In this podcast, Ben is joined by Colton Sanden (formerly of Camp Hill HS, now of Penn State) to discuss the mid-season rankings. Who has impressed? Which teams are a couple improvements away from a major breakthrough? We discuss some of the headlines from the first half and look to the spring.
The first half of an eventful quizbowl season has brought upsets, intense runs, and several surprises. Our panel had as difficult a decision as ever, with more and more good teams every year. Without further ado, here is GPQB’s midseason poll. There were 14 voters for this poll, which is a record. GPQB polls are conducted AP style.
#1) Lehigh Valley Academy, 138 Points (=, 12 first place votes)
#2) Downingtown STEM, 125 Points (+1, 2 first place votes)
#3) Alagar Homeschool, 104 Points (+1)
#4) Friends Select, 93 Points (+1)
#5) Great Valley, 84 Points (-3)
#6) Manheim Township, 69 Points (+3)
#7) Allderdice, 47 Points (+3)
#8) Delaware Valley, 42 Points (-2)
#9) Henderson, 40 Points (-1)
#10) Downingtown East, 13 Points (-3)
Also receiving votes were: State College (6), Winchester Thurston (5), Penn Manor (3), and Hempfield (1)
The poll panelists were: Mitch Alday, Ryan Bilger, Paul Birch, Chris Chiego, Emily Dickson, Alex Dzurick, Ben Herman, Ashish Kumbhardare, Sebastien La Duca, Andrew Nadig, Rebecca Rosenthal, Colton Sanden, Alex Sankaran, Steven Silverman.
The largest pyramidal event in Pennsylvania history occurred last Saturday as 64 teams from all across the state–from Hawley to Philadelphia to Waynesboro to Bethlehem–arrived at Manheim Township High School to test their mettle. 34 teams competed in the Varsity division, while 30 teams contested the novice title. The atmosphere at the event was unlike anything ever seen in Pennsylvania before, with some 250 players on site and a superstar team of dozens of Pennsylvania’s best moderators. Due to its large size, both divisions ran using a card system (wherein teams are power-matched against each other based on similar records) in the preliminary rounds.
Varsity’s top spot went to Lehigh Valley Academy A, where a solo Alex Schmidt fairly smashed most opposition en route to another trophy. It’s hard to say whether the A-set stats mean much for such an accomplished team, but LVA did average 26.35 points per bonus and north of 8 powers per match. Alex was easily the Varsity division’s leading scorer and his personal PPG of 178.9 was good enough for 3rd all-time on NAQT A-sets. There is nothing left at the non-nationals level for Alex to prove at this point. Second place went to Downingtown STEM A. Vishwa and Anish complement one another perfectly, and this broad, deep team got 8 powers a game en route to their runners-up finish. One very significant weakness with STEM that really showed up on A-sets was weak pop culture knowledge, which can be an issue on NAQT packets. Both LVA and STEM, however, took losses to a red-hot Friends Select A, who ended the morning rounds with the #1 Card in Varsity. Though they dropped two afternoon games to finish 5th, FSS proved they are a major threat to beat anyone by defeating the top two teams in close, hard fought matches. Richard’s rise from star (GPQB honorable mention last year) to superstar has been especially thrilling, and his 71 points per game led the way for a short-handed FSS A (missing Rudyard).
The fruitful cross border relationship between Ithaca High in New York and PA teams and events continued, as they drove all the way down and were rewarded for their commitment with a 3rd place finish. Great Valley A, undermanned this time by the absence of their science player Dan, took 4th behind one of incumbent GPQB Player of the Year Sam Scarfone’s best performances. Sam seemed particularly in his element on history and geography at the event. 6th place went to Hempfield A, one of the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s longtime powers who seems to have caught the pyramidal bug. After playing at Henderson last month, they followed up with a workmanlike tournament with some good wins, and received a berth to HSNCT. Downingtown East A finished 7th after another strong performance from Jackie, and Lancaster Mennonite A, perhaps the biggest surprise of the Varsity teams, came out with the last playoff berth, and a breakout performance by Jacob Cairns which included many fiery first line buzzes.
