pennsylvania

HSNCT 2017 Wrap Up – Cinderellas and Camaraderie

Last year at HSNCT, Pennsylvania set a lot of records for its performance and the teams generally exceeded expectations. This year, our students raised the bar even higher. Records were shattered, as 18 teams from 16 schools represented Pennsylvania at the event. With seven teams making the playoffs, three making the winner’s bracket, and two making the top-20 in the nation, Pennsylvania’s quantity was matched with some of its highest quality.

Full statistics for the event are here. Hunter College High A (NY) defended their national title, beating Detroit Catholic Central A (MI) in the finals.

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Winchester Thurston, PA’s biggest Cinderella run team in years, poses with their T-9th place trophy. Photo courtesy WT quizbowl’s twitter.

Winchester Thurston made waves across the tournament, becoming the first non-State College team from Pennsylvania to make the national top 10 with a T-9th place finish that almost got them to Sunday afternoon. Fresh from SSNCT’s 4th place, most pegged Thurston to do well, but not go beyond two or three Sunday rounds. WT had other ideas. Their true four-man effort from EJ, Jacob, Nathaniel, and Aiden (all of whom once again worked together and all exceeded 19 points per game) ended up resulting in a fantastic cinderella run, which included a brilliantly fought 390-335 win over Darien A (CT) to make it to T-9th. In the next round, Thurston was one question away from beating James Taylor (Katy, TX) to get into T-5th, but came up just short. To these fine young gentleman as well as (sadly retiring) Coach David Hallas, a hearty well done is in order. Winchester Thurston showed steady improvement across the course of the 2016-2017 season and I know our community will remember their efforts at HSNCT for a long, long time.

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Great Valley and Alagar Homeschool face off in round 10 of the tournament. Photo Courtesy GV Quizbowl’s twitter.

Here are some of the other storylines from PA teams at HSNCT:

  • Lehigh Valley Academy finished at T-15. They had to play Thurston in the first round of the playoffs and were upset by them, but rallied for three more wins while facing elimination each round. Alex Schmidt continues to impress, and his 130 ppg placed him 2nd among all players in America at HSNCT. With one more season left, it will be fascinating to see what he can do next to add to his growing legend. This year is the first year, ever, that PA placed two teams into the top 20 at nats. Will another team join LV up there next year?
  • Manheim Township finished at T-41. Though they lacked a signature win, they proved their continued consistency as a nationally relevant team. This senior class capped off their careers in style, as they can now claim an impressive three top-50 performances at nationals between NSC and HSNCT in separate years. All should be proud with what Manheim Township has built over the years and we hope to see their tradition continue in the future.
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Manheim Township, preparing for a Saturday morning match.

  • Four other Pennsylvania squads made the playoffs: Alagar Homeschool, State College A, Great Valley, and Delaware Valley. Due to the extraordinary number of teams, HSNCT split so that 6-4 teams with better stats got a bye and others did not. All four of these teams unfortunately lost their first playoff game and got knocked out, but Alagar Homeschool and State College did well enough to earn said bye and thus finished T-65 to GV and DV’s T-97. This was a first HSNCT playoff berth for the Alagars and Delaware Valley. Great Valley and the Alagars went head to head in round 10, and the Homeschoolers came out on top, with GV felled by too many negs, an issue that has stuck with them throughout this year and came back to haunt them at the wrong times this year.
  • Pennsylvania also put up a number of near playoff performances in 5-5 teams. Downingtown East was one of the statistically best teams to fall just short, putting up good numbers and a relatively high bonus conversion along the way but succumbing to a badly-timed lapse in the second half of their final round game. Spring Grove finished .500 in their first-ever true pyramidal tournament and hopefully they’ll stick around next year as well. Senior Adam Prusakowski made the most of his brief pyramidal high school career with 68 ppg, good for 20th in the individual standings at HSNCT out of 1472 players. We must continue to reach out to more schools in the future to find players like him at schools across PA. A young Henderson team led by freshman Vijay rolled up with a 5-5 record as well, and this young team could make a lot of noise next year. Friends Select A came up just a hair short due to one of their key players, Jake, missing the event due an emergency, but they acquitted themselves very well. Wallenpaupack, Downingtown STEM, and State College B also finished at this level, each having some solid victories and coming down to the wire in several games which could have swung either way.
  • Lower down, Lancaster Mennonite and Indiana Area finished at 4-6. Brandon Roe from Mennonite finished 27th in the country in scoring, capping off a fine career as the school’s heart and soul player. Indiana also had a nice return to form after a season in which they hadn’t done as well as the past, putting up stats in line with their past performances. Friends Select B finished 3-7, while scrappy Carver, the first public school from either of Pennsylvania’s two big cities to ever attend HSNCT, picked up a couple of wins to finish 2-8.
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PA students play a pick up trash game during a meet-up Saturday night. Great Valley, Henderson, Downingtown East, Downingtown STEM, Lancaster Mennonite, Delaware Valley, Friends Select, and Alagar Homeschool are represented in this photo.

