Saturday, April 29, 2006

2006 Wisconsin NAQT State Championship

Last year saw new faces rise to the top of Wisconsin's high school quiz bowl circuit, with Wausau West defeating Wayland Academy while dressed for their senior prom. They may have graduated, but last December, when I last looked in on the high school circuit, LaCrosse Logan looked good to claim the torch as yet another new school. Certainly their performance all last semester was convincing, but even though they had gained elite status and secured a berth at nationals, they entered the day with a key bit of unfinished business: a state championship.

However, Conserve School and Rufus King, two powers which already have a rich heritage on Wisconsin's young circuit, taking between them five of the six gold and silver slots in the first three years of the five since we started in 2001-02, had something to say about that: Not so fast!

The day began with three round robins of six, and each of those three teams won their bracket by going undefeated. While it seemed clear from all available stats that they were the top three, none of them really stood out, as even their points per game, a fairly reliable measurement, was spread within 25 points of each other. After lunch, we proceeded to the afternoon rounds, in which the top two teams from each of the morning brackets played as a new round robin for the top six places in the tournament. LaCrosse Logan, Conserve, and Rufus King each beat the three erstwhile second seeds, but wound up forming a "circle of death," tied in record while going 1-1 amongst themselves, and while NAQT forbids using stats-based tie-breakers, even if we had wanted to ignore that the spread among them was insignificant.

The normal way of picking a champion is that if two teams are tied, they play a best-of-three series, and if three are tied, you try to do a single- or double-elimination format among the top four. This, however, proved logistically impossible, as the fourth place team, Oshkosh West, finished a full four games behind the front-runners, so that in order to advance, they would have had to beat one of them five times. (Quiz bowl tournaments aren't friendly to would-be cinderellas.) We didn't have enough questions to allow for that possibility.

Digging deeply into the tie-breaker regulations, we found that what we needed to do is have the top three play each other in a series of eight-question matches until the circle of death was broken. These were held in a competition room so full that a number of people wound up sitting on the floor to see the action. The excitement level was also higher even than the usual state championship, for in an eight-question match every question is so important that every answer or non-answer elicited some sort of audience and player reaction. Seriously, this will go down as a classic tournament.

Anyway, fortunately, we only needed one round to have a winner, for the results were:

LaCrosse Logan def. Rufus King 110-70
LaCrosse Logan def. Conserve 65-50
Conserve def. Rufus King 70-55 (OT)

Yes, what was effectively our second-place match went into overtime on top of everything else, and thanks to the aforementioned excitement the whole room burst into applause when Rufus King managed to tie it on the last question. In any case, as you see, Logan emerged as the champion, despite the fact that for reasons I never found out they had to play most of the day without their main history person. Conserve School came in 2nd place, while Rufus King secured a well-deserved 3rd. Oshkosh West should also not be left out of the running, for while they weren't consistly at the top level they did show flashes of excellence: In one of the three matches in which I moderated for them they put up 360 against the fifth-place team, while in another they took Conserve to overtime before losing by a single question.

Anyway, that's all for this year from Wisconsin, where Eli Morris-Heft and Sean Kinney did a great job organizing. All four of the top teams have earned invitations to the national championship in Chicago in early June, where I will probably turn up as a game official.


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