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WHS speech team to wrap up its season today

Members of the Worthington High School speech team pose for a photo Wednesday.

WORTHINGTON - Although the Worthington High School (WHS) speech team faces some powerhouse schools in Section 2AA forensics competition today at Mankato West High School, head coach Linda Neugebauer knows her team of 30 students will proceed confidently and with positive attitudes.

Why? Because that's how they've approached every challenge throughout the 2013 season.

"We have one of the nicest groups of kids involved with speech this year, and they've worked so hard," Neugebauer said. "They've made my job so much easier, and the season has been really special.

"The team is very cohesive, the kids are smart and supportive across the board. We've had great senior leadership, and it's been an awesome year."

Twenty-six of the 30 WHS speech students will compete today, with participants scattered across the 13 competition categories.

"The interpretive categories -- like Humorous, Storytelling, Prose -- are at their strongest this year, and most of our seniors are in an interpretive event," Neugebauer said. "This season, our team has experienced some successes as well as challenges, but these kids give it their all and are certainly talented, so we're hoping for good things this weekend."

Schools against which the WHS students will test their mettle today include Mankato East, Mankato West, Chanhassen, Chaska, Shakopee and Marshall.

The 2013 WHS speech team captains -- seniors Caleb Dirksen and Jennifer Mayorga -- are fully prepared to lead their cohorts into the fray.

"We have a huge number of sophomores on the team, and it's been fun to see them take in the competition, see how hard-core it can get, and watch them as they've learned about the speech world," Mayorga said. "We told them about how kids talked to walls, which they thought was funny -- and now they talk to walls, too."

Mayorga herself was a 10th-grader when she initially signed up for speech.

"I was curious about it, and when I was a sophomore I decided to get more into things at school," said Mayorga, who first competed in the Great Speeches category but has since moved into Extemporaneous Speaking. "Speech has taught me to get out of my comfort zone, because standing in front of a judge is not always the easiest thing.

"I've learned to speak in a clear, concise way, to research -- that's a big part of my category -- and to answer questions persuasively."

Mayorga, who recruited her freshman brother, Christopher, into speech this year, speculates the skills she's acquired will benefit her as a pre-law or political science major, likely at Northwestern College in St. Paul, next fall.

Dirksen is a speech veteran -- and Humorous category competitor -- of four years who calls speech "a confidence-builder."

"It helps a lot with improving diction and getting your ideas across," Dirksen said. "You get a lot of feedback on that, and I'm not nervous about getting up in front of people or putting myself out there and being a completely different person."

This season, Dirksen selected an excerpt from the musical "The Book of Mormon" to interpret, and he estimates he portrays at least six different characters in his eight-minute presentation.

"That requires versatility, and a lot of body-shifting and different poses and postures to help communicate different characterizations," explained Dirksen, who had a star turn in the WHS musical "Hairspray" in February as Edna Turnblad. "I also enjoy getting to entertain, and being entertained, by the other speakers."

Two first-year speech participants who will proceed to today's competition are junior Ari Lopez and freshman Karina Cuate. Lopez competes in Serious Prose, while Cuate tackles Extemporaneous Reading.

"I like acting things out and talking in front of people, and speech has made me more outgoing," Lopez said. "I started liking public speaking more last year in my sophomore communications class, and now if there's an option of writing an essay or giving a speech for a class, yeah, I totally do the speech.

"The people involved are so much fun, and everyone is so supportive."

Cuate echoes Lopez's sentiments.

"Speech has been awesome," she said, explaining that for her category, she draws three story options and has 30 minutes to prepare before reading her chosen selection before a judge. "You read from the book, but you get to interpret it with your own introduction, and by adding hand gestures and facial expressions.

"I found out my grandma had done the same category when she was in high school," Cuate added. "The speech people are so supportive, and we have a great time at every meet."

Neugebauer and her first-year assistant coach, WHS mathematics teacher Anna Korver, have taken their team to nine Saturday meets at various locations across southern Minnesota since late January.

"Speech is open to any WHS student in grades 9 through 12," said Neugebauer. "Our Worthington students are phenomenally diverse, and I believe that's one of our strengths. They come together and support each other, talk about global issues and really encourage everyone.

"The way they grow from their freshmen to senior years, gaining confidence, is terrific to see, and speech is a fun but academically oriented activity that can open so many doors for them."

Whatever the outcome at today's sectional meet, the enthusiasm among this year's WHS speech participants isn't likely to wane anytime soon.

"I never get bored with it," endorsed Cuate of her WHS speech team involvement. "I will totally do it again -- in a heartbeat."