The following article was a guest contribution by Dean Ah Now and Pedro Juan Orduz.
On Saturday, September 28, 36 teams from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut converged upon Princeton University for the 27th Princeton High School Academic Tournament, played on NAQT’s Invitational Set #186. The following is a team-by-team analysis of some of the top teams to attend PHSAT, by Dean Ah Now of Millburn High School and Pedro Juan Orduz of Hunter College High School.
They faced tough competition, but ultimately Hunter College High School’s A team won the tournament, going 10-1. Leading the field with 486 PPG and 25.63 PPB, the team’s balanced attack was lead by Cerulean Ozarow and Pedro Juan Orduz, with 57.27 and 53.18 PPG, respectively. The team had a number of impressive wins, including a 490-245 victory over Millburn A to propel them into finals. Any lingering questions about whether they would recover from the loss of Daniel Ma have been convincingly erased by their stellar performance at this tournament, and they have set themselves up to be a national powerhouse. However, the team’s variability continued, as they also lost to Manheim Township, leaving warnings about the team’s ability to self-destruct. Last year’s Hunter team was widely considered to have underperformed, and if they cannot eliminate their streakiness, they are at risk of crashing and burning at a national tournament.
High Tech A:
Despite graduating the entirety of the A team that finished 5th at NSC last year, High Tech has retooled incredibly well. Junior Deepak Gopalakrishnan has improved by leaps and bounds, leading High Tech to a well-deserved finals appearance with his 74.55 PPG. Additionally, Max Brodsky put up an incredible 24/3/5 statline, picking up in the fine arts where Michael Li left off. Combined with the efforts of Frank Grabowski and Karen Li, this team had excellent wins over teams like Livingston, Penn Manor, and East Brunswick, before ultimately dropping a hard-fought final match against Hunter.
Despite only being a three-person team, Millburn managed to place a strong third, dropping only a fortuitous loss to Hunter. Led by the indomitable Dean Ah Now, Millburn put up the highest power numbers out of any team at PHSAT, with 89 powers over 11 games. Dean himself had 72 powers, the most out of any individual player at the tournament by far, and 123.64 PPG, proving that he is undoubtedly one of the best currently active high school players. Throughout prelims, they hit almost 26 PPB, and dominated the playoffs before an unfortunate loss to Hunter A brought them to the third-place playoff game, where they handily beat East Brunswick A. Ben Hu and Charlie Baker provided capable support; Ben in particular scales very well, and compensates for Dean’s main weakness, science, while Charlie provides critical support in pop culture and geography.
East Brunswick A:
East Brunswick has flown under the radar during the preseason, but that didn’t stop them from going 4-1 in playoffs to finish in fourth place. They were a true four-player team, with lead scorer Jackson Lee scoring under 40 PPG, but fourth scorer Dylan Ye providing a solid 22.27 PPG. After shaking off a loss to Hunter B in prelims, they recovered to beat them in the playoffs, losing only to High Tech A. In the third-place game, they played very well but ultimately lost to Millburn A. This performance has established East Brunswick as a solid second-tier team within New Jersey as well as the New York metro circuit at large.
Manheim Township entered this tournament as somewhat of an unknown quantity, having finished 6-5 at last year’s HSNCT and graduating half of their team, but they emphatically made their mark, finishing 5th and beating eventual winners Hunter. Led by a one-two punch of captain Will Steger, a senior, and sophomore Aizaaz Faiz, they appear to have improved significantly over the summer, especially Aizaaz. They finished with the fifth-highest amount of powers, and proved their ability to turn it on and beat top teams, in the case of Hunter, or run them close, in the case of Millburn (losing one game by a two-tossup swing).
