Seven MFL MarMac students selected to all-state individual speech

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MFL MarMac high school students Maria Stavroplus (front, left), Mariah Moser, Mackenzie Bachman, Will Koether (back), Codie Luse, Jonah Wille and Amelya Weigand have been nominated for all-state individual speech. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Seven MFL MarMac high school students have been nominated for all-state individual speech. Seniors Jonah Wille, Will Koether and Codie Luse, junior Amelya Weigand, sophomores Mackenzie Bachman and Maria Stavroplus and freshman Mariah Moser all earned straight one scores at the March 11 state competition at Starmont, putting them in the running for the prestigious honor.


The students said the number of qualifiers wasn’t surprising considering, out of 28 individual events that made it to the state competition, four events received an overall one rating and 20 received straight ones from all judges.


“Those numbers are impressive. All of the students delivered impressive performances,” said speech coach Angie Killian. “I always want to emphasize that the nominations are special, but every student who performed made us proud. They entertained their audiences, making them laugh and making them cry. We have built a program where students know they can be successful, and they also see the value of speaking beyond the contest setting. Rehearse for contests, but practice for life.”


Wille is a multiple time nominee in both group and individual speech. He was recognized this time in musical theatre, a category he’d competed in throughout high school but never been selected for all-state.


“I love to sing and I’ve been doing this category since I was a freshman. I thought this might be the year,” he said.


Wille performed “Not Today” from the Addams Family musical, in which he was the lead role of Gomez Addams when MFL MarMac presented it last fall. That familiarity attracted Wille to the piece.


“It wasn’t really about learning the piece, but more about getting to fine tune it,” he shared. “I got a ton of compliments from the judges on bringing the character to life and doing a really good job with the accent and acting too. I feel like that came because I was so comfortable with it.”


After four years in the category, Wille called the nomination rewarding.


“I think that all comes down to picking the right piece, and this was probably the one that fit me the best out of all four years,” he said.


Like Wille, Koether has been nominated in both group and individual speech. This marked his third straight individual nomination in prose.


“I like prose because you have to get comfortable with the piece, and it’s almost so comfortable that you have it memorized. You’re describing a situation to somebody,” Koether explained.


He was nervous about this year’s selection, “The Blundered Bus,” because it was more serious and reflective than the previous two years. The piece describes a guy’s first kiss, telling how he closed his eyes too fast and ended up kissing the girl on the bridge of her nose. 


“We picked this piece because I have really good facial expressions and could embody the character as he tells it. Killian likes to say I get into the text and show the emotions in there, especially with my physical demeanor and vocal variety,” said Koether. 


He felt those facial expressions, as well as his ability to make humorous kissing sounds—described as an old, toothless man slurping up noodles—set him apart.


“The surprise of the kissing noises and the ridiculousness of the situation helped impress the judges,” he added.


Luse was nominated for all-state in group speech earlier this year, but this is her first individual recognition. 


“It is much more rewarding,” she stated. “I did this live and on my own. The only people helping me were coaches.”


She also participated in prose, a category she enjoys because performers can add their own unique flare to a piece.


 “You get this basic story, but you can add funny voices, fun actions. It’s fun to do,” Luse noted.


With help from Killian, Luse selected the piece “I Love Everybody,” a story her coach felt would be perfect for Luse’s sarcasm. Luse agreed.


The performance was relatable because it details events everyone deals with: getting cut off in traffic or people walking slow in front of you at the store. 


“The piece really paid off for me because of how well I felt like I could put on the role. Multiple people thought I’d experienced what was going on,” Luse shared. “The judges liked my facial expressions and my vocal variety.”


Similar to Luse, Weigand earned an all-state nomination in group speech this year, and this was her first individual nod. She too found it fulfilling to do it on her own.


And different from the pre-recorded group speech performance, “I was live speaking this time. That’s a lot more nerve-wracking,” Weigand acknowledged.


She competed in the public address category with a humorous piece that outlined every TED Talk ever given. Weigand admitted she wasn’t sure about the category or the performance at first.


“I’d never heard of public address or watched it,” she said. “Killian just stuck Mackenzie [Bachman] and I in it. We heard memorize and eight-minute speech and we were like, ‘Oh,’ [Coach] Cheri Moser picked out my piece. She said she’d seen the video eight years ago and really fell in love with it. When she originally sent me the script, I was like, ‘What is this?’ But when we started practicing and I started reading it more and more, I was like, ‘OK, this is kind of good.’” 


