MEDFORD — Medford High School’s speech team sent a new record of 14 students to sections Friday, but before departing for the competition in St. Peter, members of the squad spoke to their classmates in a morning assembly, explaining speech categories and even performing part of their own individual routines.

For example, senior co-captain Taylor Theisen executed a piece of her dramatic interpretation, Peter Morris’ “The Age of Consent,” about a “physically and emotionally abusive psychotic stage mom,” she said. This is the second straight year she’s portrayed an unbalanced women.

“Last year, I stole a baby,” she said.

Perhaps surprisingly, considering her twisted subject matter this year and in 2017, Theisen actually was in the humor category her first two years as a member of the speech team before transitioning to drama last season, she said.

“Humor is a very male-dominant category, and it’s hard to make it far,” she said.

But her switch to drama has paid dividends, as she qualified for sections last year and this year.

Her main hurdle to overcome with “The Age of Consent” is expressing anger, since Theisen is “bad at showing anger,” but “we’ve worked on it, and we’re getting through it,” she said. “My script takes you on an emotional roller coaster.”

Also performing a section of his piece Friday morning was Anthony Manderfeld, who earned a section invite with his humorous interpretation, Herb Duncan’s “008,” which is set after James Bond is killed, and MI6 is essentially holding tryouts for his replacement, he said. The main character wants to be the new Bond, and his first mission is to foil yet another megalomaniac hell-bent on world destruction.

The selection was suggested to him because “I can do lots of voices,” a skill pivotal for “008,” as he must perform 11 different characters, giving each their own posture and voice, Manderfeld said. Crucial to success is “keeping my voice up,” so “if you get sick at all, it really gets to you,” and he drinks an entire jug of water each round when competing.

He’s improved his comedic timing over time and with practice, he said. While he used to rattle through his humorous presentations, he’s learned “you have to pause after the punchline.”

Personal touch is also paramount, he said. Everything from gestures to facial expressions to sound effects can enhance the performance.

Junior Brandon Sisler qualified for the section meet in the discussion category, and this year’s topic was “movement of people,” which includes everything from immigration, to adolescents migrating from college, to retirees living out golden years in the Sun Belt, Sisler said. Each round, groups are given an issue related to the overarching topic, and they then must complete their task.

“It sounds boring, but it gets pretty intense,” said Sisler, a co-captain. “It can be hard to keep your cool, because sometimes you just want to pound the table when everyone is against your idea.”

Senior Kayla McGivney, who reached sections in discussion last year and is a co-captain, much preferred the 2017 topic of security, which encompassed social media and privacy concerns, to 2018’s, because “I’m not a fan of politics, but it’s hard to not get political in this era” with movement of people as the prompt, she said. The discussion category prizes facts and research, not personal opinion.

McGivney, now in her third year of speech, only joined because the team’s advisor, Kim Goblirsch, “wouldn’t leave me alone,” she said with laughter. It’s proved a felicitous decision, however.

“I’m a new person,” she said. “I’m not as shy as I was before, which is very helpful, because I work in customer service.”

Theisen echoed those sentiments, saying speech has made her “much more outgoing.”

“Before, I was just afraid to have a conversation,” she said. “I would encourage anyone even considering speech to join.”

At meets, competitors from other schools are almost always willing to chat, McGivney said. “It’s such a positive event, and you meet so many new people.”

Even if it’s not speech, it behooves Medford students to get involved with some organization at the school, she added. For example, FFA was her bailiwick, and “I probably wouldn’t have joined speech if not for FFA.”

Since becoming more active at school, she’s comfortable voicing her opinions, she said with a sly laugh and a nod toward Manderfeld, Sisler, and Theisen. “They all know that.”

Goblirsch believes a modification in style of speech practice this season may account for Medford setting a new record for section participants. In addition to the aforementioned Sisler, Manderfeld, and Theisen, Jason Domstrand qualified for Friday’s section competition in creative expression, Kaylin Hanson joined Sisler in the discussion arena, Jackson Hemann made it for dramatic interpretation like Theisen, Rachel Ivance and Billy Chester made it for their duo interpretation, Emma Corbin and Kelsey Warlock got on the dance floor for extemporaneous speaking, Sophie Proehl and Andria Archibald got invited to the party for great speeches, storytelling was Rian Cloutier’s ticket, and Mackenzie Paulson qualified with poetry reading.

While previously the speech team conducted individual practices, “now we do group practices,” Goblirsch said. Consequently, team members can “see and feel the energy in the group,” as well as make alterations to their speeches based on feedback.

Of course, no matter how much success one has enjoyed throughout the season, none of that carries over into sections, so “this is when it really counts,” Manderfeld said. The top three scorers in each category earn invites to state, and Medford has sent three students to the state competition in the past decade.

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.

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