Month: May 2016

2016 HSNCT Wrap-Up: Pennsylvania Rising

2016-05-28 11.38.03

DuBois (left) and State College A (Right) faced off in round 6 at the 2016 HSNCT.

This weekend’s HSNCT will go down as one of the most dramatic quizbowl tournaments in history. In an excellent venue (Dallas’ Hilton Anatole), humid Texas weather set the stage for a sweat-inducing final two matches. In the semifinal, Detroit Catholic Central (MI), down 350-70 at halftime, rallied to tie the game going into the final question at 385 apiece, only to lose when a neg by Thomas Jefferson (VA) resulting from the moderator calling time was overturned after the game officials consulted. This was then followed up by a back-and-forth final in which an enthusiastic Hunter College High School (NY) triumphed in overtime to win. Watching these happen live was a roller coaster of emotion. Those of us that were there knew we were in the midst of history.

You can see the full statistics from the tournament here and check out NAQTLive! on Twitter for Periscope recordings of the final matches plus interviews with teams and players.

For the purposes of this PA-centered blog though, HSNCT was an even better experience as the event functioned as something of a coming-out party for Pennsylvania quizbowl on the national scale. Just about every one of our teams met or exceeded expectations. 6 of the 14 squads made the playoffs, and the others all fought hard and won at least three games apiece. Rather than going through team-by-team, we’ll do this by headline:

Manheim Township finishes their dominant season near the top: The boys from Lancaster put together quite the run, going 7-3 in the prelims, and following that through to finish tied for 13th place. In the 4th round of the playoffs, they had their crowning achievement match in a 340-225 victory over La Jolla, one of California’s best teams, securing their place in the top 20. This is the best Pennsylvania team has done at the HSNCT in five years and helped cement Manheim Township’s place as not only a local but a national power.

Henderson shocks the world with two playoff wins: In our preview, we didn’t think Henderson would quite make the playoffs. Not only did they do so, they came 10 points from beating Bergen Academies (NJ) to go 7-3, and then made the best of the loser’s bracket with two wins and a fairly close loss to Hickman (MO) to finish tied 34th. Clutch game-play, especially from Ashish Kumbhardare, let Henderson wow everyone. This senior heavy squad thrived under stress en route to a statement performance.

DuBois upsets State College: In a match read by Penn State’s own Victor Prieto, DuBois had the biggest win in program history by taking out their Central PA rival, State College A. Eli Kirk turned in a herculean round with 10 correct answers, upsetting a team that had had their number in the past. State College rallied to make the playoffs while DuBois came up just short at 5-5, but this had to have been a proud moment in a great tournament for them.

Cedar Crest, Winchester Thurston, and Great Valley get past the post: These three squads all made the playoffs with 6-4 records. Though they were all knocked out right away, this is still a major accomplishment worth applauding. Cedar Crest‘s conservative style didn’t hurt them as much as we thought, and their steady work netted them the program’s first HSNCT playoff bid. Winchester Thurston, at full strength for the first time just about all season, showed what they could do and firmed up their claim as the pride of Pittsburgh this year. This was Great Valley‘s first national, and they did quite well but had a tough first-round match with defending champions Arcadia A in the playoffs.

New Teams do PA proud: Friends Select had never played a tournament before December. Their A team went 5-5 (and along with Great Valley had the most powers in the prelims of all PA teams at 31), and their B team, the two-man core of next year’s squad, ended up 4-6. Huntingdon had only played one regular difficulty event before last weekend, and they went 3-7. Though these squads had a little trouble on bonuses as is expected for groups without the years of experience seeing what comes up repeatedly, this is phenomenal for relative newbies. I hope that the seniors on these teams go on to quizbowl glory in college, and the underclassmen keep building up two of Pennsylvania’s newest lights.

Indiana is rejuvenated– Indiana failed to qualify for HSNCT until late. You’d never know based on their 5-5 performance. Despite loosing three of their best players from last year, this actually is a one game improvement over the 2015 HSNCT. They are senior heavy again, but if they can keep up the studying, Indiana will continue to thrive.

Rajan Alagar is Tournament’s top sophomore: Rajan, on a steady 5-5 Alagar Homeschool team, finished with 53.24 points per 20 tossups heard. This was tops for players in 10th grade or their equivalent at HSNCT. Rock on Rajan!