The consolation rounds were headed by two teams from Henderson. Unfortunately, they split their best players to hog HSNCT berths, which is considered against social decorum in Pennsylvania quizbowl and should be discouraged by TDs at future events. Aravind and Vijay continued to have strong seasons for the Henderson Warriors. Unionville finished 11th, and showed they have quite a bit of knowledge to display. Eric and Sophia cleared 40 points per game, and they worked a cool 21 points per bonus, which is very solid for a team still getting familiar with Saturday invitationals. Lakeland finished 13th, and looks to be PA’s best chance for a public school at SSNCT to do deep damage this year. Michael Goerlitz had another excellent run, getting 94 points per game, which was 4th at the event.
Perhaps most notable of all was the plethora of new teams Manheim Township’s coach, Missy Doll, got to the event through outreach. Many Lancaster and Lebanon area teams we don’t see much came out, and did quite well. The Varsity bracket featured three such teams: Red Lion, Lampeter-Strasburg, and Lancaster Catholic. Each came away with some nice wins, and could well turn into contenders soon. A special commendation goes to Red Lion’s Rick Schimek, who notched 68 points per game and was one of its top 10 scorers. I hope we see more from these talented teams very soon.
The field for Varsity also featured A teams from Huntingdon, Penn Manor, Cedar Crest, Moravian Academy, Emmaus, and Wallenpaupack continue their seasons to various levels of success. Bermudian Springs made their season debut as well, finishing near the middle of the pack. B and C teams from Friends Select, Great Valley, Hempfield and Emmaus also competed against this dense, tough field, with Friends Select B taking as high as tied for 11th.
In the Novice/JV division, Lebanon HS captured the championship in the course of gaining revenge on their only loss of the day to Manheim Township Middle B. Lebanon played an extremely clean tournament, with only 5 negs the entire day, and displayed deep knowledge on many bonuses en route to a solid 17+ PPB. Chase (57 PPG) and Courtney (39 PPG) led the way for Lebanon and I hope they’ll continue to play more weekend tournaments after making such a solid debut.
MT Middle B meanwhile played quite impressively to get to the finals in the first place, paced by Aizaaz’s 68 PPG and solid supporting performances from the rest of the team members. When combined with MT Middle A’s best players (particularly Deeya’s 61 PPG), MT Middle looks to be quite a formidable force at the Middle School level this year. The next few slots were taken up by some promising C teams, with both Emmaus C and Downingtown STEM C showcasing some of the future for Emmaus and STEM. Emmaus C finished with the #1 card after the prelims, but lost to MT Middle B in the playoffs to just finish outside the final. This tournament as a whole was a great example of the value of splitting divisions as it allowed newer players on these teams the opportunity to compete against players of similar experience levels and the card system kept the matches close–in the prelims, 3 teams had 1 point average margins of victory, suggesting that the system did a fairly good job matching teams up.
With so many other schools competing, a few scattered thoughts on various teams from the rest of the bracket:
- Eastern Lebanon County and Waynesboro made some rare but welcome appearances on the weekend tournament circuit here. In fact, judging by the high number of players on each school’s team (8 and 7, respectively), it seems as if they have plenty of interest for more teams at future tournaments. I would hope in the future that schools just enter two teams instead of one in these cases since it’s much more fun for players to be continually “in” a match and substitutions often seem to take up a lot of time.
- Lancaster Mennonite’s B team fared well and it’s neat to see a school that has expanded from a single-player powerhouse last year to a more complete program, at least in terms of competing with multiple solid teams at invitationals. Judging by this tournament, it’s pretty clear that most of the teams in PA are taking the program-establishment aspect to heart. This bodes well for creating lasting programs and for the health of the state of quizbowl as a whole.
