MARSHALL - Melissa Stassen didn't qualify for the state speech tournament last year but made the trip anyway to watch her teammates.
Next weekend, she'll be too busy focusing on her own speech to watch others at state.
Stassen was one of nine Marshall speech students to qualify for state at Saturday's Section 2AA tournament. The senior, in only her second year of speech, finished third in prose. She joins Aletta Arndt and Seth McGonigle, duo; Jessica Oaxaca, extemporaneous reading; Malak Shahin, great speeches; Annalise Wasberg, drama; Bo Erickson, prose; Abby Suprenant, original oratory; and Jeff Paskach, creative expression.
Front row, left to right: Jessica Oaxaca, Abby Surprenant, Melissa Stassen, Aletta Arndt and Seth McGonigle. Back row, left to right: Malak Shahin, Annalise Wasberg, Bo Erickson and Jeff Paskach.
"It was nice to watch people who are really good; obviously you have to be pretty good to make it to state, so it was good to watch them last year," she said. "I took some pointers from them and learned what to do for this year. There will be some nerves for me, but this is what we've done all season. You have to look at it as any other tournament and do your best."
Stassen finished just out of the top three at sections last year but said she was glad she choose to follow her teammates who did qualify, calling it a learning experience.
"No matter what happens at state, I'm happy I made it," she said.
Marshall finished second overall in team sweepstakes behind Chanhassen and ahead of Chaska. Mankato East was fourth, followed by Willmar and Shakopee, which tied for fifth.
Four from Marshall - Arndt and McGonigle, Oaxaca and Shahin - all took first place in their respective categories.
"As always, the section speech tournament is filled with mixed emotions - tremendous excitement but also some disappointment," said coach Rick Purrington. "Every one of our qualifiers deserves this recognition as they've put in hours and hours of work polishing their speeches. And now, these kids have a chance to really make some noise at state."
As a sophomore, Shahin is the youngest of the nine to qualify for state. She said she enjoyed taking part in such an important meet and admitted it was a nerve-wracking experience.
"It was fun to be there; I just had fun giving my speech," Shahin said. "I really didn't think I would make it, honestly. It was kind of a surprise."
Purrington said by surviving such a tough section, this year's qualifiers have a good chance at bringing a medal home.
"The competitive goal is to break to finals at state and earn a MSHSL medal and these qualifiers all have a good shot at doing just that," he said. "They've emerged from one of the most competitive sections and that bodes well for them at the state tournament. In fact, four of our nine qualifiers got the best possible score, a first-place rank, from six of the seven judges that heard them on Saturday - Seth and Aletta, Bo and Jessica. This means that they are heading into state with tremendous momentum."
Purrington said while Marshall celebrated the success of this year's qualifiers, there was an air of disappointment as well Saturday. Five 2012 state qualifiers, seniors Cassaundra Krogen, Daniel Merna, Luke Schroeder, Nick Evans and junior Danny West, did not finish in the top three.
Senior McKenzie Vermeire, a Harvard National Tournament quarter-finalist this year, also didn't qualify for state.
"My heart just sinks for these kids, especially the seniors," Purrington said. "All of them have been top-notch leaders on our team. They all deserve to be state qualifiers this year. But in our very tough section, sometimes being very good is not enough, the breaks have to go your way, too."
The state meet will take place Friday and Saturday at Blaine High School.