Seniors lead Cotter Speech Team to another stellar season


Nick Lemmer

Cotter Speech State qualifiers: Top row- Erica Beckman, James Greshik, Francis Koll, Grace Finnerty Seated: Brooke Rodgers, Maddie Lemmer, Maddy McConville, Alison French, Olivia Moore, Audrey England, and Savannah Welters

Speaking of successes, the Cotter Speech team just keeps piling them up.

Cotter won the its 6th consecutive subsection title by over 150 points  this year.   The team advanced 39 speakers to the section 1A meet in Byron including 7 subsections champions.

Cotter was the Section 1A runner up and advanced 18 speakers in 17 categories to section finals, and 11 speakers in 10 categories earned trips to the State meet.

The State tournament was held Friday, April 22-23 at Eastview High School, in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

The state tournament had 98 schools represented and there approximately 4,000 students competing in speech, with only the top 24 in each category qualify for State. This year, Cotter had the 5th most entries of all 90 teams represented, just 4 fewer than the team with the most participants..

Cotter Students qualified for the State tournament and four made it to the top 8 and the final round of their category, this was the most finalists of any Cotter team since 1990. Here are the results for Cotter’s State qualifiers:

Alison French – 2nd (state runner up) – Drama
Olivia Moore – 3rd – Prose
Maddie Lemmer – 7th – Extemp Speaking
Grace Finnerty – 8th – Extemp Speaking
Savanna Welters – 10th – Drama (tied for 8th and lost tie breaker or would have been a finalist)
James Greshik/Francis Koll – 14th – Duo
Maddy McConville – 16th – Prose
Brooke Rodgers – 18th – Creative Expression
Audrey England – 21st – Informative
Erica Beckman – 22nd – Original Oratory

Additionally, Cotter seniors Alison French, Madeline McConville, and Grace Finnerty were named to the All State Speech Team by the The Minnesota Speech Coaches Association (MSCA.

Cotter assistant coach Emily Shriver shared some of the qualifications for earning this award when introducing the seniors and recognizing them at all school assembly prior to the State Meet.

MSCA Past-President Kasey Wacker shared, “To become a recipient of the MSCA All-State Award, one must possess the qualities of an outstanding speaker, teammate, and community member for multiple speech seasons. To be a coach of All-State speakers is truly an honor and a privilege. The MSCA makes it possible for both speakers and coaches to feel valued and appreciated in ways that go beyond the tournaments in which we compete.”

To qualify for All-State recognition, speakers must be seniors in high school, show documented excellence in competition, including competing on subsection/section teams and at least one appearance at the MSHSL State Speech Tournament, and utilize their speech skills in at least three other activities, such as National Honor Society, dramatics, or athletics.

MSCA President Ross Eichle stated, “This year’s senior class has persevered through the largest range of experiences in education–from cancellations to moving to and from online platforms, and the shift back to in-person.  Making through all of that and also being able to meet the All-State criteria is a testament to their grit and determination.  I know they will make the world a better place.”

Grace Finnerty, Maddie Lemmer, Alison French, and Olivia Moore all made it to the finals at the State meet in their respective categories (Photo Bob French)

The Chronicle spoke with speech senior captains Alison French, Madeline McConville, and Olivia Moore.  

 When did you get started in speech? What categories have you competed in?

“I first joined speech in 6th grade in Prose with a piece about the dynamic between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. I hated it and ended up not doing speech my 7th-grade year. After talking with the coaches I decided to give speech a second try my 8th-grade year and fell in love with the activity. I have been in prose all but one year when I did drama instead. Prose and Drama are relatively similar categories, with the main differences being that Prose tends to come from books or short stories while Drama is often short plays or monologues. Both are more serious categories where you essentially tell a story. I have also competed in Duo and Impromptu by doubling entering at certain meets. My pieces have discusses topics such as terminal illnesses, poverty, mental health (specifically anxiety), and organ donation. I was a captain my freshman and sophomore years, and now am one of three senior captains. I have also been able to coach 5 students on our middle school speech team over the past few years and that is one of my favorite parts of the season. I love working with them and getting to watch them grow as speakers. One of my biggest goals with coaching and being a captain, as well as simply a teammate, is to share this activity that I love with others and hopefully help people find the happy place I have found in speech”  -Olivia