According to Weigand, the judges felt she had strong comedic timing through delivering the jokes and humorous lines. 


“I also did a good job with gestures, vocal variety and using my voice,” Weigand added.


For Bachman’s public address, the piece was another TED Talk, but this time on the mindset of a female wrestler. As a female wrestler herself, Bachman was excited about the subject.


“I had a huge connection with that, so it made it really easy for me to say it. Even if I’d forget a couple of words, I knew what to say because I’m so passionate about it,” she said.


That passion came through to the judges and helped her stand out, quipped Bachman.


“They could tell I really cared about what I was talking about, and I had good vocals and spoke clearly,” she said.


Bachman feels the all-state nomination will grow her confidence not only in speech, but in day-to-day life.


“If anyone asks me to do a speech or talk, I feel pretty good about that. It’s rewarding,” she shared.


2023 marks the second individual all-state nomination for Stavroplus, a sophomore. Inspired by the success of older brothers Walter and Nicholas, she hopes to achieve it all four years of high school.


According to Stavroplus, this year’s selection was surprising because it was for a performance in what she considered her “back up” event.


“I was set on musical theatre,” she admitted. “This was poetry, a poem called ‘I Want to Be’ by Maia Mayor.”


The poem features a girl talking about everything she saw herself doing in life, all the goals of what she wanted to be. It had some humor, which the judges liked, said Stavroplus. 


“But near the end, it’s a major, sad realization that it’s everything she wished she could have been. It’s almost a reflection,” she explained.


Stavroplus credited coach Cheri Moser for helping her select the piece, which is like slam poetry.


“The only reason I picked it this year was the lyrical feel to it,” she said. “Going into it was kind of scary, but Cheri made it easy and found a piece that fit what I was looking for.”


Moser was excited to be nominated for all-state as a freshman. She said her age helped her compete in the solo musical theatre category because MFL MarMac usually takes a three-person varsity and freshman team in each category, allowing more students to participate. 


Her mom, Cheri, helped her select a song that fit her personality: “What’s Gonna Happen” from the musical Tootsie.


Moser described the piece as funny and very fast. 


“I’m slightly insane,” she joked. “I interact with the judges a lot in this piece, and at one point I stare them down. Without my acting, it wouldn’t have taken me [to all-state].”


Moser looks forward to the prospect of qualifying the next three years, but admitted it’s also intimidating.


“Now, I feel like I have to go the next three years, which I hope happens,” she said.


The students said a large part of their success is owed to one another. They value their teammates and the feedback and support they receive throughout the speech season.


“We help everybody, and that helps boost your talent and confidence in your piece, no matter what your event is,” Luse said.


Success feeds into increased program participation.


“I think students are watching other students experience success in speech and then decide, ‘Hey, maybe I could do this too,’” Killian added.


“It also makes it a lot easier when you have a good connection with all your coaches. I feel like they know all of us really well,” stated Stavroplus.


Weigand said the coaches put a lot of time into every single student and piece.


“They spend so much time working with us, picking out the pieces that are just right for us,” she said.


That pays off, noted Luse: “When you find something that fits your personality, it makes it 1,000 times easier to put on a piece.”


Killian said piece selection is a daunting, yet rewarding, process. It helps that she’s a teacher at school and knows the students’ interests, hobbies and skills. Coaches Cheri Moser and Diane Fisk are familiar with the students outside the school environment, which adds another important layer in selecting successful material, she stated.


“Cheri spent so many hours watching and listening to musical theaters until she found pieces to match the five students in that event. I spent three hours choosing just one prose piece for another student. Diane spent hours reading children’s books and/or scripts for ensemble and acting pieces,” Killian reflected. “We had a total of 45 students participate in group and individual speech contests this season. A good number of these students competed in more than one event, so we were finding (or helping write) materials for approximately 60 events this season.”


Finding materials is phase one in the process, according to Killian, while phase two is cutting the material, if needed, and adding an introduction while making sure each piece fits the time requirements. Phase three is rehearsals with the students. 


When the coaches find materials, they typically give students a few choices. However, some students have found their own materials, in which case the coaches provide guidance on how to best deliver the material.  


“We typically don’t have to ‘sell’ a piece to a student. They trust us,” Killian said. “Once we find the right materials, students take ownership, which helps build their confidence because they can connect to the piece.” 


The students will perform at all-state speech on Monday, March 27, at the University of Northern Iowa.

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