After coming up short several times in her four-year career, Susanna Chen got the conclusion to her academic tournament career she’d been hoping for Friday evening.
The Walkersville High School senior helped capture the school’s first academic tournament championship since 2006, outlasting Frederick and Urbana High schools in the final rounds.
Walkersville scored 16 points in the final round, beating both Frederick and Urbana by four to earn the win.
“It’s kind of a humble satisfaction,” said Chen, who has played on the team since her freshman year. “We’ve lost so many times that we’re kind used to it. But this was great to finish the year in a really strong way.”
The tournament, founded in 1982, has now featured four different winners in the last four years.
Each match consists of three teams that participate in five rounds totaling 56 questions. The fourth round has a specific theme each time, such as the year 1968, which was a theme for Friday evening.
Tuscarora won a play-in game against Gov. Thomas Johnson to make it to the final competition. But the Titans were ousted in their matchup when Frederick High beat them and Linganore 20-14-13.
Walkersville used a hot first round, in which it won seven of a possible 10 points, and Middletown and Oakdale had one point between the two of them, to eke out a one-point win over Middletown 15-14. Oakdale finished third in the group with 10 points.
Urbana, the top seed over the course of the season, trailed both Brunswick and Catoctin by one point entering the final round, which consists of 20 questions in which students can earn points for correct answers and lose points for incorrect answers.
Urbana couldn’t complete a second comeback in the final match. The Hawks trailed Walkersville by six points after one round. They gradually made up ground to catch both Frederick and Walkersville, trailing them by two and three points entering the final round.
That’s when the nerves hit for Walkersville.
“Urbana and Frederick have both had really strong last-round teams all season,” Walkersville coach John Van Bloem said. “They have consistently put together eight- and 10-point final rounds.”
Van Bloem knew his players had to keep to what he’s dubbed “The Walkersville Way.” The key is for the players to know what question is being asked, and if the team will know the answer, Van Bloem said.
Several times in the final round, the Urbana and Frederick teams buzzed in before the question had been completed, knowing they had to make up ground. But they had to guess at what the rest of the question and therefore, their answer was a guess.
“I think that ultimately did them in,” Van Bloem said. “I told our players to stick to what we know and not worry about what the other team is doing.”
Chen said as the final round went on, she started watching the score on a laptop in front of the stage in the Frederick High auditorium. With Urbana down by three with three questions left, the team missed a question about the amount of global population in the Northern Hemisphere. That miss mathematically eliminated Urbana, and Frederick had already been eliminated.
“We were really exciting, but we stayed calm,” Chen said. “I think it goes back to all of those times we lost, and knowing how it feels to be that team.”