We also inaugurated what I hope will be a new tradition at HSNCT, which was the Pennsylvania meet-up in Cortez Ballroom A Saturday night. It was quite well attended, with a number of teams stopping by for an informal hangout for Pennsylvania players and moderators. Great Valley’s Sam Scarfone was presented with his JV player of the year plaque at the event (unfortunately the other winners were not at HSNCT but will receive the plaques elsewhere). I had a lot of fun chatting with the players, and hope they all enjoyed mingling too.

2016-05-28 21.59.11

GPQB’s Ben Herman presents Sam Scarfone with his plaque for winning JV player of the Year this season.

To have so many of our teams do well on a national stage was a treat. HSNCT is the largest quizbowl tournament in the world, filled with many side events, cool exhibitions, and great conversations. It was amazing to work with such a diverse group of students and moderators to make something really special!

Next stop: PACE NSC, where three PA teams will do battle in an elite field.

— Ben Herman


Here are the final records and place of the Pennsylvania teams:

Manheim Township A: 10-5, T13

Henderson: 8-5, T34

State College A: 7-5, T53

Cedar Crest A, Great Valley, and Winchester Thurston: 6-5, T77

Alagar Homeschool, DuBois, Friends Select A, Indiana, and State College B: 5-5

Cedar Crest B, Friends Select B, and Manheim Township B: 4-6

Huntingdon: 3-7


Here is a summary of the Pennsylvania-on-Pennsylvania action this weekend:

Round 6: Henderson 285, Friends Select A 165

Round 6: DuBois 310, State College A 250

Round 8: Alagar Homeschool 425, Indiana 20

Round 8: Great Valley 340, Manheim Township B 110

Round 12: State College A 350, Cedar Crest A 160

Round 14: Friends Select A 240, DuBois 235

2016-05-28 14.07.24-2

Manheim Township B. From L to R: Jake, Nikko, Aleks, Bryce, and Michael.

2016 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament Preview for Pennsylvania


The 2016 HSNCT will take place at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, TX. Image from the Hilton Anatole website.

14 quizbowl teams from Pennsylvania will be making the Great Trek out to Dallas, TX for NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament. As we explained in our guide to the quizbowl national championships, HSNCT is the largest national championship at 272 teams and has the distinction of being the only one using timed rounds.

These teams have qualified by finishing in the top 15% at various quizbowl tournaments around the state and it’s quite impressive just how many teams from PA are attending. A solid majority of those PA teams who qualified have elected to make the trip and see how they stack up against the best teams from around the country. Perhaps the main initial goal for all of these teams is simply to make the playoffs and survive into the second day of competition. To do that, they need to win a majority of their 10 prelim matches on Saturday to got at least 6-4 (and ideally 7-3 or better, since that gives teams double-elimination on Sunday). Check on Twitter and NAQT’s website for results throughout the day on Saturday. 

In reverse alphabetical order, here are brief capsule summaries, completely-for-fun predictions, and a motivational musical track for each team, courtesy of Chris and Ben. Remember, the questions at HSNCT are considerably more difficult than at regular season tournaments and the unique timed matches format rewards some familiarity and experience with the rules, so that will be informing our analysis here. 

Winchester Thurston (Pittsburgh)

B: Winchester Thurston is a very balanced squad that has played under-strength at many of this season’s events. Jack Chaillet is their star, and was the most consistently strong player in Western PA this season. They lack depth, but make up for it in breadth with few weak subjects. I don’t foresee a playoff run at this level, but Winchester Thurston will be consistent and is likely to be competitive in almost every game.

C: A perennial HSNCT attendee, WT this year lacks the deep history knowledge that led to their top-25 run a few years ago, but they continue their trend of having a strong generalist player who might be in contention for a tournament all-star spot. They should still have a respectable outing, likely finishing in the middle of the pack.

Motivational Track: Jimmy Eat World, The Middle

State College B

B: A sleeper pick. While they’re not as consistent as their A team, when they get rolling, State College B has shown the ability to curb-stomp strong opponents and pull an upset. It will take a couple such upsets to make it to Sunday, but unlikely runs have happened in the past.

C: The next batch of State Collegers is always one to watch, but it’s tough to get a read on just how good they’ll be based on a limited track record.

