CVU heads to scholars bowl version of March Madness

Top, from left, Coach John Bennett, assistant coach Kiran McCormick, Isaac Krementsov and Evan McMahan. Bottom, Patton Wager, Ben Wilson, Ava Rohrbaugh and Keaton St. Martin.

Strangely enough, a loss may have propelled the Champlain Valley Union High School Scholars Bowl team into the national tournament.

Isaac Krementsov, one of three seniors on the team, said the team seemed stronger after losing to Essex High School because the Redhawks played so well in that match.

“We were both going question for question. So, it was an insanely close game. Basically, it was one question at the end,” he said.

He said Champlain Valley Union seemed to take inspiration from the loss.

Scholars bowl matches are academic quiz competitions where two teams of five players face off to answer questions about topics such as literature, science and math, with some pop culture questions thrown in. During play, one team competes against two to ten different teams in separate matches that last about 20 minutes each.

A phenomenal season for the Champlain Valley Scholars Bowl team earned it a bid to the High School National Championship Tournament, which starts this Saturday, May 29.

Redhawks coach John Bennett said this is the most prestigious scholars bowl national championship in the country.

“It is the primary goal of every season to make it to this event,” Bennett said, comparing it to a college basketball team making it into the NCAA March Madness tournament.

The national tournament will be the 24th academic quiz event Bennett’s team has competed in this year. During the regular season, the Redhawks matched wits with other teams a total of 115 times for an overall record of 93-22.

On Saturday, the Redhawks will play in eight matches, with the possibility of moving on to more play the next day.

Besides Krementsov, the team roster includes seniors Patton Wager and Ben Wilson, junior Evan McMahan and sophomore Ava Rohrbaugh.

In spring 2020, because of the pandemic, scholars bowl pivoted online with players competing from their home computers.

“It’s amazing how the scholars bowl world adapted to COVID,” Bennett said.

Websites were quickly developed to include a buzzer to determine which of the competitors signaled first for the chance to answer a question.

Said Ava Rohrbaugh: “It has been quite a strange season, since it’s all been online.”

She couldn’t point to a specific match or moment when she realized the school’s team might make the postseason because the team has been good since she joined as a ninth grader.

“We have a great coach, so I think that’s part of it,” she said.

Krementsov said much of the team’s strength comes from playing together for so long and because the team practices so much.

The team has been meeting two hours a week, but before the quarantine, the members would get together every day before and after school.

“We all really enjoy practicing. We’ve always spent a lot of time on that,” he said.

The pandemic has also meant more opportunity to play more matches. Normally, Champlain Valley’s scholars bowl team would have waged 45-50 matches. This year, besides the 115 matches the varsity team has notched, the junior varsity team has competed in 20.

Scholars bowl is a game of quick recall, so speed is the most important skill.

“Speed, in fact, is my team’s greatest asset,” said Bennett.

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