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Hays High students argue their way to state tournament

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

If experience is indeed the best teacher, Hays High School seniors Ryan Unruh and Courtney Hess could have an advantage against some teams heading into this weekend's Class 5A State Two-Speaker Debate Championships at Hutchinson.

The HHS duo gained some valuable lessons in its first trip to the season finale a year ago.

"It definitely taught us what we need to prepare for and do different this year," Unruh said. "It was a good learning experience. There are a lot of advanced debaters there."

To qualify for the two-speaker division at state, students have to attend at least four regular-season tournaments with five rounds each, and post a winning record through 20 rounds.

If students attend more than four tournaments, they can choose their best 20-round mark, with which they then are seeded initially at state.

Together, Unruh's and Hess' combined qualifying record this season is 28-12, while senior Spencer McCue and junior Alex Green -- another HHS team to qualify for state -- together are 29-11. Sophomore Ben Rajewski, who also competed some with McCue and Green throughout the year, will go along as an alternate and has a record of 12-8.

This will mark the second consecutive year Hays High has qualified multiple teams for state, which begins today and continues through Saturday.

It's the seventh consecutive year a Zach Butte-coached team at Hays High has made state, where teams are guaranteed six rounds of competition. At the end of those preliminary rounds, the top 16 teams advance to elimination rounds.

Butte thinks the road to the finals could be a challenging one because "there are about 20 more teams than usual that qualified."

"There are 70 teams (qualified) this year, so it will take a 4-2 or 5-1 record to get into the elimination rounds," he said.

Unruh and Hess went 3-3 last year and are looking to improve on that this year.

All 16 teams that make the elimination rounds earn medals, while a large trophy in the shape of the state of Kansas goes to the school of the top three teams.

While most of the HHS students admitted a medal would be a good goal to set, McCue has his sights set as high as can be.

"I want one of those," he said, nodding to the championship trophy won by Kyle Haley and Michael Raven in 2009.

Butte isn't making any predictions but said "I have high hopes that they will make the (top 16). We stayed until 5 p.m. (Wednesday) to continue to beef up our case and went over information to get ourselves updated and ready to go."

"The realist in me knows the odds of getting a trophy are high, but the optimist in me wants them to be there in the final round. At 5A, you're dealing with all types of backgrounds, and that's something we have to adapt to and persuade the judges in the room to agree with us. It's all about being able to adapt to different styles."