HS Quiz Bowl team ends season with impressive national finish

The High School Quiz Bowl team, consisting of Ophelia Cherry-Pulay '25, Penelope Graham '25, Daniel Guo '25, Rohan Ramachandran '25, Eva Choe '26, Evan Giles '26, Jackson Green '26, Noah Horwitz '26, Mason Lack '26, and Karsen Puzniak '27,  finished T21 at the High School National Championship in May. 
By Lucia Gellert ‘27 and Wilson Hubbell, HS Quiz Bowl Coach and Science Teacher

For the first time in the history of the USN’s HS Quiz Bowl team, three teams qualified for National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ Small School National Championship Tournament, meaning every member of the 14-person club had the opportunity to fly to Chicago and represent the school. Four experienced juniors, literature expert Ophelia Cherry-Pulay ‘25, music aficionado Daniel Guo ‘25, jack-of-all-trades Rohan Ramachandran ‘25, and intrepid newcomer Penelope Graham ‘25, comprised the A team. Last year, this team made it all the way to fifth place before a difficult loss to The Paideia School from Georgia, hinging on a question regarding the Blizzard Entertainment sexual harassment scandal (coach Dr. Eric Mukherjee had taught the team all of the major Blizzard franchises — Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch — but did not think to include this in the team’s extensive training). The B team comprised Evan Giles 26’, Jackson Green ‘26, Noah Horwitz, ‘26, Mason Lack ‘26, and Lucia Gellert ‘27, and the C team included Cole Patterson ‘24, Eva Choe ‘26, Ismaeel Moskinzada ‘26, Charlie Blau ‘27, and Karsen Puzniak ‘27. 

Fifty-five teams played in USN’s division, which consisted exclusively of small private and magnet schools. The two-day tournament format consisted of ten preliminary games — a team needed to win six or more to make the double-elimination playoffs on Sunday. The A team displayed incredible skill and determination, defeating excellent teams from Utica Academy in Michigan and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. Despite near misses, USN A managed a 10-0 preliminary record for the second year in a row, cementing its place among the best small schools in the nation. The B team lost only two games throughout the day, doing some damage to eventual second-place team Alabama Cyber Tech along the way. Although there were some serious nail-biters, their hard work paid off, and they also qualified for the playoffs with an 8-2 record. The C team had unmatched positivity throughout the day (often motivating each other with triumphant promises to “bring the sausage!”) and earned a well-deserved place in the playoffs. With all three teams qualifying, a feat only reached by one other school in the country, the teammates all came together to celebrate their collective victories over some delicious deep-dish pizza (for some, the highlight of the trip). 

On Sunday, May 26, the day of the playoffs, the three teams would face off against the best teams in the country. B and C teams had two incredibly close losses, tying for 17th place overall. While each team was disappointed they could no longer play due to the double-elimination format, it allowed both teams to see the A team’s considerable skills and knowledge. 

The A team began the playoffs by defeating a distractingly excitable St. Andrew’s School a second time, sealed by Daniel with a brilliant buzz on a college-level science clue (ground floor for nationally competitive teams like USN A). Then, they dispatched an excellent team from Germantown Friends School in Pennsylvania on a nail-biting tiebreaker adeptly answered by Rohan. The next game was a messy affair against an excellent BASIS McLean team from Virginia, featuring timer malfunctions, the lights in the room going dark in the middle of the game, multiple moderator errors, and a near-argument between Dr. Mukherjee and the opposing team’s parents (an area where he thrives). But, like clockwork, USN managed yet another victory, pulling out of a death spiral of three incorrect answers in a row, followed by Daniel’s incredible buzz on the last question of the round to seal the victory.

These excellent victories were unfortunately followed by a loss to eventual winner St. Mark’s School from Texas and a heartbreaking close loss to eventual second-place team Alabama Cyber Tech, landing USN in a game for third place. It was a strangely-assembled round featuring multiple non-standard questions and a contentious protest. Unfortunately, USN’s fate was sealed by one of those odd questions. So, after a final close loss to St. Mark’s B team, USN landed in 4th place. A banner performance for a group of juniors, who return next year determined to improve. 

In addition to the team successes, two students were awarded individual prizes for their achievements in the tournament. Ophelia was among the country's top 10 individual quiz bowlers, while Jackson was named a Rising Star, an award given to the top 9th and 10th graders. Overall, it was an incredible performance for all Quiz Bowl team members, whose hard work certainly paid off. 

After the Small School National Championships, the team participated in the National Championships in Atlanta. 

At the High School Quiz Bowl National Championships in Atlanta, USN’s A-team (Ophelia Cherry-Pulay '25, Penelope Graham '25, Daniel Guo '25, and Rohan Ramachandran '25) finished T21 out of 320 teams who competed.

Our A team exceeded its own expectations. While there were some frustrations in the preliminary rounds, they entered the elimination rounds at 6-4 (meaning they were already in the elimination bracket to start the tournament). But they just kept winning. They took the first game relatively easily, 370-245. But the next game against High Tech from New Jersey was a tough battle. At the end of the game, USN was behind, but was it over? 

No, because there was a pending "protest" when Rohan answered "training" on a computer science question where the answer was supposed to be "optimization." He was told he was wrong, and the other team got the answer right after hearing the whole question. It was determined at the end of the game that he should have been prompted, so we got a second chance--and our team capitalized on it, winning the game 340-330.

In the next round, we showed up and took down an incredibly strong team, East Chapel Hill, with a nail-biting 300-285 win.

At this point, things were going so well that we headed to the main ballroom. The team donned headsets to have their game officially recorded. USN got off to an early huge lead, big enough that the other team's coach called a timeout NBA-style after a double-digit run. Whatever that coach said to them turned things around because it was essentially tied again at the half, 170-165, in USN's favor. 

It was back and forth in the second round. But it felt like they might pull ahead until Ophelia answered a question about "Zion" after less than ten words, knowing that it was the name of Lauryn Hill's son. My heart warmed, knowing that Ophelia and I had sung an acapella "Doo Wop (That Thing)" duet on the streets of Atlanta on the way back from dinner the previous night. 

Sadly, it wasn't enough, and we narrowly lost 330-340 but still finished 21st in the nation.

An extra special thanks is owed to all the supportive parents, our wonderful coaches, Dr. Mukherjee and HS Science Teacher Hubbell, and faculty sponsor and HS English Teacher Katie Greenbaum, for making this experience possible. The team would also like to thank its excellent teachers at USN, whose classes and instruction were incredibly helpful.
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