Grace Miller and Aubrey Williams turned out to be double trouble for the fellow competitors at the 2021 MSHSL State speech meet.
Both speakers earned State Championship as the top scorer in their respective categories. Miller was 1st in Informative and Williams earned the top spot in Great Speeches.
These were the first Cotter speech titles since Aidan Beckman won a title also in Great Speeches as a sophomore in 2015.
Cotter junior Hailey Biesanz placed 6th in Extemp. Speaking and 10 Ramblers in total earned a spot at the State Meet. Cotter earned a 5th place finish as a team.
While it is never easy to predict a victory, the Cotter speech coaches had high hopes for both competitors prior to the meet.
“I was very excited about their chances to break to finals. For Aubrey, she had very strong, positive critiques on the writing of her Great Speech analysis. Across the board, all tournament judges could not find a credible flaw in her arguments. For Grace, she had adapted many ideas and updated her Visual Aids to improve her Informative performance. She obtained very high remarks about performance as well,” Cotter speech coach Bob French said.
The coaches’ confidence got stronger as the competition neared its conclusion.
“Based on Subsections and Sections, I believed 100% they would break to the Final Round of 8. When the Awards Ceremony was announcing the results past fifth place, that’s when I sat up more straight. When they cracked the top 3, that’s when I believed they had the #1 ranking. To hear each of their names was amazing,” French said.
Both Miller and Williams have been involved in speech throughout their careers at Cotter and, while they’ve always been successful, they also both continued to improve and progress through this unusual season.
“For the past three years I worked with Grace in Original Oratory, so when she changed categories to Informative, I was shocked. But she quickly changed my belief as she really dug into the non-persuasive rules of Info and challenged herself to excel. She didn’t just want to do well, she wanted to win. That competitive drive was great to work with. The one thing I did notice a growth in was the willingness to consider change more than previous years! I think that was her going away present to me,” French said.
Coach French saw similar progress and growth from Williams.
“Last year was my first year with Aubrey and Great Speeches. I quickly learned of her strong writing skills and drive to not only win but to justify why her argument and analysis was right. With Covid-19, we didn’t get to see her compete for state. So this year was the real treat – where she analyzed TWO Great Speeches and compared and contrasted them nearly flawlessly. Many judges at the end of the season had nearly zero constructive comments. And the very experienced judges were impressed as that type of two-speech analysis is rarely attempted in the category. If she goes in to Law, she will be very successful,” French added.
“I started speech in 8th grade but this was my first year in Informative. From 9th grade to 11th grade, I participated in Oratory, which has a lot in common with Informative. I feel like I really found my home this year in Info, although Oratory still has a special place in my heart,” Miller said.
“Since starting speech in ninth grade, it had been my goal to break to State finals, so, this being my senior year of speech, that was something I really wanted to accomplish. However, I knew that I would be going against the best speakers in the state, so I didn’t really expect that I would achieve that goal,” Williams said.
The day of the virtual meet had the speakers prepared but a bit nervous.”I was really hoping to make finals. I was doing my best to expect nothing! My prelim rounds felt good. I thought I was performing well but I was struggling to compare myself to my competitors. I felt confident in my speaking, I knew I was performing the best that I can, but I did not feel confident I was going to final. It is so hard to tell if the judges like me or not,” Miller said of her performance.
“My rounds went pretty well. I had to work through a few nerves for my first round, but I settled into a rhythm pretty quickly for the rest of my prelim rounds. The final round was really intense and stressful, but I was really proud of my performance!
I was a little nervous while I was speaking, especially during my final round! However, I just tried to treat each round like any other speech round this season, and I found that helped me feel much more confident in my performance,” Williams said.
One unusual element with competing by Zoom was the lack of connection with other speakers.”Online speech was much different than in-person speech, and there was a period of adjustment, especially in regards to speaking to a camera (rather than a room of people) and tech issues. As much as I wish speech meets could have taken place in-person this season, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete this year! Though it would have been wonderful to experience state speech in-person, I definitely made many unique and meaningful memories,” Williams said.
“I knew several of the competitors, however I didn’t have as many speech friends this year with the season being online. I think distance had its benefits and drawbacks. I missed traveling, meeting people, and spending time with my teammates, but I got to sleep in and get home faster. Additionally, I feel like I became a stronger speaker by watching my facials and hand gestures in the camera,” Miller said.
Both speakers put a ton of preparation into their speeches, even during the lockdown.
“I began my season in December by competing (virtually) at a national qualifier. Then, starting mid-January, I competed every weekend through April. While Great Speeches was my primary category, I also double entered in Informative in most of the meets I competed at. Since all of the meets were virtual this year, my teammates and I had the opportunity to compete at meets we otherwise wouldn’t have. We went to meets in Duluth, Shakopee, and Willmar, which had competition similar to what we would see in our post-season meets and helped prepare us for sections and state. Additionally, throughout the season, I practiced once a week with my coach, Bob French, and we would typically use this time to talk through critiques and run through my speech. Towards the end of my season, other coaches also listened to my speech to help me prepare specifically for sections and state,” Williams said.
“I started preparing for this season in the summer and started competing in December. I spent about a week writing and cutting my speech, then continued to edit it throughout the year in response to my critiques. As per usual, I didn’t memorize my speech until the week before the first meet, but that only takes me around 2 days. After my December meet, I did not have another meet until late January, after that I competed almost every weekend until late April. I was pretty consistently placing well throughout the season, but there were certainly ups and downs. In February I decided to pick up a 2nd speech, a duo with my sister. I spent a lot of the season helping other people work on their speeches, which is always inspiring for me. I did this through coaching elementary students and leading captains’ practices,” Miller said.
So how did they take the news when their names were announced as winners? Grace was definitely not calm, cool, and collected.
“My reaction was sort of embarrassing! The night before I had been watching the AA champions cry and cover their face, and I thought they were so dramatic. Surely enough, the moment I won my jaw dropped and my hands flew to my face. I was so shocked, grateful, and overwhelmed. Aubrey had just won, and it just seemed too good to be true that we were both champions. My family and Aubrey’s family were cheering so loudly behind me!”
“I was pretty shocked, so I didn’t really know how to react! There was a lot of smiling and laughing and probably a few tears! I definitely felt a ton of emotions at once. Grace and I watched awards together, and I remember how surreal it was celebrating both of us being State champs. It was definitely something I’ll never forget, ” Williams added.