The WVU Debate Team finished the 2002-2003 season ranked 20thth nationally in the comprehensive National Debate Tournament (NDT) rankings, which includes more than 140 colleges and universities.

The 19-member Mountaineer team closed out the season ranked first in its East Central Region; the American Debate Association (ADA) rankings placed WVU at fifth in the novice division. Collegiate debaters compete as two-person squads in novice, junior varsity and varsity divisions.

Team co-captains Rebecca Evans and Douglas Squire, both graduating seniors, ranked seventh out of 290 duos in the junior varsity division. In the novice division, Sara Lechner and Daniel Whiter finished seventh, and Joe Hayes and Steve Dowdell were ninth out of 295 two-person teams.

“I think we had a very successful season, and we had to overcome some serious obstacles to achieve that success. I’m very proud of the entire team, and I’m very excited about our prospects for next season,”said coach Neil Berch, an associate professor of political science.

The team elected Sara Lechner, a political science major, and Joe Hayes, an engineering major, as co-captains for next season.

WVU has hired Billie Underwood as a graduate assistant for the debate team for next season. She earned a master’s degree in political science from Virginia Tech and is completing a law degree at the WVU College of Law. She will be a doctoral student in political science in the fall.

Plans for next year’s competitive season are under way. The debate topic will be in the area of U.S.-European relations, with a final resolution to be decided in July. WVU debaters have already begun brainstorming on ideas for arguments.

The team has been aided by former assistant coach Mark Schaefer’s research in that area. Schaefer is currently finishing his Ph.D. in political science at WVU and teaches Political Science 103. The Mountaineers have also received important insights from former debater Jason Evans, who just completed a master’s degree at the University of Denver with a focus on U.S.-European relations, Berch said.

“We are proud of the performance of the debate team again this year,”said M. Duane Nellis, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.”An increasingly large and diverse group of students continue to be interested in the tremendous learning experiences collegiate debate competition provides, and we are pleased that WVU is able to sponsor a debate experience on par with the best in the nation.”