- The #4 individual performance in this division came from Sebastian on Carver E & S B, who improved by 20 PPG in the prelims from the LVA tournament a month and a half ago. Lest anyone doubt that studying can pay off, it’s pretty cool to see such quick results. I’d be curious to know of other big increases from tournament to tournament for various players around the state in the future or even over the course of a year.
- Nathaniel Schmidt–the brother of Alex–finished with over 50 PPG for the tournament for Lehigh Valley Academy B.
-Ben And Chris
[Note: GPQB is trying something new with this wrap-up by conducting post-tournament interviews with some players and coaches to add to the story. All interviewees were selected by whomever was in the Quizbowl Discord from various teams at the time of writing, with an emphasis on Pennsylvania teams.]
Thirty-six teams from around the region gathered at the University of Pennsylvania for the 3rd Annual Quaker Fall Open. In the end, Downingtown STEM A came out on top over Great Valley A in the nationals division while Lakeland defeated Great Valley C to win the open division.
Full stats for both divisions are available here.
Six of the top teams in the region competed in a double round-robin followed by a thrilling 2-game final series. In an incredibly close final four matches that all came down to the final tossup, Downingtown STEM beat Great Valley A, then lost to district rivals Downingtown East, then won two final games against Great Valley A in a disadvantaged final. STEM was missing their history/geography specialist Anish, but Vishwa’s deep science knowledge (he had some very impressive 30s on college-level topics) and solid all-around knowledge helped keep them competitive in every game. Rohan also helped out on the arts, employing a studying strategy of presenting to younger students on the team on various art topics (as inspired by Lily Zhang’s discussion of State College’s strategy).
Despite a tournament-leading 45 negs, the aggressive buzzing strategy paid off for STEM, who also led the tournament with 27 powers. According to Vishwa, this wasn’t a deliberate buzzing strategy; they just buzzed when they thought they knew it and Vishwa felt liberated to be aggressive on history to make up for Anish’ absence. In the final two matches, Vishwa shifted his strategy to avoid negs: “I was a lot less cavalier on science buzzes…I waited a bit more after I thought I knew it.”
Great Valley A (missing their normal #3 Mark) seemingly had the tournament in hand multiple times, but lost to a firing-on-all-cylinders Friends Select team in the final regular round to finish at 8-2 that forced a final with 7-3 D-STEM. GV A knew they’d had neg problems in the past and worked to correct that this time, particularly on a tough question set. Great Valley Coach McCauley said that his A team, “played much more patient–knowing lead-ins would be tougher–and bought in to cutting negs and not beating ourselves.”
Unfortunately, a few poorly-timed negs did cost them in the final few matches and they weren’t able to make up for that. It does seem like GV is working to improve on every question with a data-driven study strategy; Coach McCauley noted that, “We can take the data from this event and say ‘what caused this neg?’ or ‘we zeroed this bonus’ and then discuss who is going to own this topic for next time.” We’ll see if GV’s moneybuzz strategy can pay off at tournaments next semester.
Friends Select A finished in 3rd with a 6-4 record highlighted by a final-round win over Great Valley A. Like the other teams, FSS had practiced on tougher questions in the weeks leading up to this tournament to account for the tougher questions and different distribution. As Jake from FSS A explained, “the biggest difference for us was having to be a lot more conservative on our buzzes on EFT. We spent all of last week practicing waiting longer before buzzing than we would on [NAQT].” Friends Select rotated a fourth into their lineup, with Saras providing handshakes after good buzzes and some help on the bonuses, though the whole team missed some of the geography and current events questions that would be in a NAQT packet.
Making the drive up from Wilmington, Wilmington Charter A (DE) was competitive in all their matches and notched a win over STEM. The core trio of Waley, Sohum, and Sohan continued their solid performances from previous tournaments, though they were somewhat up-and-down depending on the match throughout the day. They’re certainly capable of knocking off any team in the area, but can play somewhat sloppily as well as brilliantly from match to match.
