The Weber State University’s debate team headed to the University of Texas in Austin Friday for the last regular season tournament before the team hosts the National Debate Tournament Qualifying Tournament in a few weeks.

WSU Debate Coach Omar Guevara said the team hopes to bounce back after a big upset in its last tournament at the Indiana University Jan. 20–23.

“Everyone started getting violently ill on Saturday, the first day of the tournament,” Guevara said.  “They initially thought it was food poisoning, but the County Health Inspector came in and did an investigation and couldn’t find any evidence of that.  It turns out it was a Noro Virus that mimics symptoms of food poisoning and is fast-spreading and highly contagious.”

Everyone who traveled to IU from WSU got sick except freshman Matt Gomez, and Guevara said the sickness had a huge impact on the teams’ performance.  After winning six out of seven pre-elimination rounds, WSU held the third seed in the top 16 teams in the elimination rounds.  They were upset by a 14th-seed team from Kansas City Community College.

Gomez and Dillon Olsen, the debate team captain, competed in the varsity division at IU as WSU’s top varsity team.  In previous tournaments, the pair had always debated in the affirmative position and Olsen had spoken first, then Gomez.  At IU, they reversed the order.  Gomez said that although it was a new adjustment, he and Olsen thought they were doing well and were shocked when they were eliminated.

“It’s hard to blame anything aside from you not making the correct arguments, so I don’t think we can blame the sickness,” Gomez said.  “We can blame still getting familiar with certain speaker positions, and we didn’t execute enough.”

According to Guevara, the upset in IU could affect the team’s pretournament rankings at UT.

“With our loss, we’ll have to do really well to help establish a preconference qualifier perception that Weber State deserves to be at the national tournament,” Guevara said.  “Judges are still human beings that can be influenced by factors such as previous experience and success.

At UT this weekend, WSU will have three teams among 147 of the top debate teams in the nation.  Gomez said Northwestern University is favored to win the tournament; they are the top ranked team.

“At this tournament, we’ll be keeping a particular eye on University of Michigan and Michigan State in particular,” Guevara said.  “We like to benchmark our success in comparison to Michigan State. . . . They’re a shining beacon of competitive excellence, but we did beat them in Indiana.”

Gomez said that with the steep competition at this major tournament, he and Olsen have put in even more work than usual.

“This will be the second tournament we’ll do with these switched speaking positions, so we’ve done more practice rounds and practice speeches and some rebuttal redos for the rounds we lost,” Gomez said.  “We’re hoping to come out on top.”

According to Gomez, if he and Olsen make it to the elimination rounds this weekend, “it would be one of the best performances by a Weber team at a major tournament.”

Besides Gomez and Olsen, two teams will compete at UT this weekend:  Berlin Schlegel and Jordon Roberts in the junior varsity division, and Blake marsh and Richard Stevenson in the novice division.

After the UT tournament, the team will host the National Debate Tournament Qualifying Tournament, District II from Feb. 25–26.

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