By Lorrie Ham
Westonka Speech broke a number of team records on April 6 at the MSHSL Section 2AA Tournament in Hutchinson, including advancing sophomore Merrick Gormley to state. Gormley is the first Westonka competitor to qualify for the state tournament in seven years.
The team brought a record number of 22 competitors to sections, a huge increase from the eight students who competed during the 2017-2018 season. Of the eight students who competed at sections last year, only one student made it onto the podium. This year, Westonka Speech had a record six students make it onto the podium.
Gormley placed second in Poetry Interpretation to qualify for the state tournament. Sophomore Grace Cunningham placed fourth in Discussion. Juniors Grace Hanson and Trinity Bielke placed fifth in Duo Interpretation, while juniors Conner Jones and Adam Born placed sixth.
The last state qualifier for Westonka was in 2012, when Ella Taggert competed in Discussion. According to coach Kelsey Rausch, this dearth of state qualifiers over the past years is due to numerous changes in the coaching staff, as well as a consistently small number of competitors joining the team. Only four short years ago, the Westonka Speech team had a total of 14 members, while the current team has a total of 61 competing members.
The coaching staff has also enjoyed more consistency, as well as some growth. The coaching staff is led by head coaches Rhys Jones and Danielle Glewwe and assistant coaches Pam Tremblay, Allison Schumacher, Megan Lhotka and Rausch. Jones was named Section 2AA Coach of the Year after being voted in by the Section 2AA coaches and is now in the running for the overall coach of the year for Class AA.
Gormley has been on the Westonka Speech team for three years, starting in eighth-grade as an Informative speaker. Gormley really hit his stride in his second year when he switched to the Poetry category and began working with Jones.
Jones has enjoyed working with Gormley. “Every practice working with Merrick is a delight because he’s always trying something new and incorporating the feedback he receives,” Jones said. “He pushes himself each time he performs to make his next performance better than his last.”
Last year, Gormley was the only Westonka Speech competitor to place at sections, placing fourth in Poetry Interpretation and just shy of qualifying for state, which strengthened his desire even more. “Placing fourth last year really made me want to do better this year and place third or higher so I could qualify for state,” he said.
Molly Carlson, Gormley’s ninth-grade English teacher, said that she knew Gormley would one day qualify for state. “I told him he was destined for true greatness on the speech team,” Carlson said.
Gormley’s poetry selections tell a story of hardship and strife for the LGBTQ community, including a piece about the Pulse nightclub shooting and a piece about a son who is nervous about inviting his mother to dinner. The state tournament will be held at Wayzata High School on Saturday, April 13.