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Rosemount High School debaters scramble to prepare for nationals

A season of limited preparation time and conflicting schedules is ending in perhaps the most appropriate way for Rosemount High School debaters Wesley Just and Andrew Hanson: with a rushed, mostly unexpected trip to the National Forensics League national tournament this weekend in Alabama.

Just and Hanson finished fifth in a qualifying tournament in January, making them second alternates for nationals. But when a team from Eden Prairie couldn't make the trip and the first alternates had a scheduling conflict, Just and Hanson got the call. Ever since, it's been a scramble to fine-tune their positions, learn the arguments their opponents are likely to use and prepare for a trip they weren't sure they would get to make.

It should all be about par for the course for the pair, both of whom graduated June 1. Just and Hanson, the top Irish team on paper, has had limited opportunity to compete as a pair this season. Conflicts with other academic commitments or family activities kept them apart for several tournaments.

"We had kind of a rough stretch where, for about a month, one or both of them were not available for tournaments," said Irish coach Cort Sylvester. "They kind of fell behind in preparation and the comfort level of working together."

They found some time to work together toward the end of the regular season, though, and advanced to the state tournament. They had a good NFL qualifier, too.

Sylvester said he knew in January the team had a chance to go to nationals. He knew then the first alternate team had a conflict, so all the Irish needed was for one of the top three teams to drop out.

Just had already qualified for nationals in student congress, so he had next weekend set aside on his schedule. Sylvester told Hanson early on he might not want to make any plans either.

Because Rosemount qualified in debate, Just will not compete at nationals in student congress. Students can only compete in one event, Sylvester said, and Just prefers debate.

The weeks since they found out they had qualified have been a scramble for Just and Hanson. Had they qualified outright in January they would have spent several months getting familiar with the arguments their likely opponents have been using all season. Sylvester said other Minnesota teams have been good about sharing what they know, and he has reached out to his contacts in the debate world to find out what he can.

"The last few weeks for Andrew and Wes have been trying to play catch-up," Sylvester said. "We will be at a slight disadvantage compared to other years, but I don't think we will be in too big a hole."

It doesn't hurt that Just has some experience at NFL nationals. He qualified in student congress each of the last two years. Sylvester believes Just is the first RHS student to qualify three times for NFL nationals.

"He's very dedicated to the activity," Sylvester said. "He is very coachable. He's always seeking out advice on how to improve. He takes that very much to heart."

Just, Hanson and Sylvester will fly to Alabama on Saturday. Competition starts Monday.

"We're starting a little later than we normally do on prep, but I feel good," Sylvester said. "I think they've got an excellent chance, depending on their preliminary draw, to have a very good tournament."