AAJ Trial Teams stand out amid competition at one of nation’s toughest regionals

Photo of a member of the AAJ Trial Team practicing for the regional competition.

The following post was written by Matt Breeding (JD ’06), adjunct faculty member and coach of the Wake Forest School of Law American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trial Team, following the annual AAJ  Student Trial Advocacy Regional Competition  on March 1-4 in Philadelphia.

“Coaching the Wake Forest AAJ trial team is an incredible honor, as it has been for the past 12 years. But coaching this year’s team has been one of the most profoundly impactful experiences of my professional career.

Guiding young advocates is not unlike helping newborn giraffes learn to walk. This year’s team, however, was different. With battle-tested and veteran 3Ls like Katherine Ririe, Libby Casale, and Stephanie Criscione leading the most talented group of 2Ls in team history, this team demonstrated a unique confidence and poise from the very beginning of the season.

And while they were at all times a single unit, so much of the credit for this group’s unshakable tenacity goes to the team’s unquestionable leader, Captain Anna-Bryce Flowe (JD ’18). She led with courage, character, and (good luck getting her to admit this) genuine love for her teammates. She was the heart and soul of Wake Forest’s 2018 AAJ Trial Team. With her fearless command and steadfast commitment, Anna-Bryce was given the difficult task of making one of the only squads in the nation capable of beating her own as good as possible. With incomparable leadership abilities, she accomplished this Herculean feat effortlessly and with her trademark grace. Working with her and watching her evolve into the powerhouse she is today has been a privilege. Few lawyers have the strength and humility to overcome their own competitive spirit to help an already formidable opponent become even better. But that’s Anna-Bryce. Her selflessness and humility exemplify what Coach Mark Boynton (JD ’97)  (who also teaches as an adjunct) and I have emphasized as coaches of this school’s trial teams. She has earned the respect and admiration of this entire law school community.

Because Raleigh is hosting this year’s national tournament, Wake Forest School of Law was sent to Philadelphia to compete in one of the toughest regions in the country, battling a field of 16 schools that included three of the most recent national champions. However, despite the talent of the other teams in the region, the two AAJ teams from Wake Forest stood out.

With Mark Parent’s effortless eloquence and poise under pressure, coupled with Katherine Ririe’s surgical precision and devastating charm, the two started the weekend with a decisive three-judge sweep of their first opponent.

They also easily won their next two rounds. Captain Libby Casale (JD ’18) was predictably unflappable while simultaneously demonstrating her distinct improvisational brilliance. And her partner Stephanie Criscione (JD ’18) reminded us all that true bravery is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to stare fear in the face without blinking or backing down. Overcoming the disappointment of being forced to watch from the sideline as last year’s team won a national championship, Stephanie proved that she is truly advocate to be reckoned with.

Libby’s squad went undefeated through the first three preliminary rounds, earning the No. 2 seed in the final four. The only team ahead of them in the rankings was the other team from Wake Forest.

Led by Anna-Bryce, this group of four dazzled judges and opponents alike. Caleb Hodge’s easy-going style belying his keen wit and firm grasp of the rules; Anna-Bryce guiding every aspect of the trial with wisdom, nimble acuity, and terrifying charm; and Paige Tucker gliding with grace and elegance through the courtroom and, to quote Darius Lamonte, “filling the room with her Paige-ness”; and the team’s secret weapon and silent assassin, Ashley DiMiuzio, the single-most incisive and intellectually agile advocate I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach. Anna-Bryce’s team decimated every opponent in the preliminary rounds and entered the final four with the No. 1 seed.

Our opponents in the two semifinals were a contrast in styles. Drexel, the 2016 National Champions, was crisp, clean, and meticulously prepared. The host team’s narrow victory notwithstanding, competing against them was an honor. The team from downtown Philadelphia was respectful and honest throughout the trial and humble and honorable in victory. As disappointing as it was to lose the round and narrowly miss the third straight all-Wake Forest final, the quality of our opponent and the teams’ mutual respect mitigated the sting. Slightly.

The other semifinal round pit Wake Forest against an entirely different kind of opponent. Mark Parent and Katherine Ririe were forced to muster every last ounce of character and restraint to maintain the poise necessary to defeat a team that played fast-and-loose with the rules of the competition and the most basic principles of professional ethics. It was another powerful reminder of the kind of lawyers our beloved law school sends out into practice. They were dignified and courteous even when their opponents refused to shake their hands following the round. They carried themselves with honor, honesty, and ethics. I couldn’t have been prouder of them and the members of Wake Forest’s faculty who have worked so hard to instill these values in our students. It was a great moment to be a Demon Deacon, and, in keeping with that same spirit of honesty and candor, it made our victory even sweeter.

In the final round, Casale and Criscione faced Drexel. Both Wake Forest students were magnificent. It’s difficult to put into words the sense of pride I felt as these two blocked out all nerves, all distractions and competed with passion and joy. Watching them harness their natural humility, authenticity, and raw rhetorical talent was a highlight of a tournament full of such moments. While the result did not go in Wake Forest’s favor, Stephanie and Libby ended their trial team careers as champions. Drexel graciously and humbly accepted their trophy with the two teams from Wake Forest clapping for them and congratulating them on a hard-fought victory. The coaches from both teams commented that the tournament’s final two trials felt like national championship rounds.

Special recognition must go to Ben Corcoran, Dallas Pastorik, Mattie Gibbons, and Avery Barber for their unwavering commitment to this team throughout the season. Mattie and Avery are going to be formidable next year.

Experiencing the camaraderie this team developed, feeling the affection, admiration, and support from Coach Boynton’s national team, and watching the leadership skills of Anna-Bryce and Libby evolve…it was a season I’ll never forget.

Please congratulate your classmates on representing our school with class and dignity. And let’s all cheer on Wake Forest’s amazing National Trial Team as they head to Texas to fight for our trophy. Go Deacs!”

Criscione wrote on Facebook, “Yesterday I tried my last case as a Wake Forest Law AAJ trial advocate. On the same day three years ago I hung up what was my greatest passion for the first twenty one years of my life: dance. The great thing about yesterday? It wasn’t an end of a book, it was just the end of a chapter. I found my newest passion when I came to law school: trial advocacy. And I get to make a career out of trial advocacy… and I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to have started my trial advocacy journey with Wake Forest AAJ, past and present trial advocates.”