Motivational Track: Cannonball Aderly and Milt Jackson, Things Are Getting Better

State College A

B: There are few safer bets in American Quizbowl than State College being strong. This is the team most likely to see critical contributions from every player at HSNCT, and they have no weaknesses to speak of. Though the schedule of out of state teams is strong and this isn’t a top-20 team in the country as it has been in years past, this is a team that will have some playoff wins.

C: Pennsylvania’s only previous national championship winners, SC A looks to be rounding into solid form by the time of HSNCT with a balanced lineup and the trademark State College depth. A playoff run seems likely, though it’s tough to tell how deep; we haven’t seen SC travel much this year so it’s hard to get a read for how they’ll compare to the championship teams of yore.

 Motivational Track: Queen, We Are the Champions

Manheim Township B (Lancaster)

B: Last year, Manheim Township B had two teams in the playoffs. Can they repeat? Aaron Zuo is a great player who would be on the A squad of any other team, and the rest of these players have put up nice performances this season. This B team is probably about the same strength as last year’s, and will probably fall right about on the “in-or-out of the playoffs” line.

C: Don’t underestimate a competent, balanced, experienced team. The hard-working MT B team is just as experienced as their A team and should be one of the best B teams in the country outside of schools not from Detroit or Austin.

Motivational Track: Daft Punk, Harder Better Faster Stronger

Manheim Township A

B: Manheim Township picked up serious pyramidal quizbowl about 4 seasons ago and have rolled with it ever since. This year features their best lineup yet. Jake, Ahan, Shayar, and Garett have traveled the megalopolis, tried college events, decimated most local competition, and are poised to make a run. They have made the playoffs several times, but this time I foresee a deep run with multiple playoff victories possible. This is a sure top 50 and fringe top 20 team.

C: This Manheim Township A team is loaded for bear. They’ve got a home-run literature threat in Jake who can get powers against any team in the country. They’ve got solid specialists in all areas and are very fast on the buzzers. Do they have the overall depth needed to get the powers against the top teams that they’ll need to make a playoff run?  They’re well-traveled, they’ve played harder questions at tournaments like Penn Bowl, and they’re very experienced in pyramidal QB now. This is their best shot that they’ve yet had at a deep playoff run. 

Motivational Track: Hamilton Cast, My Shot

Indiana Area

B: Indiana lost most of their big guns from a 4-6 go at HSNCT last year. They took some time to adjust to this loss, but they do seem to have consistently improved throughout the season, qualifying for HSNCT by the end. This won’t be an especially threatening team, but they should win a few games and continue bulking up for next year.

C: It’s always good to see teams coming back to the national championships! You can make these trips into a great learning experience, especially since they tend to rotate between some major cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas from year to year (next year’s HSNCT is in Atlanta, FYI). Indiana Area was a solid competitor on the Western PA circuit this year, but they’ll likely be looking to use this experience to salute their seniors and prep for next year. 

Motivational Track: Stronger, Kelly Clarkson

Huntingdon Area

B: This will be the second regular difficulty and up event for a program that just started this year. Considering this, HSNCT might be a bit rough for these relatively inexperienced players. Huntington should enjoy the Dallas weather and enjoy the fruits of a very impressive first season in the circuit, with the chance to build a strong program.

C: Good to see them making the trek out to HSNCT and for garnering some local media coverage. The step-up in question difficulty might be really jarring though considering their limited experience; this will be a bit of trial-by-fire. One of the nice things about HSNCT though is how much practice you can get–scrimmages on Friday night, prelim games on Saturday, and consolation games on Sunday–so hopefully this will be both a fun trip for them and a learning experience for the future. 

Motivational Track: Guns N’ Roses, Welcome to the Jungle

Henderson (West Chester)

B: Henderson, after an overdue delay of seven seasons qualified, will be debuting at HSNCT this year. Henderson is a fiery team, prone to negging too much but capable of powering lots of questions. The late career emergence of David Smoczynski into a power player on several categories has been fun, and he will do well. To me, Henderson’s performance will be determined by how well Alex, Ashish, and Nick scale up. If they are able to perform in their areas, Henderson will do very well, if not, they will struggle. I see a 5-5 record, but they may have an upset up their sleeves.