We also continued the tradition inaugurated last year of having a meetup for all PA teams to socialize. Sam Scarfone and Vijay Anne were presented with their GPQB awards, and the students self-organized a spirited game of trash while the coaches discussed organizational plans for next year.

2017 HSNCT will be remembered for its surprises. Having moved up from regional afterthought after last season, Pennsylvania furthered its way along the path to quizbowl-wide prominence and the standard to beat is now set: get a team to Sunday afternoon (top 8). The Commonwealth’s 16 schools represented at nationals was also the 4th-highest in the country, only behind host state Georgia and more populous states California and Texas. As the circuit continues to expand, I expect 16 to look puny in the near future.*

-Ben

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Downingtown STEM, just prior to a round 2 win.

* Including SSNCT, 23 schools from Pennsylvania attended some sort of NAQT national this season.

Great Valley Quiz Bowl Tournament IV Wrap-Up and Comments

40 teams from across Pennsylvania and beyond gathered at Great Valley High School in Malvern, PA for the 4th edition of the always-excellent GVQBT.

Final overall results on Neg5 are available here:
Open
Novice

And final playoff results (which determined placement) are here:
Open 
Novice

Open Division

1. Lehigh Valley Academy A
2. Manheim Township A
3. Camp Hill
4. Downingtown East A
5. Downingtown STEM

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Lehigh Valley Academy A (foreground) collaborates on a bonus question in the final against Manheim Township A (background)

The tournament came down to yet another skirmish between the two teams who have battled back-and-forth throughout the year for supremacy in Pennsylvania: Lehigh Valley Academy A and Manheim Township A. Both teams were at essentially fully strength once the afternoon came around and went undefeated throughout the tournament into what was basically a best-of-3 final. MT A came away with the first match and only needed to grab one of the remaining 2 potential matches to win. But after MT A jumped out to a 120-point lead in Game 2, Alex from LVA simply went off, going on a run of 10 tossups in a row with a series of deep knowledge buzzes, buzzer-race wins, and conversions on negs from MT. This run seemed to break MT A’s confidence going into the final match and, though they kept it close for a bit, Alex put up another 130-point performance to claim the 1st-place trophy. MT A definitely has the firepower to beat LVA, but Alex’s consistency (while most dominant in history, he no major weaknesses and usually buzzes right after the power mark in almost any category) has made LVA A the team to beat now in PA.

