Friday, Mar 3, 2023
Team defies the odds with 7-1 record at regional tournament
by Tatiana Sciancalepore
- Rider Mock Trial members (top row, from left) Nyshel Nelson, Diorys Jimenez, Bella Frost, Emily Paruk, (bottom row, from left) Amanda Steele, Michaela Smith and Camryn Curnuck.
When Alan Medvin, a retired New Jersey trial lawyer, first approached Rider University about starting a mock trial team, his goal was simple. He wanted to bring a fun, new experience to Rider students. The former Princeton University Mock Trial coach had no idea that in just a few short months, the newly formed team would outperform the top-seeded team in their very first regional tournament.
“I wanted this to be a fun activity,” says Medvin. “That’s what was really important to me. But the reality is, we started off as a struggling team with tremendous member turnover, and now we’re making headlines. I can’t help but be proud.”
On Feb. 18 and 19, Rider Mock Trial competed in its first American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) tournament hosted by Princeton University. Against all odds, the team compiled a 7-1 record, including a 2-0 sweep against the top-seeded team in the tournament, and earned a spot in the Opening Round Championship Series, the national semi-finals of the mock trial world.
“When they called Rider University out loud, the entire team burst into tears,” says senior competition captain and health care management major Camryn Curnuck. “We outperformed some of the top teams in the country, including Tufts, Princeton University, MIT and the University of Maryland, among others.”
"Funding a new school team is no small task. A number of generous donors, many of them Rider alumni, allowed our team to quickly accept the invitation to the national tournament," says Micah Rasmussen ’92, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics and faculty adviser for the team.
“We’re all really looking forward to seeing where this special group goes from here,” he says.
The simulated court cases of a mock trial competition help students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, in addition to learning about legal practices and procedures. However, it is a rigorous program, not without its challenges.
We started off as a struggling team with tremendous member turnover, and now we’re making headlines. I can’t help but be proud."
Every August, AMTA releases a case packet of supporting documents for that year’s competition season. The packet, often hundreds of pages long, consists of everything the students will need to present their case, including depositions, witness statements, transcripts and more. The teams must thoroughly read and analyze this material, committing all the details to memory.
“Our invitational season was rough,” says Curnuck. “We had several members drop out when they realized the extent of the work involved, some even as late as two nights before a tournament. But we continued to work together, practicing day and night, and even over winter break via Zoom.”
Unlike in the real world of law, teams participating in a mock trial must defend and prosecute both sides of the given case. Each team is then evaluated on individual attorney and witness performances on a scale of 1-10. The team that compiles the most points in that round, wins the ballot. After four rounds, the tournament concludes with a ranking of all participating teams, with the top-ranking teams qualifying for the next level of competition.
At the Feb. 18 competition, Rider tied for second with the University of Maryland, with Curnuck winning an All-Regional Attorney award for compiling 19 out of a possible 20 points overall. Emily Paruk, a sophomore acting for film, television and theatre major, won an All-Regional Witness award.
Curnuck says that the all-female team received wonderful support from many of the competing schools. “So many people said that they love that we have a ‘powerful all-female team.’ But ultimately, we hope to get to the point where that is the last thing people have to say about us, the first thing being, ‘Rider is unstoppable,’” she says.
Medvin notes that after the tournament’s closing ceremonies, other coaches told him Rider’s accomplishment as a new team was “unfathomable,” a “Cinderella story.”
Rider Mock Trial will compete in the AMTA Opening Round Championship Series on March 18 and 19 in Cincinnati.