“I started in 6th grade and have been in speech for 7 years.  I competed in humorous for my first 6 years and have also done Duo with Ali.  This year I am in Prose doing a piece called “Batman Band-aids”. It’s about a girl who is attending a funeral that she doesn’t realize is for her mom, it’s really sad.” -Madeline

“I have also been in speech for 7 years.  I spent a lot of years in Poetry, but have also done Duo, Extemp, Impromptu, a really hard category called P.O.I (personal oral interpretation) where you have to splice different pieces together to come up with a 10-minute speech. This year my focus was Drama, and my piece was called “The Good Mother.”  -Alison

Cotter subsection champions pose with their individual medals and the 1st place team trophy  (Alli Benson)

What moments stand out for you?

“One moment that has stuck with me was the first time I won my category at a meet. This was my sophomore year at the John Marshall meet, which is one of our more competitive meets that the whole team goes to. This was online due to the pandemic, so I was watching the awards ceremony through a live stream and my mom got a great picture of me in absolute shock. It was an amazing moment as it was a sign of all the work I had put into speech paying off and something I had never achieved before, especially at such a large and competitive meet. Another moment that sticks out is having one of the kids I coached one year request to have me coach her again the next year. I love coaching so much and want to leave the kids with the best impression and experiences in speech as I can. I did end up getting to work with her a second year and knowing that she wanted me as her coach again was an amazing moment. I also got to see her in the junior high musical as a stage manager, which was special because I could see how things she had learned from speech transferred over the theater, and hopefully that experience in speech was part of what motivated her to participate.” -Olivia

“I seriously would love to have a redo of this year, it was the best. I liked my piece, I liked my teammates and it was a great season.  Last year with everything being online it wasn’t the same and the judging was a little wonky, so when we were all together this year it felt like home,” – Madeline

“It was rewarding to place 2nd at State this year because, in the past two years that we had sections, I just missed out. I took 4th in my category at sections twice and the top 3 advances to State, so it was frustrating, but that made crossing that bridge more special.”  -Alison

What is your role as captain?

“As a captain, there are quite a few things we do. One of the bigger things is running captains’ practices during the regular season. Captains’ practices are mandatory parts of being on the speech team and are when speakers go to give their speech to the captains to make sure pieces are getting run enough and to get more eyes and ideas on pieces. These run usually two nights a week and for captains, it is just listening to pieces and giving some advice. Captains also plan team nights and are in charge of room assignments for our overnight meet. We also help decide the theme for each season (family, rising from the ashes) and more. Captains are also the go-to people for any questions speakers might have at meets. Captains also all have to coach at least one member of our middle school team each year. Senior captains lead many meetings, are in charge of warmups at meets, receive team awards at meets, and more” -Olivia

“Yeah, senior captains run practices, lead warm-ups at meets, and check on how everyone is doing at meets.  I am close with the other senior captains, so we would just text each other about how we would cover practices or what stuff we wanted to do with the team.” -Madeline

“The captains do a lot especially at meets because the coaches are usually judging. So we lead warm-ups, check in on people, and solve problems. If someone forgot their script we find a printer and get them a new one, or if they forgot something on the bus, or are freaking out between rounds we deal with it and talk them through it.  We also helped plan our Eden Prairie overnight trip.” -Alison

What will you take away from being part of this team?