Camp Hill finished in 3rd and seems to be on a steady rise through the ranks of the top teams in PA. Colton has always been a solid all-around generalist with deep strengths in history, but what’s triggered the latest rise has been Sydney’s emergence as a bonafide deep literature specialist. If they can find consistent 3rd and 4th chair specialists (although their teammates today definitely contributed some key buzzes), they have a good shot at winning the whole SSNCT. Downingtown East A continued its string of solid performances and got a nice win over local rival Downingtown STEM, though STEM is yet another team on the rise. STEM actually had Manheim Township A on the ropes with a lead going into the final TU in their match, but unfortunately negged to lose by 15 points. STEM has major pockets of deep knowledge, especially in science, and if they continue to develop players around Vishwa (who averaged 100 PPG today) they’re only going to improve.

Lancaster Mennonite continued their aggressive play, racking up 49 (!) negs over the course of the tournament and continuing to demonstrate strong pockets of knowledge in religion and history in the top bracket. Concord (DE) showed up without their best player and rode a favorable schedule into the playoffs while an under-strength Manheim Township B just seemed content to make the playoffs with a narrow 15 points win over Friends Select A. FSS A got a measure of revenge by running through the top consolation bracket and notching wins over Henderson A and an understrength Delaware Valley A. FSS continues to demonstrate outstandingly deep knowledge (4th-most for powers out of all teams at the tournament) but still needs to close up a few gaps and get all of their Big 3 playing at once more consistently. Both Bermudian Springs and Central Bucks East made the most of their appearances as well by finishing in the middle of that same consolation bracket.

Novice Division

1. Manheim Township C
2. Haverford
3. Central Bucks East
4. Great Valley Middle School B
5. Friends Select C

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Tournament Director and Great Valley Coach McCauley makes announcements before the JV/Novice division final of Manheim Township C (left) and Haverford (right).

Manheim Township C won the novice division trophy by defeating Haverford High School in the finals. Interestingly, though Manheim C did not have the most impressive PPB in the novice division, their on-the-buzzer skills were more than enough to make up for that. This will be a group of underclassmen to watch as they move up within the Manheim system. This finish also marked Haverford’s first appearance on the pyramidal quizbowl circuit in five years and they became one of only a small handful for DelCo Hi-Q teams ever to play in a weekend quizbowl tournament n Pennsylvania. They made the most of their time with an exciting up-and-down day that culminated in the runner-up finish to Manheim C. Paced by Jack’s 62 PPG , Haverford would be an excellent addition to the circuit–hopefully they can bring along some other Hi-Q teams too!

Everyone’s favorite CBEAST‘s B team actually finished with the highest points-per-bonus of all the novice schools, but lost to Haverford to finish in 3rd place. CB East has long been one of the most involved Bucks County schools in quizbowl (often called “Scholars Bowl” in Bucks) and it looks like they’re loaded for the next few years. In the rest of the novice division top bracket, Friends Select B (a 3-person team) was solid, but they turned out to have a weakness: middle schoolers. Great Valley’s Middle School sent a team of 7th and another team of 8th graders and both finished in the top 6 in this novice division. Even better, all of them were fairly well-balanced scoring-wise.It looks like GV will have a very solid pipeline of talent for the next few years. Rounding out the top bracket were SLA, who started strong but faded a bit after lunch, and PALCS, which is in the middle of a rebuilding phase this year.

Downingtown East C, who missed the top bracket by the smallest of margins in losing a tiebreak game to GV MS, let loose some frustration in pretty much stomping all the teams who tried to get in their way in the middle bracket. Lehigh Valley Academy B featured some of Alex Schmidt’s loyal teammates who finally got a chance to play outside the considerable “shadow” and acquitted themselves nicely.

Let us extend a big welcome to Franklin Learning Center, who joined the teams on the Cheese Bus of Knowledge from Philadelphia and made their quizbowl debut here. They got ahead of their intra-Philly competition with a win over Bodine in the morning, which boosted them into the middle bracket, where they put up a solid fight but were a bit outmatched by more experienced teams. Bodine themselves had a rough morning, but a great afternoon, winning the lower consolation bracket.

