A few competitions into the season, the West Virginia University Debate Team is optimistic the football team wont be the only school program nationally ranked this year.

The Debate Team has a dedicated collection of returning members and impressive beginners, the key ingredients for a potentially successful season, said Neil Berch, the teams coach and an associate professor of political science.

W ith the majority of the group being first- and second-year students, the team has an even more promising future, Berch added.

The team, housed in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, has been in two competitions so far.

In an Oct. 16-17 event at the University of Rochester, junior varsity debaters Anna Zaniewski of Morgantown and Doug Rogers of Latrobe, Pa. (debating together for the first time) narrowly missed the elimination rounds after losing a decision in the last preliminary round. In the novice division, Emily Renzelli of Bridgeport and Kayden Skinner of New Martinsville lost a 2-1 decision to Vermont in the quarterfinals. Samantha Godbey of Walton and Mike Wilhoit of Beckley, toughened by their varsity experience at Buffalo, made a successful novice debut, defeating Buffalo and Clarion before losing to Binghamton in the semifinals.

In an Oct. 29-31 competition at West Point, all three teams that competed qualified for elimination rounds. Zaniewski and Rogers won over Cornell and then lost to the top-seeded Liberty team in the quarterfinals. In the novice division, Kate Huleatt and Norman Wright, both of Farmington, Pa., earned the fourth seed out of 38 teams and defeated Western Connecticut before losing to eventual tournament winner Cornell. Renzelli and Skinner defeated Vermont and then lost to the top-seeded Liberty team in the quarterfinals. Skinner was rated sixth in a field of 78 debaters.

The teams next competition will be Dec. 3-5 at John Carroll University.

Berch explained that each year a new subject is chosen as the topic for collegiate teams nationwide to research and debate. This years topic is on U.S. energy policy, and students must be prepared to argue for or against at least one potential energy policy.

Emblematic of the dedication shown by Mountaineer debaters, seven students gave up two weeks of their summer to attend debate camps at the University of Vermont and the University of Louisville. These students included Rogers; Renzelli; Skinner; Wilhoit ; Kelley Burd of Bristol; and Lauren Wallace and Mary Anna McOwen, both of Huntington.

The research and preparation that they accomplished at camp should place the Debate Team in good stead for the new season, Berch said.

The team has also benefited from the help of Berch, assistant coaches Becky Evans-Wilson and Manu Krishnakumar, and alums Doug Squire, Mark Schaefer, Josh Boggs and Jeremy Wilson. During the past several weeks, the Debate Team has engaged in research, practice debates, training for novice debaters and weekly meetings designed to discuss potential arguments on this years topic.

The Debate Team has been nationally ranked during most of the past five years of competition. Several of the Universitys elite students compete on the debate team. Zaniewski won a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2003. Three years ago, Joshua Whitehairwho graduated in May 2001 with a degree in political science and philosophycompeted on the team, won a Truman Scholarship and is currently studying law at the University of California Berkeley. In 2002, Mary Ellen Besswho graduated with a bachelors degree in political science and philosophycoached first-year debaters during her senior year, was named a 2002-03 Rotary Ambassador and is enrolled at Yale Law School.