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Inarguably the Best: Wildcat Debate Team Wins National Championship

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March 29, 2005 | by Wendy Leopold

Northwestern fought off third-ranked University of California Berkeley to capture the 59th Annual National Debate Tournament (NDT) championship Monday (March 28) in Spokane.

The 3-2 win marks the Wildcats’ 13th NDT championship and its seventh in a dozen years, fortifying their position as the “winningest” team in the conference.

Northwestern entered the tournament as the top-seeded team, “making us target number one for the other teams and by no means guaranteeing victory,” said debate team coach Scott Deatherage. Northwestern was only the sixth top seed in 59 years to win the tournament.

“The Berkeley team was our strongest challenge,” said Deatherage, who has been Northwestern debate coach for 17 years. Berkeley was running neck-and-neck with the Wildcats until what Deatherage called “a masterstroke performance” by Tristan Morales in the last rebuttal.

The Wildcat team of Morales, a senior from San Antonio, and Josh Branson, a junior from Dallas, handily defeated Harvard University in a 6-1 decision in the semi-finals. They dispensed with Dartmouth College in a 4-1 quarter finals decision.

The Morales/Branson team is one of only four teams in almost six decades of NDT history to finish with an undefeated record. Their win represents the third Wildcat championship in four years. Morales also was a member of Northwestern’s 2003 championship team.

A total of 78 teams from universities and colleges across the country competed for the NDT championship. Its team elimination process is very similar to the process of eliminating basketball teams used in the NCAA.

Next year the Wildcats will host the 60th anniversary NDT in Evanston. “We plan to do the same thing we’ve been doing every year – stay focused and concentrate on the fundamentals,” Deatherage said. “We’ll try to host and win at the same time. It seems daunting, but we’ll give it our all.”

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