The following article was a guest contribution by Michael Karpov, Jonathan Lau, and Zach Roseman.
The Illinois quizbowl season kicked off a few weeks ago on Saturday, October 3rd, with the 2020 UIUC Earlybird online tournament. Barrington A finished off an undefeated run with a 485-280 point victory over Buffalo Grove, while University Lab A defeated Stevenson A 505-330 to take third. The results of the tournament left some interesting takeaways. Many people in the state and national scene expected Stevenson to dominate the circuit this year, similar to Uni High’s near domination of the 2020 circuit. A podcast and ranking by Quiz Bowl Happy Hour ranked Stevenson 12th in the nation. However, as Buffalo Grove (ranked 24th) and Uni (unranked) pulled off convincing victories over Stevenson, it seems that the circuit may look more like it did in 2019, with four or five strong teams vying for the title at almost every tournament. The tournament featured the breakout performances of many strong freshmen such as Rohan Ganeshan, Charles Young, Rohan Kher, Kaushik Gollamudi, and Shreyas Singh, some of whom ranked in the top 15 middle school players in the nation during the previous season. Arjun Nageswaran and Jonathan Lau also posted impressive statlines playing out of the shadow of Govind and Tim/Dylan/Ethan, respectively, for the first time in three years. It will be interesting to see if the state of the circuit continues to be this way for the rest of the season, or if one or two teams will eventually emerge on top by the state series.
- Barrington A
Barrington asserted their dominance over the Illinois circuit defeating Fremd and Uni on their way to the championship, where they convincingly beat Buffalo Grove 485-280. The team was led by Charles Young, a top-three middle school player in the nation during the 2019-2020 season. Charles impressed with his 49/19/13 statline and a virtual lockdown on literature, sweeping all four tossups from many top lit specialists in the field. He also made deep buzzes in history and fine arts to seal many crucial victories, including a 15 point win over Uni A. Charles was joined by veteran history player Liam Starnes, who split or swept history against other top history specialists, science player Michael Karpov, and myth player Timothy Price. Barrington boasted a 26.77 PPB, the second highest at the tournament.
- Buffalo Grove
Many people in the national quizbowl scene have eagerly anticipated Rohan Ganeshan’s debut with Buffalo Grove (although not his first time playing with Justin, this is their first time playing under the name of their school), and he has failed to disappoint. With a statline of 62/14/17 and 117 points per game, Rohan dominated the tournament due to his extensive generalist ability and impressive depth in most categories, narrowly edging out Jonathan Lau for the title of top individual in the preliminary rounds. He is joined by veteran player Justin Wytmar, who possesses deep coverage in history, literature, and FA to provide a strong support for Rohan. Although their PPB was slightly lower than the other top teams, they can definitely become the top team in the state this season, as they managed to decisively defeat Stevenson A to advance to the finals match against Barrington. If they can receive support from their teammates and scale up to higher difficulties, who knows what they will be able to achieve.
- University Lab A
For the first time in three years, Uni’s A team is without star players Dylan Bowman and Ethan Ashbrook, leading many people on the national scene to assume that the team would fade away. However, Uni proved that they could still remain competitive against teams that did not take such a huge loss to their rosters. First scorer Jonathan Lau was the overall top scorer at the tournament with 99.00 PPG, narrowly edging out Rohan Ganeshan with a statline of 59/12/1. His teammates have improved significantly over the summer, as seen when comparing their performance at Earlybird to their performances last year. Top science specialist Lawrence Zhao had a strong showing in several games and 40 PPG overall, and his deep science buzzes and strong coverage of fine arts sealed several decisive victories. Arjun Kala showed just how much he has improved at literature, scoring 32 points per game, and had many deep buzzes even while playing alongside strong teammates. RMPSS and history player Janaki Kapadia provided solid support in her categories, which are the main holes of her teammates. Although they lost to Barrington A by just 15 points, they defeated Stevenson A 505-330 in the third-place game. Uni’s success during this season will likely depend on their ability to scale up to higher difficulties, as RAFT was on the easier side this year. They will most likely remain the best team in Illinois south of Chicago and will not fade from the upper echelon of teams as many have expected.
