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Campbell defends state title in speech, leads Culver to state championship

Tom Coyne

Campbell is 'the funniest person in Indiana'

March 15, 2023

Ella Campbell ’23 defended her state title in humorous interpretation and Culver Academies placed a school-record 10 entrants in the Indiana Schools Speech tournament finals to win its second state Class A championship in three years.

“It was a great performance,” said coach Mitch Barnes, a senior instructor in humanities. “We had never gotten more than seven in finals before. To go plus-three is really gratifying.”

The state title is Culver’s sixth in 27 years under coach Barnes and Campbell’s title is the 10th individual title. The competition was held at Fishers High School north of Indianapolis on Saturday.

Campbell said she felt more pressure trying to defend her state title.

“I didn't want to peak my junior year,” she said. “That’s what I kept saying the entire season. I have to do it again,” she said.

She did do it again, but she wasn’t sure about it until the judges announced who had finished second, leaving her as the only contestant whose name had not been read.

She said winning the state championship this year was more fun because she got to share the victory with teammates.

“The year was bigger. I think everyone left a lot more satisfied and happier because we had a record 10 people in the finals,” she said. “It was really cool to be part of that team.”

Campbell was a member of the team when Culver won the championship in 2021, but the victory was muted because the competition was remote.

“It was a lot more special actually being there in person and being able to experience seeing the coaches all on stage accepting the trophy,” she said.

The bus ride back from Fishers had music blaring and everyone singing and celebrating.

“It was a lot of fun,” Campbell said.


Ella Campbell '23, the funniest person in Indiana, holds up her two state title trophies for humorous interpretation.


Campbell, who is from Columbus, Indiana, was a four-time state qualifier and is just the eighth Culver student to pass the 1,000-point mark for the National Speech and Debate Association. Campbell did that early in the year and she asked Barnes what the record was. So he looked it up.

“I wanted to have a goal,” Campbell said.

The record was 1,450 points set by Erin Luck ’15. Campbell passed that at sectionals and has amassed more than 1,500 points, making her the all-time points scorer in speech at Culver.

“To break a thousand and to go even further and be the all-time scorer for Culver, that’s one heck of a four-year career,” Barnes said.

A friend persuaded Campbell to join the speech team midway through her freshman year and she excelled from the start. The state tournament was canceled that year because of COVID.

“She just started rocking prose from the time she started showing up, and ‘bam!’,’ she was a state qualifier her freshman year,” Barnes said. “She's very creative. A lot of the blocking and choreography we do in her pieces, a lot of it comes from her own ideas. So we kind of take our ideas and mix it with hers and we come up with some pretty interesting stuff. She's very fun to work with.”

Campbell said she sometimes jokes with friends that after winning back-to-back championships that she’s the funniest person in Indiana.

“Some people find it funny,” she said. “Some find it annoying.”

Campbell also teamed with Abby Krouse ’23 of Valparaiso, Indiana, to finish fifth in duo interpretation. Krouse also passed the 1,000-point mark this season, making her the ninth person to accomplish that feat at Culver.

Two Culver entrants finished in fourth, Emilia Murphy ’23 of Annandale, Virginia, for discussion and Rae Brennan ’26 of Plymouth for poetry interpretation. Barnes said Murphy is a natural for discussion.

“She's perfectly molded for discussion,” Barnes said. “She's very intelligent, a very strong critical thinker.”

He said Brennan did particularly well, considering she is a freshman.

“She placed in the top three in both her events -- poetry and drama -- all season,” Barnes said. “She and Ryane Buschman (’26 of Culver) are probably our two strongest freshmen. They have been leading the charge as far as first-year kids on the team.”

Along with Campbell and Krouse, four other Culver entrants finished fifth: A’Song Holman ’25 of Indianapolis for declamation, Asiana Spaw ’24 of Valparaiso for program oral interpretation, Peter Wang ’23 of Beijing, China, for broadcasting, and Solinna Onwochei ’25 of Kalamazoo, Michigan, for impromptu speaking.

Two Culver entrants finished sixth: Carridee Raymundo ’25 of Salt Lake City, Utah, for discussion and Juan Nobmann ’25 of Cancun, Mexico, for humorous interpretation.

Barnes described Raymundo as a “pleasant surprise because it was her first year on the team and she steadily improved during the second half of the season, peaking at the right time.”

A total of 22 entrants from Culver advanced to the quarterfinals, and 14 made it to the semifinals.


The 10 finalists from Culver Academies in the Indiana Schools Speech tournament. Front row: Abby Krouse '23, Emilia Murphy '23, Ella Campbell '23, Rae Brennan '26, Asiana Spaw '24, Carridee Raymundo '25, and Solinna Onwochei '25. Back row: A'Song Holman '25, Juan Nobmann '25, and Peter Wang '23.


Campbell was named to the All-State First Team and Brennan, Wang, Murphy, Krouse, Holman, Onwochei, Nobman, and Raymundo received All-State Second Team honors.

Campbell, Holman, Murphy and Kevin Zhang for impromptu speaking were sectional champions.

The other state titles under Barnes were in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2021. His teams have been Class A runner-up three times. Culver also was Class AA runner-up once.

“We pride ourselves on being in the mix every year,” Barnes said.

Barnes said one of the most impressive parts of the performance is that half of the 10 finalists from Culver were either freshmen or sophomores.

“That to me says we have a bright future ahead of ourselves if we’re able to keep them together for the next several years," Barnes said.

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