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Huskers Bring Home National Championship in Debate

Huskers Bring Home National Championship in Debate
The national champion debate team includes (front row, from left) Juliana Quattrocchi, Amber Tanehill, Andromede Uwase, Azza Elhaj, assistant coach Colin Dike, (back row, from left) director Justin Kirk, Zachary Wallenburg, Nick Wallenburg, Salman Djingueinabaye, Gregory Quick and Omaima Lado.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Speech and Debate Team won a national championship — the first in the team’s 151-year history. This was the fifth consecutive year the Huskers finished in the top five in the nation in Lincoln Douglas Debate and the 12th consecutive year the team finished in the top 15.

Two accounting majors competed with the Husker Debate Team, which earned top honors in Lincoln Douglas Debate at the National Forensic Association’s National Tournament April 15-18 at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

The Husker Debate Team is one of the deepest and youngest in the country. Ten team members qualified for the national tournament, the most of any school. The team was led by sophomore Azza Elhaj from Khartoum, Sudan, who advanced to the semifinal round and finished the tournament with a 9-1 record.

Overall, six Huskers posted winning records and advanced to elimination rounds. Brothers Nick and Zachary Wallenburg from Lenexa, Kansas, both advanced to the quarterfinal round and finished with a combined record of 13-5. Zachary, a first-year student, was also named the tournament’s third overall speaker, and Nick, a junior accounting major in the College of Business, was named the ninth overall speaker.

Nick, who has minors in law and business, communication studies and pre-law, joined the debate team after competing throughout high school. Eager to compete for a Big Ten university, he attributed the time and effort the team put in as leading to the win.

“It was really exciting to compete at a national tournament and to finally bring home the gold. We went to over a dozen tournaments this year and we did hundreds of hours of research collectively, It was nice to finally see our hard work pay off,” Nick said.

After graduating with a degree in accounting, he plans to go to law school and pursue a career in corporate and tax law. He noted how competing with the debate team gave him additional tools to succeed in both.

“Debate has been instrumental in helping me develop both the research and public speaking skills to succeed in my classes and prepare me for that future. We had so much support from our coaches, the university and our professors. I am so thankful to attend a university that cares about what we do and supports us every step of the way,” Nick added.

Three other students advanced to elimination rounds, including: Gregory Quick, a senior accounting major from Eagan, Minnesota; Salman Djingueinabaye, senior from Lincoln; and Amber Tanehill, sophomore from Bennet, Nebraska.

“Every student on this team contributed to our success,” said Justin Kirk, director of debate who joined the team four years ago thanks to an endowed position for debate established by an alum. “They worked together and built a strong team during a pandemic. They showcased resilience and grit over the last two years, and this victory is a product of their determination.”

Allison Bonander, director of speech, was integral to the planning and hosting of the national tournament in Lincoln and to the speech team’s success.

“Year after year, these students dedicate all of themselves to being better: to bettering themselves, their teammates, bettering their communities,” Bonander said. “Having the national tournament come together on our campus, after being apart for two years, was unbelievably special and was a highlight of my career.”

Aaron Duncan, director of speech and debate, attributes the team’s success to the campuswide support it receives with students from several majors and colleges.

“The glory of this championship will shine brightly, but it will always be outshone by the glory our students bring to the team and the university through hard work, thoughtfulness, resilience and selflessness,” Duncan said. “Their success is the product of extraordinary effort, but also the product of a great university that values research, integrity and the search for knowledge. UNL is an institution that celebrates debate, discussion and dialogue.”

Read more about Nick Wallenburg's debate team experiences:

Published: April 27, 2022