Also a big shout-out to Renaissance Academy for sending 4 teams worth of students in both brackets and all topping 10 PPB. In fact, every team at this tournament finished with at least 10 PPB except for a short-handed DV B. It was a good day of competition all-around and teams definitely got their money’s worth with at least 10 matches for each (a very cool bit of scheduling by Great Valley to avoid byes) and finishing everything but the 2nd game of the finals by 4 PM.

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Renaissance Academy poses for a picture.

A note on the question sets: while the HSAPQ Novice Set used in the novice division was quite solid and reader-friendly (if a bit challenging on the bonuses), the GSAC set used in the varsity division had a number of major issues. While this might have been excusable if this had been the first use of these questions, this was apparently something like the 8th mirror of the set and there were still major factual errors, confusing grammar (esp. a problematic use of too many pronouns in Lit. questions), and a near-complete lack of alternative answer lines, which often made this frustrating to read and led to a number of protests. This is unacceptable. I would not recommend using iterations of GSAC in the future unless the editors make it clear that they will incorporate feedback and improve their product.

-Chris 

GPQB Podcast Episode #17: Pre-Season Rankings and 2016-2017 Season Preview

In the 17th episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben and Chris preview the upcoming season and run through the top 10 teams in the state.

Click here to listen to the whole episode or you can fast-forward below for specific portions.

Western PA Discussion: 0:25
Central PA (broadly defined) Discussion: 4:09
Northeastern PA Discussion: 8:07
Southeastern PA Discussion: 10:39
Top 5 Teams In-Depth Discussion: 14:53

GPQB Podcast Episode #15: Interview with Coach Bern McCauley

In the 15th episode of the GPQB podcast, Chris talks with Great Valley High School’s quizbowl coach and 2015-2016 GPQB Coach of the Year, Bern McCauley. During the interview, coach McCauley provides his views on his vision of building up a top quizbowl program and dealing with the various challenges that quizbowl coaches often encounter.

Click here to listen or download.

2016 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament Preview for Pennsylvania

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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 inital 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)

 

PA State Academic Competition Wrap-Up: Congrats to Lehigh Valley Academy!

The PA State Academic Competition took place yesterday in Harrisburg, PA on an interesting combination of NAQT tossups and CCIU format/rules. Lehigh Valley Academy emerged as the champion, with Henderson as the runner-up and Blue Mountain rounding out the finalists.

We have compiled the scores of the matches on a spreadsheet that you can view here and see a copy of the prelim schedule here. (Again, this is all unofficial–GPQB is not affiliated with any of the organizers of PSAC)

The Good:
The Tossup Questions. The NAQT tossup questions were excellent and of appropriate difficulty for the field, even for the teams that came from non-pyramidal circuits. This was the single biggest improvement from last year and one that went a long way towards increasing the legitimacy of PSAC.

Outstanding Knowledge. Given the opportunity to compete on fair, challenging pyramidal questions, the PA teams were more than up to the task, with some very impressive buzzes across categories, but particularly in History and Literature. While our state isn’t quite to the level of Illinois or even New Jersey yet in terms of nationally competitive teams, we have excellent depth and a lot of strong players (who will hopefully continue on to play in college!). Lehigh Valley Academy is certainly a worthy champion and it was neat to see some schools that we haven’t seen play much like Spring Grove and Blue Mountain show off their considerable knowledge.

Geographic Diversity. PSAC featured a geographically diverse field (although not from all corners) with some schools we haven’t yet seen on the regular quizbowl tournament circuit. We’d love to see schools like Blue Mountain, Allentown Catholic, Spring Grove, Garnet Valley, Souderton, AltoonaHonesdale, and all the others attend quizbowl tournaments throughout the year.

The Readers. Jim Stoddard is quite an enjoyable reader. Apart from a few accidental reveals of the answers to some questions and some interesting pronunciations, he was encouraging, enthusiastic, and often hilarious. Although we only had the audio intermittently from the Senate chamber, the quiz-master in there, Kate Campbell, there was also quite good, especially at pronouncing some tough words.