Disclaimer: Ben is a Henderson alum

C: The state runners-up . How will the difficulty jump from the regular season to nationals affect them? Each team member has good pockets of knowledge, but will it be enough to vault them into the playoffs? One interesting thing about the HSNCT schedule is that you get a huge number of teams at 5-5 since you’re usually playing a team with the same record as you every round, so there’s often a large clump of teams. I fear this might be Henderson’s fate, though they’ll be fighting for that playoff spot to the very end.

Motivational Track: Queen, Under Pressure

Great Valley (Malvern)

B: Great Valley should do well. This is another Chester County team that negs too much, but they have shown better skills at regular difficulty and up than Henderson. Lead by GPQB honorable mention players Sam and Deakon, GV performs well in most areas, with history a particular strength. GV is sturdy enough to stomach the difficulty jump, though not as smoothly as State College or Manheim Township. The knowledge is there; if they can avoid bad negs, this is a team that should make the playoffs.

C: Will they share the same fate as their Chester County neighbors or will they get into the finals? I’d label this team as having a higher ceiling, but a lower floor compared to Henderson and they could neg themselves out of the playoffs or upset a higher-ranked team any given match. The good news for this team is that a lot of their firepower returns next year.

Motivational Track: Scarface, Push It To The Limit 

Friends Select B (Philadelphia)

B: I don’t know much about this team, but they did very well at the Philadelphia City Championship. Coming off the waitlist late, they are something of a wildcard. It’s great to see so many Pennsylvania students interested in stepping up to nationals!

C: The future of FSS (since their A team is all seniors) just got off the standby list and into the field–though they qualified on their own at the Philly City Champs earlier in the year, falling only to their own A team. They bring surprising breadth even though they’ll likely play as a two-man team, but they’ve been a bit overmatched when playing against elite teams this year. Richard notably brings solid music knowledge to the table.

Motivational Track: Fleetwood Mac, Don’t Stop

Friends Select A (Philadelphia) 

B: Every year, Pennsylvania seems to have a brand new program that discovers pyramidal quizbowl, hits the ground running, and performs extremely well at nationals (2014 Downingtown East, 2015 Emmaus). This year, I believe Friends Select will inherit that tradition. They’ve been a solid team all season since starting in December, and I think they’ll make it all the way to the middle of this nationals pack. Great coverage for such a new team, especially in RMP.

C: At most tournaments this year, FSS A has been in the championship brackets yet finished a step behind the top teams in the region, but have shown consistent improvement throughout the year. They did play MUT (an undergraduate college tournament), so they definitely should have an idea of what they’re up against difficulty-wise. They have solid depth on several subject areas, so expect a decent number of powers, but the extent of their studying to fill in their gap areas will be the key determinant of whether or not they make the playoffs.

Motivational Track: The Beatles, With a Little Help from my Friends

DuBois Area

B: DuBois has been under the radar a bit in Pennsylvania this year, which is unfair. GPQB all-star Eli Kirk can uncork many powers a game, and does especially well at the NAQT categories. His teammates help out on bonuses, get good buzzes in many areas, and compete as a strong product. This isn’t a playoff contender in my mind, but DuBois will do Central Pennsylvania proud and win 4 or 5 games.

C: Eli Kirk and friends will make a welcome HSNCT return for the venerable DuBois program, but with their last HSNCT coming in 2012 this should be an all-new experience for the players. While they’ve feasted on easier questions and relatively weak fields at Western PA tournaments, HSNCT will considerably up the ante. 5-5 would be a solid goal. They’ll need some heroics from Eli if they want to get beyond that. 

Motivational Track: Bonnie Tyler, I Need a Hero

Cedar Crest B (Lebanon Co.)

B: Unusually for B teams, this one is heavy on the seniors. They had a solid year finishing in the upper half at most Eastern events this season. I can’t remember any especially noteworthy single match performances from this team, despite reading for them a good bit. HSNCT will be a nice reward for years of hard work, and they’ll get some good games in the books.

C: Cedar Crest has established a very deep program that’s ended up senior-heavy this year, but seems to have a solid foundation for the future. They’re also no strangers to the difficulty of HSNCT and seem to be up for the grueling competition. Like their A team, this is a solid across-the-board team that’s better at bonuses than TUs. 

