LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas debate team of seniors Quaram Robinson and Will Katz won the 72nd National Debate Tournament, which took place March 20-27 at Wichita State University. It is the sixth time a KU team has won the national championship tournament. The team defeated Harvard University in the Final Four and Georgetown University in the championship debate.
“I would like to congratulate Quaram, Will and Coach Harris on a great season and another national championship trophy that adds to KU’s rich history and tradition of success in debate,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod.
At the opening ceremony, the NDT Committee announced the top-five teams in the country based on the regular season. Robinson, of Round Rock, Texas, and Katz, of Topeka, won the Copeland Award as the No. 1 team in the country. The KU pair won three major regular-season tournaments at Wake Forest University, Georgia State University and the University of Kentucky, and they finished second at a tournament at the University of Texas. The top-five teams in the country going into the NDT were from Kansas, Harvard, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Wake Forest and the University of Kentucky. The only other KU team to win the Copeland Award was Mark Gidley and Zac Grant in 1982.
The NDT is a tournament involving the top-78 teams in the country who qualify to compete at the tournament. Each team competed in eight preliminary debates over three days, and the top 29 teams qualified for a single elimination tournament over two days. Katz and Robinson qualified for the elimination rounds with a 6-2 record in the eight preliminary debates. They won debates over Indiana University, Rutgers University, Dartmouth College, Binghamton University, Emory University and Georgetown, and they lost debates against Harvard and Wake Forest.
The KU pair entered the single elimination rounds as the fifth seed at the tournament. They defeated Georgia in the first elimination round to advance to the Sweet 16. They beat Northwestern University in the Sweet 16 and UNLV in the Elite Eight to advance to a rematch with top-seeded and undefeated Harvard in the Final Four. Harvard won the Copeland Award each of the prior two years and was runner-up this year. Harvard had defeated Robinson in the NDT final round in 2016 and knocked her out of the NDT in the Sweet 16 in 2017. Robinson and Katz compiled a record of 26 wins and only two losses in the elimination rounds of tournaments this year, but both losses were to Harvard. In this year’s Final Four, KU emerged victorious on a close 3-2 decision over Harvard. In the other semifinal debate, Georgetown defeated the University of Michigan to set up a championship debate between Kansas and Georgetown.
Georgetown was the national runner-up in 2017 and boasted the top speaker at this year’s NDT. KU had defeated them in round eight of the preliminary debates on a 2-1 split decision. Robinson and Katz defeated Georgetown in the championship debate on a narrow 4-3 vote by the judges. It is the first time that a KU team won both the regular season and post-season national championships in the same year.
“Quaram Robinson has had a historically significant debate career,” said Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate at KU. “She is the most successful debater in the history of KU Debate. She is the only KU debater to reach the championship debate of the NDT twice and the first KU debater to reach the elimination rounds of the NDT four times. She reached the elimination rounds every year of her career with four different partners. She is the first black woman to win the Copeland Award and was the first black woman to reach the final round of the NDT in 2016. She is an amazing debater and an incredible scholar who has had a huge impact on the KU debate team and on the college debate community.”
Robinson was also the fourth-place individual speaker at the NDT.
KU qualified two other teams for the National Debate Tournament:
- Junior Jacob Hegna, Overland Park, and freshman Nate Martin, Lansing
- Junior Chris Fry, Overland Park, and freshman Nick Massa, Prairie Village.
Hegna and Martin finished one ballot short of qualifying for the elimination rounds. KU was one of only six schools to qualify three teams for the 78-team field.
Several KU squad members received postseason recognition. Robinson made the All American Debate team. Coach Jyleesa Hampton received the Rebecca Galentine Female Coach of the Year Award from the Cross Examination Debate Association. Robinson, Katz, Hegna and Fry received National Debate Scholar Awards for their academic performance. Coach Brett Bricker was named the Judge of the Year by the American Debate Association, and Harris won both the James J. Unger and the Ovid Davis Coaching awards at the NDT.
KU also enjoyed success at other postseason tournaments. At the National Junior Division Debate Tournament at Johnson County Community College for freshmen and sophomores, KU had a dominating performance. Four KU teams closed out the semifinals of the tournament taking the top four spots at the tournament:
- First place: Freshmen Carolyn Hassett, Leawood, and Lily Ottinger, Shawnee
- Second place: Freshmen Ross Fitzpatrick, Leawood, and Jack Ross, Overland Park
- Third place: Freshmen Gabriel Esquivel-Yglesias, Wichita, and Nate Martin, Lansing
- Fourth place: Freshman Ethan Bastian, West Jordan, Utah, and junior Jake Thomas, Shawnee
All eight finished in the top-10 speakers at the tournament with Martin first, Esquivel-Yglesias second, Thomas fourth, Bastian fifth, Ottinger seventh, Hassett eighth, Fitzpatrick ninth and Ross 10th.
KU took two teams of sophomores to the Cross Examination Debate Association Championship Tournament at Puget Sound University. The teams of Kyndall Delph, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Spencer Sosalla-Bahr, Topeka, and Saif Bajwa, Overland Park, and Julia Henry, Hutchinson, both advanced to the second elimination round at the tournament.
At the American Debate Association Championship tournament at the University of Texas-Dallas, Hegna and Katz took third place, losing to Harvard in the semifinals. Hegna was the second speaker, and Katz was the fourth speaker. Massa and Fry reached the final 16 at the tournament.
Photo: Students and staff of the University of Kansas debate program. Credit: Meg Kumin, KU Marketing Communications.