Robert Harp/Livingston A:
Although they graduated top scorer and captain Jonathan Ackerman, and after they finished a disappointing 5-5 at HSNCT last year, Livingston appear to have picked up more or less where they left off, finishing a solid 6th this tournament, and many of his teammates seemed to have picked up the slack (especially Carolyn Meng, finishing with a 53.18 PPG and 18 powers, and Rosa Xia, with 32.37 PPG and 16 powers). However, the loss of Jonathan looks like it has removed some of their ability to upset top teams, while improving their consistency. Although they didn’t neg themselves into losing several winnable games (as they did at Prison Bowl XII last year, for example, losing to a Stuyvesant team that then lost every other game in prelims), they also didn’t pull any upsets (beating Hunter A at Bardbowl last year). Their power numbers were also relatively low, as was their PPB. Overall, expect Livingston to be a solid, but not exceptional, team at this year’s nationals.
Hunter B surprised everyone by going a strong 5-0 in prelims, outpowering the A team in the meantime, and beating such teams as fourth-placed East Brunswick A. The team proved, if anything, even more mercurial than the A team, as they went 2-3 in playoffs yet beat 2nd-placed High Tech A. This is a young Hunter B team (all of their players were sophomores or below, including three freshmen). It included three members of the 2019 MSNCT-winning team, and was led by Andrew Zeng, who put up a phenomenal 31 powers and 60 PPG overall. Joining him were Ian Lu, Jacob Hardin-Bernhardt, and Bianca Dwork, who put up 44.5, 33.5, and 7.00 PPG respectively. They also managed to get an able 23.4 PPB, but as previously stated, questions remain about their consistency.
Connor Mayers remains an excellent player, but the team has little depth outside of him, so their fortunes ebb and flow with the packet. When the packet is favorable and he is favorable, Connor can chew it up, as evidenced by his 9/4/2 statline against Kellenberg A, but the team’s performance dropped off in playoffs, raising questions about their ability to keep up performances against top teams. Connor’s aggressiveness can be both an asset and a weakness, as it can backfire if the packet is unfavorable (for example against High Tech A, where he negged seven times). Overall, Penn Manor will have to prove that they can iron out the kinks and keep up a consistent level of play, especially against top teams; if they can, then expect them to do very well at nationals.
High Tech B:
High Tech B did surprisingly well for a team that had been, on the whole, plying their trade as High Tech D just last year. After almost all of the A team and all of the B team graduated, however, this new High Tech B seems well-placed to fill the void left by Adrian, Cole, Eric, and Ivy. They lost several close games, which otherwise might have gone in their favor, including a narrow 330-355 loss to Henderson A and a 290-375 one to their own A team, proving that they have a higher ceiling than this tournament alone suggests.
Wilton is still led by the two Koutsoukos brothers, and is in the peculiar situation of having two concurrent, but unrelated, quiz bowl programs, with Anjo Therattil striking it out on his own. However, the Koutsoukos brothers are more than capable of putting on a good game by themselves, going 4-1 in prelims with a loss to Hunter A. Alexander Koutsoukos led with a 37/30/5 statline over 10 games and 83 PPG, with Lukas a capable deputy going 14/10/3 and 29.5 PPG. However, their PPB was less than stellar, failing to break 20, and they went 0-5 in playoffs, raising questions about their ability to take the game to top teams.
Aidan York lead a somewhat overlooked Kellenberg team to the playoffs with a solid 47.5 PPG. Other than the somewhat unsurprising losses against Millburn and Hunter, the team did extremely well, winning against Wilton, Manheim Township, and Henderson to ultimately clinch 7th place. While they outperformed their stats to some degree, they demonstrated the often overlooked ability to actually win games when they needed to.
After Henderson’s fairytale run to 12th at last year’s HSNCT, this was more of a return to normalcy, as they went 5-0 in prelims but only 1-4 in playoffs. Half of their team returns from last year, including top scorer and captain Vijay Anne, who made a splash with a 29/24/16 statline over 10 games. As with last year at HSNCT, their main ability lies not in upsetting top teams, but in beating teams around their skill level and keeping up a more or less consistent level of performance.
Dean Ah Now is currently a senior at Millburn High School in Millburn, New Jersey. Pedro Juan Orduz is currently a junior at Hunter College High School in New York City, New York.