The Bad:
The Fanfare Rounds. The fanfare rounds were still highly uneven, with a mix of what seemed like NAQT-style lightning round questions and some very obvious CCIU-style holdovers. The current events questions were particularly problematic, managing to be both overly vague and meandering. There were also a large number of specific answers repeated within the fanfare rounds; some answerlines came up 3-4 times.

Repeating the Whole Question on Tossups. There’s no need with pyramidal tossup questions to repeat the entire question over again after a team guesses incorrectly. Since the clues get easier and there’s always a clear pronoun specifying what’s being looked for, in the future PSAC should do away with this rule and would save probably 5+ minutes per match.

The Ugly:
The Unbalanced Scheduling and Seeding. The random scheduling and tiny number of matches once again left several teams unfairly penalized while benefiting others. Given that playoff advancement and seeding came only based on total points scored and that the matches had 3 teams at once, a team’s advancement and seed was highly dependent on who its opponents were. This was particularly obvious in the 3 semifinal matches when the three teams combined for 230 in the first and 235 in the second, but only 175 in the third.

This also affected who made the playoffs. DuBois for instance had to play Lehigh Valley (1st in total points), Spring Grove (3rd), and Allentown Catholic (10th) in its 2 prelim matches while Honesdale didn’t play any team higher than 12th in total points in its 2 matches. Yet Honesdale made the playoffs while DuBois didn’t because of the total points criterion. And although Lehigh Valley triumphed in the final, they never had to play Manheim Township, who lost in a narrow heartbreaker to Henderson in the semifinals. This is why most quizbowl tournaments seed the prelim matches, play full round-robins in the playoffs, and use non-opponent-dependent tiebreakers like points-per-bonus for seeding.

In an even more bizarre instance to fill out the schedule, the final prelim round featured two teams competing for points that counted while a third team whose points would not count was also playing. This creates all kinds of imbalances and unfairness, much of it going back to the issues with the 3-teams-at-a-time schedule.

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Seed the prelim matches. Quizbowl tournament results are readily available from around the state; why not at least consider using them to separate the top teams?
  •  No more 3-team matches. They introduce too many variables that make it harder to distinguish between teams and make one’s opponents more important than one’s own ability. Two-team matches would be much more fair to the teams.
  • Increase the number of prelim matches. You need to give teams the opportunity to compete and see how they stack up against each other before seeding them into the playoffs. Going from the current 2 prelim matches to 4-5 would be much more fair to the teams. Winners and runner-ups from the prelim pools plus wildcards based on points-per-bonus could then make the playoffs.
  • No need to repeat the whole question after an incorrect guess.
  • Be sure to write the current events questions to make them both pithy and specific.
  • Double-check the fanfare rounds for repeats.

We at GPQB are encouraged by the switch to NAQT questions this year and hope to see the trend continue in future years. Congratulations to all the teams who competed this year and we hope to see all of them on the quizbowl circuit around the state next year.

The Staff

Pennsylvania State Academic Competition (PSAC) Preview

This Friday, April 29th, the Pennsylvania State Academic Competition–sponsored by the Chester County Intermediate Unit and supported by the Pennsylvania State Education Association–will be held in the state capital building in Harrisburg. 22 schools representing various intermediate units from around the state will compete for what is essentially the state quizbowl championship.

(Note: GPQB is not affiliated with any of the organizers of PSAC, so please consider this preview fully “unofficial”)

We at GPQB had some issues with last year’s PSAC, but this year some of our major concerns looked to be ameliorated through the use of NAQT’s IS-156 question set for the tossups. This is a major, major improvement that makes the competition more fair and more academically rewarding to all participants, and we salute the CCIU organizers for making the change.

