The Barking Bulldogs became the first Fresno State debate team to qualify for the prestigious National Debate Tournament in Indiana after a historic performance by Candis Tate and Sierra Holley at the District 1 Pacific Championship and NDT Qualifier at Pepperdine University Feb. 21-23.

In advancing to the national tournament March 27-31 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Tate and Holley became the first-ever African-American women from the district to qualify.

Teammates Andrew Botwin and Kodey Henson also captured the novice division district championship.

The Barking Bulldogs fielded four teams at the district competition. The others were Andre Mitchell and Lekan Maraiyesa in the open (or varsity) division and Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed in the national qualifier.

While Lewis and Ahmed did not advance to the national tournament, they qualified (along with Tate and Holley) for the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament March 21-25, also at Indiana University. Lewis earned fifthplace individually in the qualifier.

The history-making accomplishment by Tate and Holley is the second for the Barking Bulldogs this academic year. In October, Lewis and Ahmed became the first two African-American non-traditional speakers to ever win first and second place individual awards at the at the University of Kentucky’s Henry Clay Invitational Debate Tournament, one of the oldest and largest policy varsity debates in America.

The upcoming 68th National Debate Tournament at Indiana is the oldest collegiate debate tournament in the U.S. and is comprised of the top 78 teams nationwide, said Barking Bulldogs coach Deven Cooper, director of debate and a lecturer in Department of Communication.

To get there, Tate and Holley finished the qualifier with a 7-1 record, earning thirdand ninth place respectively as individual speakers. They defeated teams from Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Los Rios Community College, Arizona State University, University of Southern California (two teams) and University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Tate, a senior Communication/Africana Studies major from Inglewood, and Holley, a senior Political Science/Africana Studies major from Fresno, have advanced to the elimination rounds in nine of the 11 tournaments they have competed in this season, Cooper said. He has coached five teams to the National Debate Tournament since he began in 2009. He came to Fresno State in August 2013.

“Holley and Tate have been extremely successful for a duo of students who only started debate in their college years,” Cooper said. “They have fueled the success among the other teams that are on the squad.”

In the novice division, champions Botwin, a Kinesiology major, and Henson, an undecided major, both from Fresno, claimed wins against teams from California State University, Fullerton, Southwestern College and Sacramento State. Botwin also won fourth place speaker overall in the Novice division.

Mitchell, a Criminology major, and Maraiyesa, a Communications major, both from Fresno, advanced as far as the semifinals of the open division with Mitchell finishing fourth for overall speaker.

In January, the Barking Bulldogs scored two first-place finishes at the Cal Berkeley-Chico Invitational to earn a No. 11 national ranking.

(University Communications news assistant Jodi Raley contributed to this report).

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