- Stevenson A
Arjun Nageswaran had a dominant performance at the tournament due to his ability to make deep buzzes all across the distribution, with a statline of 56/9/7, solidifying his position as one of the best generalists in Illinois. His teammates Aadit Juneja, David Lee, and Anmol Dash put up similar statlines and provided crucial support to Arjun in the big three. Despite being undefeated in the prelims, they took playoff losses to Buffalo Grove and University Lab, eventually finishing fourth. During the preliminary rounds, they defeated Rockford Auburn by just 30 points, showing that Stevenson may not be completely dominant over the circuit as many expected. However, they boasted the highest PPB of any team at the tournament and will likely scale up well at the upcoming LIT mirror due to their deep coverage of history, FA, and science.
- Sandburg A
Sandburg had a quite impressive showing at Earlybird, especially considering their complete lack of mention in the Illinois Preseason Poll. They comfortably beat teams such as Hinsdale Central and Auburn, and played Buffalo Grove to within 90 points with Eric Webb nearly equalling Rohan Ganeshan in scoring. Anthony Malysz looks to have improved considerably over the summer, indeed leading Sandburg in scoring at 73.89 PPG, with an impressive 36 to 7 power to neg ratio. Along with the always strong play of Eric, particularly in history, Sandburg have a real chance of being one of the better teams in Illinois, especially if players like Terence Amador can improve as the season progresses, and if the team can scale up on more difficult question sets.
- Fremd A
Fremd had an impressive showing considering that top scorer Danny Kim was not present at the tournament. Interestingly, Fremd’s top scorers were Akshay Dalvi and Thomas Lu, who were not part of Fremd’s A team last year. They seem to have improved significantly over the summer based on their performance at the tournament compared to previous ones, and one or both of them could be part of the A team for this season. Bryan Wan and Megan Wang displayed solid coverage and support for history and literature/myth, respectively. It will be interesting to see how Akshay and Thomas provide support to Danny, Bryan, and Megan and what Fremd will be able to achieve this year.
- Auburn A
Strong history player Justin Abel has been improving steadily over the past two years and proved that Auburn can fight hard against the teams higher up on this list by nearly defeating Stevenson in round 5 and Buffalo Grove in round 6. His teammates have also improved significantly since last year especially in their humanities coverage. Lit specialist Ashley Thammavong in particular had a solid showing, backed by solid support in Sinecio Morales and Nam Pham. However, their coverage of the big three is not nearly as strong as a team like IMSA, and they have some more work to do before they can pull more consistent upsets against top teams. Auburn had the 5th highest PPB at 24.39.
- IMSA A
IMSA featured an almost entirely new roster made up of history player Saketh Dontaraju, literature player Jared Dong, science player Archan Das, and fourth scorer Rachna Gupta. They achieved high power counts and points throughout the tournament, going neck to neck with Uni and Fremd, losing to the former by just 25 points. They have deep coverage at the HS regs level, so their success this season will probably depend on how well they scale up and cover subjects outside the big three.
- Barrington B
Barrington B played a team of one freshman and three sophomores. History player Rohan Kher made a great debut performance, leading the team with a statline of 24/19/5, averaging 58.33 PPG. He, along with science/mythology based generalist Aarya Singh, who put up a similarly impressive statline of 21/17/5, were supported by geography player Colin Stewart and history player Morgan Rees. Although they had a hole in their humanities coverage, Barrington B were able to beat Fremd A by 5 points in a very close preliminary game, and were able to make the top playoff bracket after a close loss to Stevenson B by winning the tiebreaker. In the top playoff bracket they were then able to beat Naperville North, which secured them 9th place at this tournament. Barrington B will most likely be a formidable opponent this year, and their success depends on how much they will be able to scale at higher difficulties.