Motivational Track: Michael Bolton, Go The Distance 

Cedar Crest A (Lebanon Co.):

B: Pennsylvania has a lot of power-strong, neg-happy teams near the top this year. Cedar Crest has been the opposite- solid on bonuses, beat out too often on the buzzer. This will hurt in the fast paced, quick buzzing nationals style unless they leave their comfort zone. That being said, this is a team with four real contributors and good coaching. They will not be the victims of any upsets since they will not create windows with mistakes. Cedar Crest went 3-7 two years ago, and 4-6 last year. I think bettering that is a good possibility.

C: A veteran team that’s rolled with the punches all year. They are balanced, good on bonuses, but surprisingly conservative on tossups–and that might come back to haunt them at HSNCT where getting questions at the giveaway is somewhat more common due to the difficulty of the questions. Perhaps they might as well take a guess on a few more TUs earlier. 

Motivational Track: Van Halen, Jump 

Alagar Homeschool (Pittsburgh)

B: The Alagar family has been a welcome addition to the larger Pennsylvania quizbowl family. Despite being mostly the age of underclassmen at other high schools, the Alagars pull off some really impressive buzzes, in lit and history especially. Though I don’t see a playoff berth yet, these guys are very dangerous and will scale up to nationals difficulty really well. As they get older and study more things, this will be one of Pennsylvania’s top teams next year.

C: Clearly an enthusiastic bunch that’s only going to get better in future years, it’s good to see a homeschooled team getting so involved in quizbowl and making the trip out to nationals. Hopefully other homeschool groups might follow in the Alagars’ path in the future.  

Motivational Track: Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)


GPQB Podcast Episode #13: Interview with Eric Mukherjee

In the 13th episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben interviews Eric Mukherjee, the consensus best-ever science player in quizbowl history, and a member of last year’s ACF Nationals-winning University of Pennsylvania team. Eric discusses his early years playing the non-pyramidal Kansas Scholars Bowl as well as the adjustment to the difficulty level of college quizbowl. Along the way, Eric offers advice for aspiring quizbowl players of all levels from brand-new players to teams studying for nationals.

Click here to listen.

2016 SSNCT Wrap-Up

Seven schools out of the Keystone State traveled to Chicago this past weekend to play in NAQT’s Small School National Championship. This tournament restricts eligibility to non-selective schools with an enrollment of 500 or less in grades 10-12, and is designed to service teams with less players and resources at a high level. The tournament sounds like it was well run, and had excellent social media presence for those of us following along at home.

The big story for Pennsylvania was the continuation of Lehigh Valley Academy‘s amazing weekend, as Alex Schmidt, playing solo, managed to go all the way to the second to last round and finished in 3rd place. This is the highest finish by any non-State College HS team at a pyramidal national for a PA squad.  Alex absolutely dominated, being the tournament’s highest scoring all star by 40 points a game. This is a true testament to how well he has studied and his ability to just go on blitz-like tears. His best match was probably his second to last one, where he vanquished 4th place finisher Piasa Southwestern (IL) with a 10/8/0 individual stat line. Unfortunately he unraveled with 6 negs in semifinal, but this performance is one for the ages. Well done.

Camp Hill out of the Harrisburg area and Lakeland out of the Scranton area also made it to the playoffs, finishing tied for 11th and tied for 25th respectivly. Camp Hill capped off a solid season which saw them fly under the radar a bit due to some bad breaks at tournaments, but they put up great statistics and really showed their mettle at SSNCT. Their junior Colton Sanden finished #5 in scoring for the tournament (I originally reported Colton was a senior due to confusion over the NAQT stat report- mea culpa!). Lakeland is a fairly new program up and coming, but has quickly become a threat. With Delaware Valley poised to lose many big guns next year, Lakeland’s strong SSNCT performance suggests it could be a strong competitor for the best team in Northeast PA next season.

South Side, led by #8 overall scorer Senia Walton, finished 4-5, while Mountain View, Renaissance Academy, and Westmont Hilltop all finished 3-6. The former two are newer teams at their first national, and it was good to see them win some nice games. Westmont Hilltop made the playoffs last year, but missing key players for the day, could not repeat. They are in good shape to keep improving and make it back next time.

Overall, Pennsylvanian teams acquitted themselves beautifully at the first of the three major nationals. No team was completely overwhelmed and our national prestige increased. We congratulate all these teams on a fine finish and hope all they keep up the good work next year.

Ben Herman