MARSHALL - Marshall High School will be well-represented at the 2012 State Speech tournament Saturday at Chanhassen High School after 13 students qualified for the Class AA competition this year, tying a record-high number set in 2010.
MHS head speech coach Rick Purrington pointed out the record-high number this year had a lot to do with how hard the team members worked this season.
"Two years ago, it was the first year Chanhassen High School was formed," Purrington said. "The competition wasn't quite as tough that year. But Chanhassen (which broke apart from Chaska) has emerged since 2010."
With only four MHS students qualifying for the 2011 tournament, Purrington is proud of the fact that team members rebounded so well this year.
"We were a lot more prepared this year, with how good Chanhassen is," he said. "We made some adjustments competitively and the kids knew they had to work that much harder. Sections this year required them to be on top of their game."
The fact that a number of MHS qualifiers took first place at the Section 2AA speech tournament this past week at Mankato West High School is a strong indicator that they may have what it takes to make the top round among 24 competitors in each of the 13 categories. Along with the duo team consisting of Billie Miller and Luke Schroeder, individuals Eric Deutz (Creative Expression), Abby Surprenant (Oratory) and Bo Erickson (Drama) took first at sections.
"They're probably going into state with high expectations," Purrington said. "A couple of them actually went straight ones at finals. That's pretty overwhelming evidence that they not only did well at sections, but that they should do well at state."
Judges rank speakers from one to five, with one being the best, in each of rounds. At the Section 2AA competition, there were four judges in the final round, making it even more difficult to obtain a top score from each of them. But Deutz, Surprenant and the duo of Schroeder and Miller did just that.
"It's a subjective activity and everyone has their preferences," Purrington said. "So in a round of eight (students), to have all four judges give them the top score, when you're talking about the best in sections anyway, is incredible."
Surprenant qualified for state in 2010, so she'll be a returning competitor.
"It's really exciting," Surprenant said. "It definitely helped that I was there freshman year competing, and I went and watched last year, so I know what to expect this year."
In Oratory, competitors write their own speeches. Surprenant wrote hers on introvert discrimination.
"I argue that our society overvalues extroverts," she said. "We devalue and don't fully benefit from introverts."
Surprenant said she's been writing her speech since Christmastime, constantly rewriting and changing it. But she says she's happy with where it's currently at.
"I think the biggest challenge is just knowing that you belong there," Surprenant said. "There's amazing speeches there and the rounds are so tough. But just like those people, you qualified and you belong."
The last time MHS had a state speech champion was in 2010, when Deutz won in Creative Expression. After switching to Duo with Miller last year, Deutz, a team captain, decided to compete with his Creative Expression speech this year.
Jeff Paskach will be joining his teammate in the Creative Expression category after securing a state trip with a third-place section finish. Paskach qualified in 2009 and in 2010.
"Jeff has a really interesting story," Purrington said. "He broke to finals at state as an eighth-grader at Lakeview. He had qualified in Class A. Then, he qualified for our team (MHS) as a freshman and medaled at state."
Before finishing fourth at sections his sophomore year, missing a return trip to state, Purrington said Paskach had been on track to medal five times, which only two other people in Minnesota have ever done.
"Jeff put a lot of pressure on himself since he went to state as a younger competitor," Purrington said. "He's thrilled to go back."
Along with the veteran speakers, MHS will be sending a number of first-time state participants this year, including Aletta Arndt in Prose and Josh Kerkaert and Danny West in Duo. Erickson, a team captain, will compete in a new category (Drama) after qualifying in Discussion in 2010.
Daniel Merna is making his first trip, advancing in Discussion. Jessica Oaxaca will compete for the first time at state in Extemporaneous Reading, while Nick Evans is advancing to state for the first time in Extemporaneous Speaking.
"It's the first time we've ever had any MHS student qualify in Extemporaneous Speaking since I've been here (2007)," Purrington said. "It's a very intensive coach and student category. But if we're going to have 70 kids on our team, I needed someone to get it going. Nick just embraced the event and took off."
Evans said he went up to state last year and watched the final round in the difficult category.
"That got my interest," Evans, a team captain, said. "Then, I went to a Gustavus Adolphus speech camp this year for this category. From there, it was basically taking what I learned there and adopting it to our program."
In Extemporaneous Speaking, a competitor does a different speech every round.
Students are not allowed to use the Internet during the 30-minute prep time, Evans said, but competitors can reference articles they have filed to their computer beforehand. Questions are on an international level, so being a strong competitor requires extensive research.
"You have to be on top of it," Evans said. "A question could ask if you think there will be an end to the Syrian crisis. It's anything around the globe."
The best part, Evans said, is getting to share the experience with so many other teammates.
"It's even better that we had so many make it to state," he said.
Cassaundra Krogen advanced in her first year out for speech in Great Speeches
"I'm pretty excited because it's my first year," Krogen said. "It makes me want to do my best and come back next year and do it even better."
The Great Speeches category requires competitors to write their own speech after analyzing it and researching the historical reaction to it. Krogen credits the Surprenant family for influencing her to give speech a try.
"It's been pretty good," Krogen said. "The biggest challenge is starting out as new and competing against people who are experienced and know a lot more about it than I do."
While the first-time qualifiers will likely be nervous, Purrington has confidence they will rise to the challenge before them.
"There are usually big crowds at state that watch them, so there'll be more pressure," he said. "But that's what speech teaches kids to deal with. They learn to take their nervousness and use it to their advantage in the form of energy."