Light The Tower
Texas Speech—the official intercollegiate competitive speech team of The University of Texas at Austin housed in the Moody College of Communication—won its second consecutive American Forensic Association (AFA) national team championship at the National Individual Events Tournament (NIET) in Peoria, Ill., on April 4.
The Longhorns were led by captains Cole Hanzlicek and Marianna Garcia and paced by top 10 overall performances from sophomore Bianca Montgomery, senior Alishan Alibhai, and junior Abigail Onwunali, who also won two individual national titles in both prose and poetry interpretation. The squad finished in front of perennial powers Western Kentucky University, George Mason University, host school Bradley University, and the University of Alabama, who made up the top five.
Senior Lecturer Martin “Randy” Cox (B.A. ’91, M.A. ’94), director of the university’s Individual Events Program known as “Texas Speech,” said it was one of the most difficult contests in the 40-year history of the tournament with four schools in contention for the team title from start to finish.
“This is one of the most extraordinary fights our students have had to overcome.”
“This is one of the most extraordinary fights our students have had to overcome,” said Cox, who has coached four other Texas Speech squads to national victory and been at UT Austin since 1991 excluding a five-year stint in Boston from 1994 to 1999. “They scrapped with more tenacity than any other team I’ve ever had before.”
Two other singular national honors were handed out by the association. Department of Communication Studies doctoral candidate Mickey Cox was awarded the national Outstanding New Coach Award, and team director Randy Cox was presented the Distinguished Service Award, based on his career of service to the American Forensic Association and the NIET.
This marks the sixth national team title for Texas Speech since 1994 and the 60th and 61st individual national speech championships awarded to students from The University of Texas at Austin.
Established in 1988, Texas Speech also won national titles in 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002 and 2016 and has finished in the top six programs nationally every year since 1989. This year’s team consists of more than 35 students from disciplines across UT Austin with a large representation of members from Moody College. Tournaments traditionally begin in mid-September and end in early March culminating in the national contest in early April.
Seniors Cole Hanzlicek and Alishan Alibhai each recorded top six performances with Hanzlicek placing fourth nationally in communication analysis. Alibhai placed fourth in extemporaneous speaking, third in persuasive speaking, and was the national runner-up in impromptu speaking. Alibhai was also designated an All-American at the beginning of the contest.
“Speech is one of the most important activities a student can learn because it teaches high-level communication skills and an ability to understand and empathize with an audience.”
In addition to her two national titles, Onwunali was the national runner-up in dramatic interpretation and placed third in duo interpretation with co-performer Bianca Montgomery. Montgomery was also the national runner-up in the category of program oral interpretation while Seis Steves and Sana Moti placed fourth and second respectively in after dinner speaking.
Typical topics addressed at tournaments include issues of politics, identity, culture, social understanding, current events, presidential politics, and international affairs.
Cox said the majority of his students progress to graduate, law or medical school and often become academics or use their skills in the nonprofit sector.
“Speech is one of the most important activities a student can learn because it teaches high-level communication skills and an ability to understand and empathize with an audience,” said Cox. “The programs we compete against inspire and motivate us because they are run by extraordinarily talented individuals and we have to get better every year to keep pace with them.”
Cox said the camaraderie of everyone connected to the team and their competitive spirit continues to inspire and encourage him.
“Thanks to all the coaches and alumni that have helped the team throughout the entire year,” said Cox. “We couldn’t be more appreciative.”
In addition to the Longhorns winning back-to-back national championships, later this month Texas Speech will compete at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at the nationwide tournament of the National Forensics Association from April 13 to 17.