“One of my favorite things about speech is that it is somewhere I can have fun and channel my love for acting, but can also be incredibly competitive. Speech doesn’t necessarily need to be competitive and it is definitely up to the person, if they simply want to get through public speaking without passing out, or if they want to go all the way to competing on the national circuit. As an incredibly competitive person, I have always loved that aspect and how despite that I still get to have fun. Speech kids are also some of the best and weirdest people you will ever meet and I have met so many amazing people through this activity. I also love the community and how you get to see people grow and improve as the years go on. I think one of my biggest takeaways from speech, aside from the public speaking skills and how you learn to adapt to audiences and spaces, is from coaching and captains practices. When trying to teach and communicate ideas to people you have to learn how to communicate effectively and in a way that makes sense to others. Just because something makes perfect sense in my brain and I know exactly what I mean, does NOT mean others do. I’ve had to learn through lots of trial and error how to do that.” -Olivia

“Speech helped me find out who I am. It helped me find my voice. It of course helped me with public speaking, but it also helped me learn responsibility through practice and getting to the bus while it is still dark on Saturday morning, putting in the time practicing and learning the speeches, and being part of a team.   Mostly it gave me a home at school.” -Madeline

“Speech has given me the confidence to meet new people and just strike up a conversation or when I’m meeting a new friend. I have just learned how to communicate better in general and how to act and speak in a professional manner or situation. Also, speech is great because everyone is pulling for and encouraging everyone else. No one is complaining about playing time or worrying that someone did better, we help each other to all do our best and it builds a great team spirit. It also has helped me develop a strong work ethic.”  -Alison

Tell us about your coaches

“My primary coach is Amy French, but I have also worked with all of our coaches at one point or another. All of our coaches are incredibly supportive and always push us to do our best. I also love how many opportunities my coaches have allowed me to have, especially being able to compete on the national level.” -Olivia

“Our coaches are great, they are willing to work with you whenever you want and help you with any issue you are having with your speech.  I worked mainly with (Ms. Emily) Shriver this year and she always gives me good ideas.  All the coaches do a good job working together and giving you different feedback. I have also worked a lot with Amy and worked with Tyler Larkin a few years ago.” -Madeline

“One interesting thing is that when the triplets (my brothers) were in speech my parents decided to have the other coaches work with them and I have always had one of the other coaches as my primary coach.  I have worked with Ms. Shriver and Tyler Larkin, and this year with Ann Keen, who is my aunt, but my parents have had Ms. Shriver choose captains, and captains choose awards and a lot of things like that to keep things fair. Speech is unique because all of the coaches are willing to work with the whole team and the captains and team do a lot of coaching each other.” – Alison

How was State?

“We kept a normal practice routine before State and then got together as a big group with Amy and Bob the night before and all ran through our speeches.  I thought I did well, and a bunch of our teammates made it to the finals, which was cool.  Then we went to dinner at Olive Garden afterward.  I am proud of how our whole team did this year.” – Madeline

Do you have any advice for Cotter students that might be considering joining speech?
“Just do it!” -Madeline

“Just try it.  You will learn many things about speaking and yourself and the topic you cover and even if you don’t stay with it forever you will learn how to deliver a speech, interpret literature, and lots of other stuff.” -Alison

A conversation with head coach Amy French:

Cotter Speech has become a powerhouse.  How many years have you been coaching the team and how or why did you first sign on as coach? 

“I have been coaching since the 2013/2014 speech season.  I first signed up to coach because I was involved in speech in high school, and I realized I wanted my 4 sons and daughter to have a chance to experience how amazing speech is.”

What do you hope team members get out of being part of the speech team? 

“What I want for speech team members – all of them – is to find their voices, know they can speak their minds, teach them how to communicate effectively, and feel welcome and know they are an important member of our team.”

What are some highlights that stand out for you from this season? 

“It would be easy to say winning or taking 2nd place at 10 of the tournaments we attended this year, or the fact that we had over students earn over 200 medals or ribbons, but it’s never been about that for me.  I could say it was breaking 3 speakers to Semi-Finals for the big national NSDA tournament, or having 2 qualify for the National NIETOC tournament, and one for Catholic Nationals (NCFL).  But I guess one of my favorite moments each year is the same.  It’s watching my captains coach the 5/6 grade speakers.  It’s so cool to watch and always amazes me each year to see both these young speakers speak, and these captains grow as speakers by teaching. Another this year has to be just returning to speaking in person.  We spoke virtually in 2021 – and we are one of a few teams who didn’t have too great of a decrease in numbers – which I credit my captains with because they brought their energy and encouraged students to stick it out – and also actively recruited this year.  I also always love hearing comments each year from teachers – how the speech kids set the bar for classroom presentations, or from parents who see that speaker who was so nervous or shy – break out and find their voice.”

