Top-ranked KU debaters enter their own version of March Madness after ending regular season at No. 1

In this photo from November 2017, University of Kansas seniors, from left, Will Katz and Quaram Robinson, are pictured at the Franklin R. Shirley Classic Debate Tournament at Wake Forest University.

The men’s basketball team isn’t the only group of competitors from the University of Kansas vying for a national title this month.

Down in Wichita, coincidentally the site of NCAA tournament games just last week, the powerhouse KU debate team is competing in its own version of March Madness: the National Debate Tournament. And, from the looks of the squad’s social media, things are already off to a promising start.

On Thursday, one day before the tournament’s official kickoff at Wichita State University, KU seniors Quaram Robinson and Will Katz received the Rex Copeland award. The annual trophy goes to the team ranked No. 1 in the first round, at-large team selections, recognizing the team with the best regular-season performance.

KU Debate, of course, shared the news on social media, with pictures of Robinson and her former debate partners posing triumphantly with the giant pyramid-shaped award.

Robinson and Katz beat out last year’s Copeland-winning team, from Harvard University, for the coveted prize, KU debate director Scott Harris announced Thursday on his personal Twitter account. (The Ivy Leaguers took second place this time around.)

The Journal-World reached Harris for more details but was unable to set up an interview Friday because of the ongoing tournament.

Harris did elaborate on the achievement in his Twitter thread Thursday, calling Robinson’s win “historic.”

“She is the first black woman on a team to finish in the top 5 teams in the national rankings,” Harris wrote. “That is 1 out of 460 debaters dating back to 1973 when first round at large rankings for the National Debate Tournament began.”

Harris went on to note that Robinson “was also the only woman” among the 10 debaters representing the top five teams in the tournament Thursday night. He also estimated, by “rough count,” that Robinson is only the 38th woman to compete on a top-five team in the tournament’s first round, at-large rankings.

“Policy debate still has a long way to go in promoting racial and gender diversity,” Harris wrote.

Robinson, of Round Rock, Texas, and Katz, of Topeka, ended their regular season in February as the top-ranked individual team nationwide in the final College Debate Ratings.

Over the 2017-2018 season, the pair competed at five major tournaments and won three tournament championships. Their record totals 21 wins and two losses in the elimination rounds of those tournaments and an overall record of 55 wins and eight losses, according to a press release from the KU News Service.

Harris, in the press release, said it was “the best regular season performance by a KU team in my 28 years directing the program.”

In addition to Robinson and Katz, KU has two other teams competing at the National Debate Tournament this week: junior Jacob Hegna, of Overland Park, and freshman Nate Martin, of Lansing, plus the team of Overland Park junior Chris Fry and Prairie Village freshman Nick Massa.

All three teams were victorious in their first round of the competition, KU Debate tweeted Friday around noon.

The National Debate Tournament continues this weekend before wrapping up Monday. You can follow KU debaters’ progress via the team’s Twitter and Facebook pages. The Journal-World plans to check in with Harris and his team after the tournament, too.