Speech boasts best State showing in two decades, Avani Rai places sixth


Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Eric Lites // Southland College Prep High School

At the 82nd IHSA Speech Individual Events State Finals, Avani Rai earned 6th place.

Six members of the Community speech team competed at the IHSA State Speech Tournament on February 18, the program’s largest number of State Qualifiers in a single season in over two decades.

Senior Avani Rai became the school’s first female competitor in 17 years to place in the State Speech finals, finishing sixth in Extemporaneous Speaking.

Joining Rai on the trip to the Peoria Civic Center for the two-day competition were Riya Prasade, Ciara Wallace, Pranathi Ganti, Anushi Kiribamune and Nikitha Philip after the team’s standout Sectional performance.

Rai’s trip to State, competing in Impromptu Speaking and Extemporaneous Speaking, offered the nationally-recognized speaker a shot at redemption. 

After competing in IHSA’s virtual State tournament in 2021 as a sophomore, Community’s lone State qualifier that season, Rai failed to advance past Sectionals last year.

Despite boasting the most state qualifiers in history, Rai would be Community’s only competitor to advance to the second day of State competition, the only person to medal at State in the last four years.

Prasade and Wallace returned to the State Tournament for the second-straight year, with Wallace competing in Poetry Reading.

“Even though I did not place,” Wallace said, “I was definitely pleased with my performance and seeing all the other amazing people there.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” the senior said, “having to let that go.”

Prasade qualified in Radio Speaking this season. 

While Community’s five graduating seniors were instrumental in this season’s success, the program’s future holds promise: with three State qualifiers returning next season. 

Sophomores Anushi Kiribamune and Nikitha Philip and junior Pranathi Ganti will look to repeat their State appearances next year.

But Speech tournaments are “unpredictable,” head coach Ms. Jacqueline Zeman said. 

“You go into the State series knowing ‘this is how the students have been doing all season long,’” Zeman said, “but it just depends on the judges. Judging for speech is so subjective.”


*Editor’s Note: Avani Rai is a member of the Inkspot staff,
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated Riya Prasade qualified for Informative Speaking. (Updated: 4/3/2023)