- Hinsdale Central A
This year will be a rebuilding year for Hinsdale Central A, as they have lost their top scorer Thomas Mercurio and history player Leon Kamenev. However, they seem to be rebuilding quite well, as seen by Allie Yang’s strong performance at the tournament. Allie’s humanities generalism had a strong showing, resulting in a statline of 27/24/2. Overall, Hinsdale’s playstyle has changed significantly from an aggressive one prone to negstorms to a more consistent and conservative one. How well Hinsdale performs in the coming season depends on how well Allie’s teammates can cover her weak areas, and if the team can scale up to higher difficulties, as a larger proportion of tournaments this year are run on harder questions.
T11. University Lab B
University Lab B played a team of three freshmen and one sophomore. Top scorer Shreyas Singh, voted the 14th best middle school player in the country last year, boasted a 26/9/1 statline over 9 games buzzing almost exclusively in science, providing impressive breadth and deep coverage for a new player who did not play pyramidal in middle school. Of his 26 powers, only one came from a non-science category. Rising FA player Shoorsen Gandhi also had a respectable showing as the team’s second scorer with 12 powers and 33 points per game. Their deep coverage allowed them to pull a decisive upset victory over Chicago Latin (granted, they were missing their top scorer in Tejas Vadali). How well Uni B performs during this coming season will depend on their coverage in history and literature, their two biggest holes at the moment.
T11. Naperville North
First scorer Judson Lam has been a familiar name on All-Tournament teams in the state of Illinois for around two years now, but at Earlybird, Judson and his teammate Geoffrey Wu showed just how much they have improved over the summer. The two of them together possess a virtual lockdown on science (provided that they don’t neg) due to their experience on a top-tier Science Bowl team. They seem to have also expanded into history and fine arts, allowing them to fight hard against Uni A during the playoffs. Their main weakness seems to be literature and RMPSS, which dealt a large blow to their PPB and hindered their chances of beating stronger teams. However, if they can improve in these areas at the same rate as they improved in history and FA, they could definitely become a contender for the NAQT state title by the end of the season, and possibly take Naperville North to IHSA State for the first time ever.
T13. Stevenson B
Stevenson B went 4-1 in their preliminary pool, but unfortunately missed out of the top playoff tier in a tiebreaker with Barrington B and Fremd. The team was fronted by rising star Rishabh Wuppalapati, who boasted a statline of 35/8/16 and 58 PPG with his solid generalism and strong coverage of literature. He receives strong support from players like Arunabh (Dev) Ganguli, Anish Arora, and Dhruv Pendharkar. Stevenson B was ranked fairly high on the state preseason poll due to Rishabh and Anmol’s strong specialism, but their rosters may fluctuate significantly; for example, Anmol might have moved up to the A team. They may have some work to do with scaling up and negging, as seen in their blowout loss to Fremd A, but this young team clearly has potential to become a formidable opponent at tournaments.
T13. St. Joe A
The only team from Indiana at this tournament, St. Joe A was placed in a very difficult preliminary bracket with powerhouses like Sandburg A and Buffalo Grove A, but still managed to come away with a placement in the second playoff bracket due to their wide coverage of the canon and general balance on the team. Leading scorer Sam Thomas had a statline of 18/23/5 and was able to achieve 53 ppg, while receiving support from his teammates Patrick McGreevy, Max Niebur, and Cole Moser, who all had statlines that were similar to each other. St Joe A went 3-2 in the preliminary rounds after a close loss to Sandburg A, and a loss to Buffalo Grove A, but were then able to sweep their top consolation pool, getting wins against Williamsville A and Latin A, and securing 13th place, tied with Stevenson B. St. Joe A has the potential to become a competitive team, provided they are able to scale up to higher difficulties.
Michael Karpov is a sophomore at Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois. Jonathan Lau is a senior at University Lab High School in Urbana, Illinois. Zach Roseman is a freshman at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.