JMU Debate Team Finding Success at All Levels

Young Team Gaining Strength as They Step Up Competition


by Michael Souders

JMU Debate Team
JMU Debate Team at the West Point Tournament. Left to right. Backrow: Will Roberts, Matt Conway, Roy Rinehart, Eric Pelletier. Front row: Berkley Smith, Arushi Chauhan, Anna Oehler, Dannise Brown, Madison Schjoth, Hana Mahyoub

SUMMARY: The JMU Debate team is continuing its tradition of high-level performances by debate newcomers stretching back to their prior season, where they ranked 4th in the nation.

West Point, NY, October 31, 2022 — The JMU Debate Team has a tradition of molding newcomers into winning competitors and the 2022-2023 debate season has started off no differently.

So, when freshman Anna Oehler (’26, English) was named the Top Speaker of the novice division of the West Point Debate Tournament, hosted by the United States Military Academy, it simply marked a continuation of high performances by debate newcomers stretching back in the prior season.Oehler Award

Oehler wasn’t the only novice competitor to find success, however. Together, Oehler and her partner Berkley Smith (‘26, Economics) reached the semi-finals of the tournament, collecting eleven ballots along the way and only losing four. The novice team of Hana Mahyoub (’26, Psychology) and Madison Schjoth (’25, Nursing) weren’t far behind, reaching the quarterfinals.

In the varsity division at West Point, the team of Dannise Brown (’24, International Affairs) and Matthew Conway (’25, Public Administration) reached the quarterfinal, marking their first time reaching the elimination rounds of a varsity invitational tournament. Brown and Conway also finished as the ninth- and tenth-place speakers.

In the University of Mary Washington tournament two weeks prior, JMU novices showed that moving up to the junior varsity division wouldn’t stop their success. Roy Rinehart (’25, Economics) and Michael McKim (’23, International Affairs) reached the tournament’s final to finish in 2nd place in the junior varsity division. Fellow former novice competitors Tarang Mishra (’25, Pre-Law) and Eric Pelletier (’24, Pre-Law) reached the semi-finals while Abby Harlow (’24, Political Science) and Adonis Ortiz (’23, Pre-Law) reached the quarterfinals, only bowing out because they were paired against Mishra and Pelletier in the quarterfinal. When JMU teams are paired against each other in elimination rounds, the higher seed advances without debating.

In individual awards, JMU competitors made up half of the top ten speakers in the junior varsity division. Pelletier, Ortiz, Harlow and Rinehart were the second-, fourth-, seventh- and ninth-place speakers, respectively, while sophomore Jenna Wright (Nursing) received eighth-place.

JMU had kicked-off the season in early October at the University of Kentucky. In Kentucky’s Wildcat Division for first and second-year competitors, two teams reached elimination rounds. The team of Pelletier and Rinehart reached the Round of 16 while the team of Jameson Balda (’25, Political Science) and Mishra reached the quarterfinal.

“When you win the novice national championship and finished #4 in the nation like we did last year, that’s a tough act to follow,” said JMU Debate Team director Dr. Michael Souders, an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies.

“But it’s been a very good start to the year. We have a brand-new set of coaches in [Assistant Directors] Taylor Johnson and Kristiana Baez. We’re also lucky to have our alum and affiliate coach Abhis Sedhai returning to help us this year. They’ve done a great job preparing our teams and we’re picking up right where we left off.”


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. For more information, contact Dr. Michael Souders at or 540-568-5950.

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Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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