What made this group of seniors special?  

“This group of seniors – is the first group we started a middle school speech team with.  A few of them began as 6th graders at St. Stans – so I am truly now losing students I’ve had with me along the way.  They are passionate about speech, are caring individuals, and are hard workers.  Speech is like any other activity – and to be good at it you have to work at it.  It’s an activity that takes up Saturdays during the winter for most of them – and they looked forward to every weekend.  Their passion is what drove us to have the team we have, and they will be greatly missed!”

Tell us about coaching your children, especially Alison this year? 

“It’s funny, because after the first season – I have never coached my kids.  This was by design.  Any parent who coaches knows you have to have a coaching relationship with the members of your team that is different than that relationship as a parent.  So I always asked they be coached by a fellow coach; I rarely heard them speak – even Alison.  (I was going to attend the state final round to watch Alison – but missed getting in the room by 30 seconds as I was judging a different final round and didn’t get there in time. But I got to stand outside and listen.)  Bob and I also removed ourselves from captain selections these past years – so all of our kids would have to earn captain’s spots on their own merits as evaluated by the other coaches.  But it was an amazing journey with all of them – celebrating their victories and watching them find their voices and grow in confidence.  Specifically for Alison, it was watching her break out of sections this year – she had finished 4th in both 9th and 11th grade (10th was canceled due to Covid) – one spot out.  I knew both times before awards were presented and it was devastating to know she was going to just miss.  She handled herself with such poise – I was incredibly proud of her…but it’s sooo hard to be just that close and as a parent, your heart just breaks.  Both years too she had been incredibly successful season – but in speech, it’s not all objective criteria – when everyone is good it comes down to judges preference – and she just hit final round judges who disliked her piece.  For whatever reasons – section judging is just different – I still have to figure it out!  So to watch her qualify for state this year – was probably one of the happiest moments for me and her…then to watch her break to finals at the state and be able to share that joy, share her journey with her – as her parent, not her coach, meant the world to me.”

The team members all praise the coaches, tell us about the coaching staff

“The coaches we have are amazing – and we equally share all the credit for this team.  Coach Emily (Shriver) – is amazing.  She’s been with us the longest – and our team would not function without her.  She is an amazing coach with insight into literature – and is also our focal point at Cotter with the HS speakers – the hub of our communication.  And she has been incredibly successful as a coach!  We are so blessed to have her talent working with the speakers.  Coach Teresa is new this year – and already has sent a Duo to state.  She is crazy creative – and has done an amazing job picking up the reigns from Coach Tyler Larkin, who stepped back during Covid.  A great addition to our team.  Coach Ann Keen is an alum – and my sister – who was a former speechie as well.  During Covid we learned how to coach remotely – and this brought us Coach Ann and her expertise in Creative, Storytelling, and Drama.  It’s been such a blessing to have her theatrical background involved with our students.  And then there’s Coach Bob – my husband.  He coaches all the Public Address categories (except Creative) – and spends time editing speeches in the fall along with Coaching Debate.  He is the only coach to have 2 state champions (Aubrey Williams and Grace Miller – both 2021), and all students love to work with him.  As a group, we all communicate throughout the season and pick each other’s brains.  We rotate kids later in the season for fresh sets of eyes on pieces, it’s coaching by the village.  All of these coaches are amazing in what they do and as people, and the team is blessed to have each of them.” – Mrs. French

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“First to thank the Cotter community – staff, athletic coaches, and teachers along with other club directors.  Without the support we receive – we would not be where we are today.  Also, I truly believe Speech is something everyone should try for just one season.  It will give you skills in your life to take forward in whatever you do…and it’s fun.”