JMU Debate Team Wins Novice National Championship


by Becca Evans

debate team 2022

SUMMARY: The JMU Debate Team won the Novice Nationals championship Sunday, as well as Top Individual Speaker award and third-place in the the Junior Varsity Nationals division, amid one of its most successful novice and junior varsity seasons ever.

Morgantown, WV, March 13, 2022 — The JMU Debate Team won the Novice Nationals championship Sunday, with the team of junior Adonis Ortiz & Eric Pelletier defeating the tournament’s number one seed, the University of Houston in the final round on a 2-1 decision. 

The final round victory capped off an overall dominant tournament for the Dukes, which also included sophomore Abby Harlow winning the novice Top Individual Speaker award and JMU’s Dannise Brown and Matt Conway finishing in third-place in the the Junior Varsity Nationals division. 

The Junior Varsity-Novice Nationals tournament hosted by the University of West Virginia is the championship tournament for novice debate competitors in their very first year of debate competition and junior varsity competitors in their second year of competition or first year of college competition if they debated in high school. 

JMU’s remarkable run in the novice division was emphasized by the fact that none of the four JMU teams that qualified for the single-elimination phase of the tournament were defeated by opponents. Instead, JMU teams were only knocked out by being paired against their teammates. If JMU teams are paired against each other, they do not debate. Instead, the higher seeded team advances. 

In the Round of 16, two JMU teams received a bye as the #2 and #3 seeded teams after preliminary competition. The #10 seeded JMU team of Jameson Balda and Tarang Mishra were paired against their #7 seeded teammates Matt Dim and Jenna Wright, allowing Dim and Wright to advance without debating.Dim and Wright’s tournament didn’t last much longer, however, since as the #7 team they were paired against #2 seeded Ortiz and Pelletier in the quarterfinal, again allowing the higher seed to advance without debating. The #3 seed JMU team of Abby Harlow and freshman Roy Rinehart did debate, defeating a George Mason team to advance to the semi-final.The step-over struck again in the semi-final, with Ortiz and Pelletier stepping over Harlow and Rinehart to advance to the final as the higher seed. Remarkably, Ortiz and Pelletier did not debate in any of the four single-elimination debates until the final round. 

“A great team win,” program director Dr. Michael Souders said about the event. “Any one of our teams could win the tournament. It just so happens Eric and Adonis were the highest seed, but every debater owns a piece of the championship.”

In the Junior Varsity championship, sophomore and team captain Dannise Brown and freshman Matt Conway, coached by JMU assistant director Chaz Wyche, put on a dominant display in preliminary competition, ending with a 5-1 record and earning their places as the 4th and 2nd individual speakers of the competition. Brown and Conway then defeated a mixed team from Macalester College and Oakton College in quarterfinals before falling to yet another team from the University of Houston in the semi-finals on a close 2-1 decision. 

The JMU Debate Team is amid one of its most successful novice and junior varsity seasons ever,  reflecting the team’s focus on developing young talent after graduating all its varsity competitors over the past two years.“We’re lucky to be in an area that values novice and JV competition, so we debate against very tough competition,” Souders said. “George Mason, Liberty, Houston, these are schools that take novice debate seriously and frequently dominate these divisions. Most of our losses this year that we had have been to these teams. To come out on top against these teams this time is fantastic.”“Our success this year against them is a testament to the quality of our competitors and the great coaching our teams get, particularly from Ian Lowery, Abhis Sedhai and Chaz Wyche.”

The novice contingent of the team will have one more chance to earn a trophy at the CEDA National Championship in April. CEDA is an all-varsity tournament but has a special side-competition for novice teams that participate in preliminary rounds in varsity.



The JMU Debate Team is a program of the School of Communication Studies and the College of Arts and Letters at James Madison University dedicated to providing a forum for civic dialogue and promoting intercollegiate debate competition. The JMU Debate Team is a multi-year recipient of the National Public Debate Award and is currently ranked in the Top 5 in the nation.  For more information, contact Dr. Michael Souders at or 540-568-5950.

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Published: Monday, March 14, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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