The new season of quizbowl is upon us! This year is already shaping up to be a landmark campaign, with a pyramidal state title on the line replacing the prior official bad quizbowl and unofficial eastern and western NAQT titles. Who will take home that title? It’s also more up for grabs that ever. Some longtime powerhouse programs look poised to make a run at the trophy. Meanwhile, more teams are going to be playing good questions and learning the hard quizbowl cannon, and there will no doubt be some surprise contenders emerging. Truly, this season is open season, and any club can make their way onto our mid season or postseason lists. That being said, however, it is almost certainly worth discussing some of the best teams going into the season who will no doubt be winning a whole lot of matches and making news. This ranking is exclusively the opinion of the author and in no way is meant to be an absolute judge of skill.
#10: Great Valley
This ranking is based mostly on potential. Great Valley is coming off an up-and-down season with a lot of big wins and good fights, but a lot of really questionable losses. However, in their final event, they used an experimental lineup consisting of very young players or players new to quizbowl. What happened? They stomped a lot of teams that had beaten them earlier in the year, absolutely trucking Henderson and PALCS A. Additionally, they fought close losses against top teams from last year like Souderton and PALCS B. Sam Scarfone came up from the C team for this tournament and emerged as the MVP. This entire late season lineup for Great Valley returns, thus I think with some hard work and building team chemistry, Great Valley can break through and join the state’s upper ranks.
#9: Cedar Crest
Coming off a 4-6 showing at HSNCT nationals, Cedar Crest has long played second fiddle to Manheim Township in the Lancaster Lebanon league. Yet, with each passing season they show improvement and look poised to keep the trend going. They are losing Albert Naziri to graduation, but otherwise keep a solid core of players who were good for two buzzes a game on nationals level questions. They’ve been good in PA for a few years, the storylines for Cedar Crest this season are a) can they challenge Manheim Township for the Lancaster Lebanon title, and b) can they make some noise playing teams from strong out of state circuits?
#8: State College B
State College high school is home to perhaps Pennsylvania’s most storied quizbowl program, holding eight recognized national Pyramidal titles (6 time NSC, 2 Time HSNCT). After peaking as the unquestioned best team in the nation in 2010-2011, they’ve taken a bit of a dip, but are still really strong and showed marked improvement last year. I’m not 100% sure who the B team lineup is, but it looks as if few people from last year have played 4 years, and thus I don’t think they’re getting hit too hard by graduation. The B team will seek to build on a 4-6 finish at HSNCT last season.
#7: Winchester Thurston
This longtime powerhouse program from Pittsburgh has been Western Pennsylvania’s best for some time, and was a borderline top 50 team in America two years ago. They return by far their best player from last season, Jack Challiet, who helped the team win at Allderdice Invitational and SAGACITY last year. However, their next few best players have graduated, so it’s unclear how much help Jack will get. Of the teams in this pre-season countdown, this is the one I could most see exceeding expectations and finishing ranked much higher, or also see not making the postseason top 10, depending on how many secondary players emerge. Don’t count them out of any match.
#6: Lehigh Valley Academy
Will Alex Schmidt find some teammates? Last season the answer was no. Last year’s JV player of the year will certainly win a lot of matches single handedly this season. Alex is dominant on history, geography, and many of the smaller science fields, and certainly can handle questions in any broad area of the distribution at regular-difficulty high school events. However, one-man teams are always susceptible to being out-studied or losing by one tossup on a topic they’ve never heard of. I think Alex will continue to be one of the state’s best players. We’ll see if he can find some friends and take Lehigh Valley Academy to the next level.
A team based on a glut of underclassmen, PALCS’s quizbowl team is ready to mature. All but one of thier players are coming back. They have a lot of good players, none of which was so particularly dominant last season that the team was crippled without them. This is why I think PALCS is a safer bet than some other “high potential” squads- if a few players don’t study as much or develop, they can afford that since someone else will be there to help get points. Last year, they played odd lineups where the young B team always outperformed the A team. Either way, some combo of players PALCS teams is a good bet to win many matches and possibly a few tournaments.
Editors Note: PALCS was originally described as a new Charter School with its first seniors this year. I have been corrected on this, PALCS has existed since 2004-2005, with the quizbowl team being the newer development.
#4: Manheim Township B
The state’s deepest team, this Lancaster area school will be a sure bet to win a ton of games. Last year’s coach of the year, Missy Doll, has instituted a very tight question writing program to ensure kids are working at it. The B team is undetermined right now, some names in contention for slots include Nathan Johnson, Nikko Ong, Michael Buffa, Aleks Crittenden, Garrett Anderson, and Bryce Katch. These are all seasoned players that could hold spots on many A teams.
#3: Delaware Valley
A fairly new program, Delaware Valley flew under the radar in the Northeastern quizbowl circuit last year, but finished a very respectable 5-5 at HSNCT last season, good for fifth among Pennsylvania teams. Their whole team returns, with an A team lineup of Saimun Shahee, Drake Eshelman, Jake Ahlstrand, and Collin Kawan-Hemler. This team is very good at history and science, and also put up some really solid bonus conversion, though they could stand to cut down on negging. Delaware Valley’s challenge is their location in the Delaware Water Gap area, forcing them to travel long distances to play in state or to head into the NYC metro for events. We may not get to see them as much as other teams on the list, but I think that returning four starters that have demonstrated a strong base knowledge already will take these guys far.
#2: State College A
Much like the B team, I’m not 100% certain who the projected A team lineup will be for State College (based on the roster for nationals last season, I think it may be their A team from NSC of Mahima Kumara, Joseph Feffer, Lars De Lorenzi, and Mia Cavener). This is a team that won Mellon Bowl and Harvard University’s Fall Tournament (which generally attracts the cream of the crop from all over the United States), with tons of firepower returning. They came in 55th at NSC with no seniors. I don’t think that State College will be adding a 9th national title to their accolades this season, but may come closer than last year and they have a real chance to win PA states.
#1: Manheim Township A
Unlike the B squad, we can be pretty sure we know the A team lineup for Manheim Township- Jake Deerin, Ahan Patel, Shayar Battacharjee, and Aaron Zuo. All but the later were on last season’s top 35 finisher at NSC and have immense experience under pressure, with several tournament titles to their credit (Western PA states and Great Valley, notably). Dedicated specialism (particularly Jake on literature and Ahan on history) and making few incorrect buzzes are Manheim’s strength. One potential issue is the lack of a science specialist in the wake of Eric Zhuang’s graduation. If they can develop coverage on science, I see a team that will be very tough to beat.