PSAC will still use the CCIU format though for its matches. For those not familiar with this format, each match consists of 3 teams playing at once through 2 rounds total. Each round contains 10 standard quizbowl-style “tossup” questions that all teams can buzz in on and this is followed by “fanfare” questions directed at each team. Fanfare questions are similar to the “60-second rounds” that you might see at History Bowl, basically a series of bonus questions that an individual team has to respond to within a minute. Teams play only 2 prelim matches (since the matches are held in the Senate and House chambers) and then get placed into 3 semifinals of 3 teams each based on their total points, with the winners of those semifinals advancing to a final.

While the tossups will be pyramidal questions, we’re still not sure to what degree the fanfare questions will be effectively balanced in terms of difficulty. As we pointed out in our coverage of last year’s PSAC, imbalances in the fanfare rounds are a problem because getting an unusually hard or easy set of fanfare questions can have a huge influence on the outcome as teams each get a separate fanfare round and each fanfare question counts as much as a tossup.

The 3-way matches, randomized schedule (there’s no seeding), unique scoring system, and relatively few matches all combine to introduce a strong amount of randomness to the results at PSAC, much more so than a standard quizbowl tournament that uses seeded pools and matched round-robins.

Nevertheless, this is the largest all-state field of the year and given that the tossups should be pyramidal, we’re going to be rooting for all the teams to do well and showcase the best of PA’s secondary education.

Last year’s competition streamed live on PCN TV. We’re not sure if it will happen again this year, but you can check this link to see on Friday.

Also follow us on Twitter @phillyquizbowl for updates throughout the day.

Team-by-Team Preview:

We’re primarily basing this preview on the information that we could find on quizbowl tournament attendance and results, since stats like points-per-bonus allow us to compare teams across fields in a way that other types of tournaments like many local IU competitions don’t when they just report points.

Feel free to comment with any info or your own predictions. We’d love to hear more about your teams! Of course, we’d also love to see all of these schools at more quizbowl tournaments next year across the state.

Each of the teams represents a different part of the state defined by Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units. Here’s a map of the state IU system for reference.

IU-1: Canon-McMillan (Canonsburg)
No quizbowl record.

IU-3: Gateway High School (Monroeville)
No quizbowl record.

IU-6: DuBois Area
A rapidly improving team lead by GPQB Second Team All-Stater Eli Kirk from Northwest PA. Though not the strongest team on pyramidal questions, they’re definitely a threat to make the semifinals and could play spoiler on the right questions to any other team in the field.

IU-8: Altoona Area
Back in 2012, Altoona played several quizbowl tournaments at both the high school and middle school levels, but their attendance has dropped off since then, so they’re coming in as a bit of a mystery. Some of their players may still have that experience though.

IU-10: State College Area
Normally, Pennsylvania’s resident quizbowl dynasty would be the favorites to win. But our sources say that this won’t be State College’s A team or even their B, C, or D team–this is basically their E team (which is still quite good) of freshmen.

IU-12: Spring Grove Area
No quizbowl record. 

IU-13: Manheim Township (Lancaster)
When your team has 2 First-Team All-Staters and 1 Second-Team All-Stater, you’re probably the favorite to win the tournament. But with the random scheduling and fanfare rounds, who knows what might happen?

IU-14: Wyomissing Area (Reading)
No recent quizbowl record.

IU-15: Dauphin County Tech (Harrisburg)
No quizbowl record.

IU-16: Berwick
An enthusiastic newcomer to the quizbowl circuit in the past few years, Berwick is a team on the upswing, but could use a bit more seasoning. Probably not a semifinalist, but not a pushover either.

IU-18: Wyoming Area (Exeter)
Plays History Bowl and also competed at Tri-State Tussle and Brainbusters earlier this year, but struggled a bit at both.

IU-19: Honesdale.
Plays WVIA Scholastic Scrimmage, but otherwise not much info.