Downingtown East had a memorable match against STEM, beating their district rivals for the first time this academic year after an impressive 30 on the bonus after TU 19 by Malaika. According to D-East’s Jackie, “we were just more cautious and tried to keep it close the entire time, and we also got lucky that some of the topics that came up were ones that we knew decently well.” The rest of their matches put points on the board, but didn’t quite come as close. Their core trio also seems to be in the market for a solid 4th player and will likely make use of their rising B and C teams to provide one for future tournaments.
Middlesex County Academy (NJ), a very young team this year, ventured into the nationals division and adopted an aggressive strategy of buzzing which earned them the runner-up neg title award but probably made sense against the squads they were facing. We of course welcome NJ schools and would love to have more cross the river into PA.
EFT seemed like a solid set in terms of difficulty for most of these teams, who could consistently get TUs and 10 bonuses but also rewarded deep knowledge. Apart from a few instances of bonus inconsistency (which happen in every set) and a couple questionable answerlines, it was a fun set to see played and multiple players and coaches thought it a good learning experience for all.
Though they lost several of their starters after last year’s top-20 finish at SSNCT, Lakeland appears to have reloaded largely in the form of Michael’s dominant all-around performance, putting up 127 PPG for the day and going undefeated, with their closest match a 55-point win. Lakeland will likely continue to contest for the best in the Northeast this year and could have a nice run at SSNCT if the rest of the team can develop around Michael’s strengths and weaknesses. Great Valley C made a nice run to the finals, grabbing a win over Manheim Township A and only losing to Wissahickon A and Lakeland. Manheim Township, missing much of their regular A and B teams, got some of their younger players more experience and finished just out of the Open championship match. Impressively, Manheim’s middle school team ended up with a higher PPB than Manheim B here and acquitted themselves well on a tough set of questions (more on this below). D-STEM B and Wilmington Charter B teams ended up in the hunt as well, with Noriyuki and Vedant (respectively) leading them. Science Leadership Academy A, after playing the morning as a duo, added Gavin in the afternoon to boost their PPB but had a rougher time on the TUs. Wissahickon A, after a strong morning, had a tougher afternoon with a couple of close losses and FSS B rode Matt and Silas’s scoring into the champ playoffs, but had a harder time once there.
In the consolation matches, Central Bucks East, sporting T-shirts with the image of an actual “SEABEAST,” warmed up nicely after the prelims and won the top consolation bracket. They seemed to get better as the day went on, moderating their negs and boosting their PPB from 9.1 in the morning to 16 in the afternoon. Great Valley D, after ending up in a tough prelim bracket, had a nice run in that bracket as well, followed by D-East B, FSS C, and Charter C. Keep an eye on Prasanna from Charter C and Jeremy from FSS C in the future. Carver A, rebuilding after losing 3/4 of their team last year, did relatively well on the TUs but struggled on the bonuses. Carver’s B team, featuring several new-to-quizbowl players, definitely caught on more in the playoffs and finished just behind D-East C in their consolation bracket. D-East C was cruising until a final round loss to Bodine, while Manheim’s C team, Wissahickon B, and Franklin Towne Charter A rounded out that bracket.
Although QFO has historically attracted a number of new-to-quizbowl schools, this year the only new team was Archbishop Wood, who quickly caught on after the prelims and doubled their PPB in the playoffs, ending with a hard-fought close game against Rush Fine Arts from Philly. Quizbowl in PA is for some reason lacking in diocesan schools, so it was good to see Wood in attendance and improving throughout the day. Wissahickon C emerged atop that final consolation bracket with some good TU prowess. SLA B and Carver C, both loaded with new-to-quizbowl-this-semester players, rounded out the field as all teams finished with a win.
Unfortunately, the Open division was played on the WHAQ II set which, after being easier-than-average last year (it had a negative Morlan stat correction, suggesting it was easier than the regular HS set) ended up being much harder this year, especially for less-experienced schools. Hopefully this and some other issues will be fixed before future mirrors. I commend all the teams for powering through the set and sticking it out.
Up next in two weeks: 64+ teams gather at Manheim Township. We’ll cover all the action from Lancaster then!