The following article was a guest contribution by Fred Zhang.
This article provides a summary of Penn Bowl, my analysis of the top six teams in the preseason poll, and some random predictions. I chose to analyze the top six teams because I do not have experience playing LASA or Canyon Crest, the #7 and #8 teams. I compared each team to a past team, but such comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt.
Ten high school teams competed at Penn Bowl. In order of finish, they are: Robert Bork A, Beavercreek, High Tech A, Miami Valley, Ilium, Wilmington Charter, West Egg, Robert Bork B, Penn Manor, and High Tech B. Bork A was the best team in PPB and powers, followed by Beavercreek and High Tech. However, Penn Bowl was an imperfect prediction of NSC due to its increased difficulty, editing issues, and different distribution. Teams also have the rest of the season to improve.
Thomas Jefferson A
A team of TJ players had one of the best all-time showings for a high school team at Penn Bowl: finishing T-5, with a one-tossup loss over the #4 college team, Maryland A. This was even with the absence of Benjamin Xu due to probation. They will have a chance at Sun God Invitational to avenge their loss. Thomas Jefferson A will be favored at PACE NSC. They retain most of their 13th place B-team members as well as the top-scoring member on their championship A-team, Fred Zhang.
James Kuang is the nation’s best literature player, outscoring all college and high school literature players at the Penn Bowl main site. This, combined with his performances at last year’s NSC and NASAT, shows that he has no trouble scaling up to nationals difficulty. The big concern for James is his ability to adjust to NAQT questions and lower-difficulty mACF questions. Despite not studying much since IHO, Fred Zhang is still one of the nation’s best players, especially in the subjects of history and science. He is also underrated in visual arts and thought, where he can take questions off top teams like Illinois A and Ohio A. When Fred returns to studying as much as last season, he will far surpass the marks he set at NSC, NASAT, SMT, and ICT. Jefferson’s third player, Kevin Wang, has deep knowledge of auditory arts and current events and plenty of Nationals experience to boot.
TJ has not decided their fourth scorer at Nationals. The top candidates include Benjamin Xu, William Wang, Julia Zhou, and Prithvi Nathan.
TJ are not the favorites to win HSNCT because of NAQT categories like geography and trash, especially with the loss of Rohan and Alex. Due to VHSL packet restrictions and schedule conflicts, Fred will not be playing any NAQT sets until NAQT States. TJ needs to work on fixing coverage holes, speed issues, and random neg storms.
After being underrated for the entirety of last season, Stevenson A is finally getting the recognition they deserve. Govind may be the best history and geography player in the nation right now, coming off his Triple Crown at NHBB and a strong IHO campaign. Arjun is a strong history player in his own right, defeating Govind in the IHO finals. While there is overlap between Govind and Arjun, the combination of them makes Stevenson the best history team in the nation. Olivia is still one of the nation’s top literature players and editing ACF Fall will only add to her skill. David Lee’s science knowledge along with coverage outside of the big three will make or break Stevenson’s title chances. With their two history specialists and top-tier literature specialist, Stevenson resembles last year’s TJ team. Expect them to place well at both nationals.
Hari led Beavercreek to top 8 finishes at both nationals last season and will only get better with a year of studying. As seen by Hari’s performance on EFT, he has improved on an already amazing knowledge base. Beavercreek will need to replenish Hari’s support and decrease their negging to make a championship run this season. They are an elite NAQT team, finishing 1st in a stacked MVS Fall Kickoff field with a shorthanded roster. Beavercreek can beat any team in the nation, shown by their win against CCA at last year’s NSC. With their NAQT strength, they could fit the mold of 2016 Naperville North
James E. Taylor
William led his team to two top 5 national finishes last year, and is a top specialist in several categories, along with being one of the nation’s two best generalists. William also produces low neg counts, which makes him quite consistent. Like Beavercreek, Taylor needs to reload on support for their superstar player, especially in science. Taylor is stronger than Beavercreek on mACF questions, but a little bit weaker on NAQT questions. If William Golden continues his improvement he could finish better than Adam Silverman’s 2012 Centennial team, who may have won NSC had it not been for all-time great Hunter and Bellarmine teams.
Ladue came into this season with hype and have continued to dominate the Missouri circuit as in previous years. They finished 15th at last year’s NSC and will probably improve on their finish. Raj and Akshay are elite specialists in their subjects of literature and science. Ladue’s chances depend on the ability of Moses to make a large leap in the subject of history to complete their trifecta. Their lack of HSNCT experience, 2nd bracket NSC finish, and reliance on three specialists in each of the big three resembles last year’s Canyon Crest A team, who were a combined 40 points away from the NSC title game. Like CCA, Ladue suffers from a weaker circuit and will need to compete against tougher competition to increase their consistency. If Ladue fixes this issue, they can leapfrog Beavercreek, Taylor, and Stevenson for the #2 spot.
Blair has replaced history player Ben Miller with Matthew Shu this season and should improve on their 10th place NSC finish. Katherine and Anson are science and literature specialists in the vein of Akshay and Raj, though Anson has shown the ability to generalize at lower levels. Katherine is also an underrated literature player. Fine arts player Ian Rackow rounds out their lineup. Blair A has a negging problem, as seen by their losses to Churchill and Blair B. Negging is a easy problem to fix, and I expect Blair to improve, especially with their access to the high level of competition in the DC area. If Anson can make a big leap, he could lead Blair to high finishes like Ali Saeed did with his 2016 Stevenson team.
My picks for underrated teams (based on the Preseason Poll) are, in no particular order: High Tech, IMSA, Ithaca, Montgomery Blair B, and University Lab. I also think the Poll does not reflect the NAQT skill of LASA, Hunter, and Stevenson, who are on the same level as the top six teams.
Top five players, in no particular order: William Golden, James Kuang, Hari Parameswaran, Ethan Strombeck, and Fred Zhang.
Fred Zhang is currently a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.