Despite COVID-19, Mock Trial team looks toward bright future

Mock Trial team’s successful run was disrupted by pandemic

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Isabelle Giuttari/Mock Trial President

By Cameron Gibney, Collegian Staff

In the spring, when the threat of COVID-19 began to loom over the University of Massachusetts community, student organizations quickly found themselves in the crosshairs of the virus.

The UMass Mock Trial team, which was then enjoying historical success, was one such organization.

“It was just this panic mode of ‘what are we going to do?’” said Talya Torres, the team’s director of social engagement, on the beginnings of the pandemic.

“We had to wait to see how serious the virus was, and ultimately, of course, everything was canceled,” she said.

The Mock Trial team had a promising and successful year in 2020, taking home first-place and second-place victories at the regional tournament on Feb. 15-16 at Brown University.

“We went to regionals, [and] we were so excited,” Torres recalled. “We won first place, we went against Brown and Harvard, even eliminating Brown’s team out of contention.”

Success at the regional tournament unlocked a groundbreaking possibility for the team: competing in the national tournament for the first time.

The threat of COVID-19, however, grew too immense, eventually thwarting the hope for the Mock Trial team.

“We were so excited to maybe go to nationals for the first time, but because of COVID, we had to stop after regionals.” Torres said.

“Last year, we were one of the top teams in the country … we were pretty sure that it would’ve been the first year we made it to nationals as a team, so that was really a bummer,” she added.

In response to the virus, like many University organizations, the Mock Trial team adapted to a virtual, COVID-friendly format.

The group’s meetings, which take place on a regular, weekly basis, were perhaps the most affected by the pandemic.

“Some of the members of the Mock Trial team are not from Massachusetts and its surrounding area … we have members from [states like] Ohio and California, so I think the biggest change has been trying to get us all onto an [agreeable] schedule,” Torres said.

Torres, a junior English and journalism major, has been involved in mock trial programs since she was in high school. She has been with the UMass Mock Trial team since her freshman year.

“[Mock trial] has taken up so much of my time – in a wonderful way,” she laughed, branding her team as a “family.”

“We’re all really close,” she continued. “We [usually] travel to hotels together … [so] it’s a bummer this year because obviously we’re not doing that traveling.”

The group’s competitive spirit has earned them entry into numerous tournaments across the eastern United States, traveling to states like Maryland, Minnesota, Georgia and Florida.

Numerous collegiate institutions, including Yale University, Boston College and Brown University, have hosted the team at competitions in recent years.

The Mock Trial team will be hosting the 12th Commonwealth Classic Invitational Tournament (CCIT), a student-run event that will be hosted online in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. The tournament will take place from Jan. 23-24.

Those interested in judging the event are encouraged to contact the team via their website ​here​.

Torres also encourages those who may be interested in joining the team to try out. They can be reached at ​[email protected]

Cameron Gibney can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @HayesGibney.