Arts & Humanities

USU Debate Triumphs at Fran Tanner Open Tournament

By Chantelle Gossner |

Photo L to R: Alumnus Kaleb Webb, team members Regan Batchelor, Nathan Staker, Clarissa Hernandez, Bryant Saunders, Sophie Christensen, Camryn Garrett, Luciana Calvo, Amrutha Obulasetty, Natalie Rust and coach Chantelle Gossner.

The Utah State University Speech and Debate Team started their competitive season with a triumphant beginning at the Fran Tanner Open tournament. The team traveled to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and spent the last weekend of September racking up awards. Team members earned top spots in IPDA debate, persuasive speaking, program oral interpretation and more.

The tournament, which featured several schools and dozens of competitors from all over Idaho in addition to USU, was the team’s first opportunity to compete in-person since Pi Kappa Delta nationals were abruptly canceled in March 2020.

“While online tournaments have been a wonderful safety measure and have improved the accessibility of competitions for many teams, in-person debates hold unique opportunities for students and really have a feeling all their own,” said Chantelle Gossner, the team’s coach.

Gossner jokes that many students and coaches feel the same way about tournaments as others do about working from home – it’s a nice option to have, and it certainly saves some time and money, but it doesn’t feel the same as the office.

The team, like many campus organizations, faced some challenges with recruitment and team-building last year due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Since most campus organizations were not able to gather in-person, practices and competitions were all held online. This year, the speech and debate team is back and better than ever.

In the novice division of debate, Utah State’s squad claimed five of the top 10 spots in both debate rankings and speaker points. Gossner explains that debate rankings are based on win-loss records, but speaker awards are a separate metric; judges score students on a scale of 1 to 30 based on their presentation skills and organization. In terms of novice debate rankings, political science freshman Sophie Christensen earned third place, and undeclared freshman Natalie Rust claimed first. In the open division, computer science junior Bryant Saunders received the second speaker award.

When speaking about her first speech and debate experience, Rust said she was initially terrified of the competition.

“However,” Rust added, “I’m so glad I made the decision to go. I learned so much about myself, how to speak concisely, and so many other useful skills that I will be able to apply to my classes and life in general.”

The team was also very successful in speech events. In persuasive speaking, Christensen was awarded bronze. Amrutha Obulasetty, a junior English teaching major, claimed silver in program oral interpretation and bronze in dramatic interpretation.

“Speech and debate gives us a platform not many have the opportunity to participate in,” said Obulasetty, a veteran speech competitor. “We get a rare chance to share what we learn and believe in, to people who have the potential power to enact actual change.”

Following their season opener, the Aggies are looking ahead to an interesting and successful year. The next event of the season will be the Steve Hunt Classic October 8-10, hosted by Lewis and Clark College via the online debate platform Yaatly.


Chantelle Gossner
Speech and Debate Club


Chantelle Gossner
Speech and Debate Club


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