Aztec Forensics Boosts National Ranking

December 3, 2020
Debate team partners, Kyle Pryor-Landman (left) and Matthew Hitomi (right) meeting on the server, Discord.
Debate team partners, Kyle Pryor-Landman (left) and Matthew Hitomi (right) meeting on the server, Discord.

​December 3, 2020

Aztec Forensics, the competitive speech and debate team within the School of Communication and a recognized student organization at San Diego State University, continue to stay active, practice, and attend virtual tournaments during the pandemic.

Debate team partners Matthew Hitomi, a history junior, and Kyle Pryor-Landman, a marketing junior, recently increased their ranking from 18th in the country to 12th after going undefeated at the Grossmont College Invitational which was held virtually on Nov. 13-15, 2020. Pryor-Landman was also awarded third-place speaker in the tournament.

The pair, along with the rest of the forensics team, have had to adjust their usual in-person debate prep during this time, but are staying engaged through Zoom meetings and Discord servers to communicate and talk about strategy.

Hitomi and Pryor-Landman credit their coaches, Director of Debate Maxwell Groznik and Assistant Director of Debate Mikay Parsons, for helping them stay prepared and connected.

“We are very fortunate to have coaches who are former national champions,” Hitomi says. “Our coaches are really helpful and willing to help us grow in the direction that we want to.”

Pryor-Landman added, “I really enjoy working with Max and Mikay. I think that they’re both excellent debaters and have a lot of skill and a lot of prowess. We all have a really good relationship, and I think that Max and Mikay help us foster this really great culture that is about improvement and doing better.”

Parsons says, “with such a great group of students, switching to online programming has not harmed [the team’s] ability to build coach-student relationships.”

Parsons has adopted a philosophy of transparency this year as a coach, and says the greatest lesson students can learn at the moment is patience.

“I am humbled by the amount of support I observe the students provide to each other, which honestly motivates me to think of ways to better support the team as a whole,” Parsons says.

Director of Forensics and Advisor of the speech and debate team, Ashley Nuckels Cuevas, says the coaching staff plays a key part in the team’s ability to achieve these rankings.

“SDSU is unique in terms of our coaching staff. We have one of the largest coaching staffs in the country,” Nuckels Cuevas says. When she first started as director three years ago, the coaching staff only included herself and two graduate students, and one of the graduate students had never competed in speech and debate before.

Now, the coaching staff includes seven people who all hold at least one national championship in their respective field.

“These are people who are extremely good at what they do, and they also care a lot about our students,” Nuckels Cuevas said. “The fact that SDSU Forensics has such an amazing administrative support is a reason why we’ve been able to achieve these ranks.”

The Instructionally Related Activities (IRA) stateside funds and Student Success Fees the team has obtained have also assisted them during this time.

The IRA funds have been going towards purchasing equipment such as laptops, webcams, lapel mics, and lighting equipment. These tools have helped team members successfully compete in virtual tournaments.

Student Success Fees have assisted the team in hosting their annual Aztec Invitational which occurs in the spring semester. This tournament brings in over 30 universities and community colleges with over 2,000 students competing. Now that tournaments are being held virtually, Nuckels Cuevas says these funds are being used to help bring in people to assist with running the backside of technology.

Although the forensics team has had to adapt to this new virtual environment, it’s also allowed them to attend more tournaments than normal and compete in tournaments that are farther away. Nuckels Cuevas says the team attended a tournament hosted by Bradley University in Illinois in early November.

Students interested in joining the Aztec Forensics team can join at no cost, receive course credit and qualify for scholarships. Visit the Aztec Forensics’ website for more information on how to join. Those interested in donating to the team to help support current members, or donating to recruitment to attract potential members can visit the link here.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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