowitz said.

He specifically pointed out Zhao’s incredible ability to keep thorough notes throughout scrimmages which were then swiftly communicated to the team.

With the mock trial season at an end, Lewkowitz and Zhao are already planning for next year’s county competition.

The team will be losing six seniors, but one senior in particular, co-captain Samhita Kumar, will be especially missed, Zhao said.

“Losing her is definitely going to have the biggest impact on the team,” she said.

Kumar is one of the best student attorneys she has ever seen and has always played an extremely important role on the mock trial team, Zhao said.

Although the departing seniors leave a large gap in next year’s team, Lewkowitz remains hopeful for a successful season next year.

“I don’t think it’s absent of challenges, but I do think that we have a lot of depth and a lot of potential,” Lewkowitz said.

— By Sophia Monasa

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