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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest High pair compete at speech and debate nationals; Liu wins second place, scholarship

Oct 04, 2021 01:25PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High senior Zoe Liu finished second at the National Speech & Debate Tournament, which was held online in June. (Screenshot courtesy of Zoe Liu)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This school year, senior Zoe Liu doesn’t have lofty goals to win nationals in debate. Instead, the Hillcrest High student, who finished second nationally this past summer, said although she will compete in Lincoln-Douglas, her attention will turn to her teammates.

“Rather than focusing a ton on competing, I'm planning on spending more of my effort supporting my underclassmen and helping them succeed at competitions this year,” Liu said.

Liu, of Sandy, along with her teammate, junior Priyanka Mathews, also of Sandy, competed at the National Speech & Debate Tournament, which was held online in June.  

Liu, who began debating in fifth grade, competed in the Big Questions debate format. 

Big Questions is a solo event, where she prepared for both sides of the argument in advance. During the competition, she was assigned a side for each 40-minute round. Then, each side gives a total of four speeches—one pre-written constructive speech and then three responding speeches that are made on the spot. After the first two speeches, there are two question periods.

“Our topic was ‘Mathematics was discovered, not invented,’” she said. “This year, on the affirmative, my arguments surrounded the idea that quantities and shapes exist even without human observation. On the negation, my arguments more surrounded the idea of how math is not simply the existence of quantities and shapes but the active manipulation of them which requires human invention.”

This was her third time qualifying for nationals, but since she wasn’t able to compete her freshman year, she has only competed twice. Both national experiences have been online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I decided to do Big Questions because I thought the format, being a bit more philosophical than other debate formats, was really interesting. It's also a bit more reasoning-based rather than research-based compared to other forms of debate which definitely intrigued me,” she said.

Her competition began June 14 and after advancing, she competed every day for four days.

“I was mostly excited and nervous,” she said, adding that there were 50 competitors in her event. “I was pretty excited when I was announced as a finalist.”

Then, after finals, she watched the announcement that she finished second, and earned a scholarship of $2,500.

“I was definitely really happy,” said Liu, who also recently was named a National Merit semifinalist.

Her Hillcrest teammate participated in nationals in Informative Speaking in what was her third tournament competing in that competition; in her second competition she won the state title.

Mathews has been involved in debate since her freshman year. As a ninth grader, she competed in Congress and last school year, started in Lincoln-Douglas.

“I actually did a lot more of speech work in middle school, and I was wanting to transition into that,” she said. “Informative (speaking) is also something I’m interested in with science, so I decided to give that a go.”

Mathews dove into scientific research before emerging with her topic CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) genetic engineering. 

“Within the science community, it’s really kind of a hot topic right now. My outlook on this was to give people a sense of the science behind it—but with genetic engineering, there’s a lot of controversies about it—so I really wanted to include some ethical material as well,” she said, adding that she would like to pursue studying biochemistry in college.

Mathews recorded her speech for her first tournament and again for the state preliminary round, before giving it live, though virtual, for state finals. 

Mathews said it was her choice to deliver it live.

“I wanted to challenge myself and I didn’t feel like I would really be a deserving win if I didn’t go in and do it live,” she said, adding that she was thrilled to win state. “I was pretty shocked, I was ecstatic. Honestly, it was amazing, and I was definitely excited for the opportunity to move on to nationals and to experience that level of competition.”

Mathews’ competition was held June 15-16. In each of the five preliminary rounds, competitors listened to one another’s 10-minute speech; each speech also had a visual aid, which she learned hers was hard to see virtually. 

While she didn’t advance, Mathews was glad she competed and it has motivated her for this year.

“I got to see the best of the best in terms of informative speakers in the nation. I feel like it gave me a better perspective. Some of those were awesome speakers; it’s so inspiring to see,” Mathews said, adding that she already has been reading various science articles for her informative speech this coming year.  

Mathews also wants to try her hand at Lincoln-Douglas again to improve her debating skills.

Hillcrest will be competing under a new head coach as Emily Kunz took over from interim coach Ron Hill.