IU-20: Lehigh Valley Academy (Bethlehem)
Last year’s JV player of the year and this year’s overall player of the year, Alex Schmidt, will make his PSAC debut this year before heading off to Chicago to compete at the Small School National Championships this weekend. LVA may be the only team in the field capable of taking down Manheim under normal quizbowl conditions, but these aren’t normal quizbowl conditions so anything could happen. LVA still has an excellent shot at the final though so long as they can adapt to the CCIU-style.

IU-21: Allentown Central Catholic (Allentown)
No recent quizbowl records.

IU-22: Central Bucks East (Doylestown)
The CB East team is stronger than ever this year, with solid performances on pyramidal questions at QFO in December and Great Valley in February. They’ve got a good shot at a semifinal if they get manageable matches, but probably not into the finals this year.

IU-23: Souderton Area
Last year’s Souderton team had a remarkably strong debut in their first quizbowl tournaments ever. They disappeared from the quizbowl circuit this year though, so we don’t have much info on them other than that they won their local IU competition in MontCo. Likely a strong team though and potentially a semifinalist.

IU-24: Henderson (West Chester)
This veteran team  is perhaps the team most prepared to adjust to the competition’s changes this year thanks to their years of competing on both CCIU in their local league and in quizbowl tournaments. Along with Manheim Township and LVA, they have a good shot at making the finals this year.

IU-24: Downingtown East
A solid team that’s been competing in more quizbowl tournaments throughout the year, but has struggled a bit against the top teams. They made it back to PSAC this year by virtue of being the defending champion. Could make a semifinal run, especially given the rapid improvement of their lead scorer Jackie, but not likely to defend their title.

IU-25: Garnet Valley (Glen Mills)
The champions of DelCo Hi-Q venture out of their county for the first time this year. Although both test academic knowledge, quizbowl is a very different format from Hi-Q, which remains more similar to its roots as a radio quiz show. A bit of a wild card, but good to see them and hope they’ll come to more quizbowl tournaments throughout the year next year.

IU-26: Friends Select (Philadelphia)
New to quizbowl entirely this year, but have improved a good bit over the year and they’ve got the raw firepower to hang with some of the top teams here. The CCIU format will be something new for them and they haven’t played much on IS-level questions, so while they’re a likely semifinalist they’ll need a few breaks for a shot at the final.

IU-28: Indiana Area
Also competed in a number of pyramidal tournaments this year and will be heading to HSNCT in May. Increasingly strong results throughout the year, capped off by a win at UPitt in March. Good bet for a semifinal berth.

IU-29: Blue Mountain (Schuykill Haven)
Took down perennial league champ Schuykill Haven to earn the bid to states. Not much other information about them, but they seem to have competed on pyramidal questions in the past as part of their league.

IU-2, 4, 5, 9, 11,17, and 27 are not listed as sending representatives.

Pennsylvania Quizbowl Tournament Updates

  • QuAC will not be held on February 13th at Penn, due to room reservations issues. Future plans for the tournament will be announced soon.
  • Great Valley High School’s tournament on February 20th is filling up very nicely, with 38 teams registered as of now across the varsity and JV/novice divisions. If anyone is interested in helping to moderate, I’m sure GV would appreciate it since more moderators means more teams get a chance to play.
  • The Tartan Invitational at Carnegie Mellon University, also on Feb. 20th, has a smaller field right now, but still plenty of room for new teams.
  • There may be some local Intermediate Unit (IU) competitions throughout Feb. and March. Check with your local IU to see how those work, but be aware that the quality of questions and format for those vary dramatically across the state.
  • After Great Valley, there’s a bit of a lull until Manheim Township’s tournament on March 19th, which will have both a varsity and a novice/JV division. Then there’s a potential tournament at Penn State on April 16th, but that’s about it for the season other than the state and national championships.
  • Teams are encouraged to look to the NY City area and the Maryland/DC area for other tournaments too. You can find upcoming tournaments from all around the country announced here.
  • There’s also still time if your school is interested in hosting a tournament in April this year or if you’d like to start planning for a fall tournament. Please feel free to let us know and we’d be happy to help.