The following nationals preview draws on a midseason poll carried out on the forums, and on an IRC discussion rundown of each of the teams on that poll. As such, it does not represent the opinion of any one person, the official views of hsquizbowl.org, or anything like that. Thanks to all those who participated in the poll and to the all who contributed by participating in the subsequent discussion.
25. University of Florida (preseason ranking: unranked)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Taylor Harvey, John Lievonen, Jonathen Settle, Alex Shaw
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Taylor Harvey, Tracy Mirkin, Jonathen Settle, Alex Shaw
This year, Florida has established itself as clearly the best team in the southeastern United States. That success is powered first and foremost by Taylor Harvey, who has demonstrated the ability to scale his literature-focused humanities knowledge to higher difficulty. Alex Shaw has similar strengths to Harvey, and physicist Jonathen Settle is the team’s designated science player. At ACF Nationals, Florida will boast one of the top freshmen in the country in Tracy Mirkin. At ACF Regionals, Mirkin matched Harvey buzz-for-buzz, contributing mostly on history, and his strong showing at the Auburn site of Cal’s Mid-Spring Tournament (CMST) showed that his abilities are not limited to regular-difficulty questions. However, Mirkin will compete in Division II at ICT; in his place, Florida’s A team will add John Lievonen, who brings strength on the NAQT specialty of current events.
24. Johns Hopkins University (preseason ranking: unranked)
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Eric Bobrow, Robert Chu, Seth Ebner, Noah Stanco
The addition of Robert Chu, formerly of Harvard, has been key for Hopkins, which has vied all year for the title of best team south of the Mason–Dixon line. The partnership of Bobrow and Chu has dominated local rival Maryland, winning all three games so far this year against Maryland; in addition, a Johns Hopkins team without Chu beat the full Maryland team at Penn Bowl. Results against other local powers Virginia and Duke have been spottier, and the general weakness of the Mid-Atlantic region (a far cry from years past) has contributed to Johns Hopkins’s relatively low ranking. Johns Hopkins is very strong on science, as physics PhD student Bobrow and medical student Chu can buzz in their subject areas, but both also possess significant strength elsewhere, particularly in the arts. At ACF Nationals, that pair will be joined by Seth Ebner (formerly of Washington University in St. Louis) and Noah Stanco. Hopkins will not be playing Division I ICT, but the school’s massive stable of Division II-eligible players (including every current member of the club except Chu and Ebner) should produce a strong showing in that category this year at Rosemont.
23. University of Maryland (preseason ranking: 24)
Projected lineup: Weijia Cheng, Justin Hawkins, Jack Nolan, Graham Reid
After 26 years, Maryland finally got over the hump in 2017 and won its first ever ACF Nationals championship. Maryland now faces the challenge of replacing Jordan Brownstein, arguably the second-best player of all time, as well as two of his teammates. Unlike Brownstein’s Maryland teams, where his dominance on all non-science categories was augmented by small contributions from his supporting cast, this year’s Maryland team is more balanced, with one player taking each of history, science, and literature. The lead role in the rebuilding effort is being played by Weijia Cheng, the only holdover from last year’s national championship team. Cheng was a religion and economics specialist alongside Brownstein, but this year he has demonstrated his ability as a high-level history player. He is joined by New Hampshirite physics PhD student Graham Reid, formerly of Kenyon, who combines science knowledge with college-level generalist ability from his undergraduate days. Rounding out the team are Justin Hawkins, whose unbridled enthusiasm for the game has made him into a solid literature player, and Jack Nolan, whose strengths lie in music and math. This team scales reasonably well, as demonstrated by their respectable performance at the Maryland site of CMST (including one victory in two games against WUSTL). This iteration of Maryland will not do as well at either national championship this year as Maryland has routinely placed in years past, but with every team member returning next year the future for Maryland is bright.
22. University of Oxford (preseason ranking: 22)
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Isaac Brown, George Charlson, Daoud Jackson, Jacob Robertson
Since last year, Oxford has lost the British player best known to Americans, Joey Goldman, as well as well-regarded scientist George Corfield. Moreover, the Oxonians lost to rival Cambridge the position they had long held as the best quizbowl team outside North America. Because the only time that an American team competes against British teams during the regular season is when Chicago flies to Britain to play Oxford’s own tournament, we have no direct evidence of how this year’s Oxford team will fare against American teams. Nevertheless, voters still thought highly enough of Oxford to accord them a spot in the top twenty-five. Oxford’s best player is Daoud Jackson, who is particularly accomplished in fine arts and literature. He is supported by fellow humanities players George Charlson and Isaac Brown, the latter of whom has been largely absent from the British circuit this year due to studying abroad in France. Oxford’s science will be handled by Jacob Robertson, who has been described as the most improved player in Britain. As usual, Oxford and Cambridge will not compete at ICT, so ACF Nationals will be the only chance for those teams to prove themselves against American competition. In a year where Cambridge has been the recipient of foreign attention, Oxford has the potential to surprise with a strong showing at ACF Nationals.
21. Michigan State University (preseason ranking: 21)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Erik Bubolz, Harris Bunker, Tony Incorvati, Jakob Myers
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Erik Bubolz, Harris Bunker, Jakob Myers, Evan Suttell
Thanks to high-flying freshman Jakob Myers, the upset risk that Michigan State poses to higher-ranked teams is greater than that posed by most teams in this part of the rankings. Already this year, Michigan State has dealt multiple defeats at regular difficulty to Chicago A, along with a win over a full-strength Ohio State team at the Illinois site of ACF Regionals. However, outside of Myers’s core area of history and related fields, Michigan State may have a hard time consistently getting buzzes at higher difficulty, meaning that the Spartans’ success will be largely packet-dependent. The ICT distribution will be significantly kinder to this team than that of ACF Nationals, a problem compounded by Michigan State’s lack of science coverage at ACF Nationals thanks to the absence of science specialist Tony Incorvati. At any rate, Michigan State this year will strike fear into many an opposing team.
20. University of Toronto (preseason ranking: 14)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Jay Misuk, Rein Otsason, Aayush Rajasekaran, Simone Valade
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Rein Otsason, Aayush Rajasekaran, Christopher Sims
With the arrival of Patrick Liao and Aayush Rajasekaran (who, rather confusingly, remained enrolled as a graduate student at Waterloo while also enrolling at Toronto) to join Jay Misuk and Rein Otsason, Toronto seemed last year to have formed a Canadian dream team. Toronto did in fact play well last year, finishing in a respectable sixteenth place at ACF Nationals and tied for eleventh at ICT, but outside Canada their performance was overshadowed by McGill. Liao, who had been the only US national champion playing in Canada, is now no longer with the Toronto team, and Toronto’s ranking reflects that. Nevertheless, Toronto retains Otsason, whose science knowledge helps make him the consensus choice for best player in Ontario, and at ICT Misuk’s history knowledge will help as well. Like last year, Toronto this year is a team that should do better at ICT than at ACF Nationals.
19. Washington University in St. Louis (preseason ranking: 16)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Patrick Butenhoff, Charles Hang, Jonathan Mishory, Alex Newman
It had previously been reported that this was to be the last year for Charles Hang, who has represented Washington University since 2009, but he has announced that he will be returning to WUSTL for one more season. This year, Hang and his team will only play ICT, as his unavailability at ACF Regionals led to WUSTL failing to qualify for ACF Nationals. As always, Hang remains a fearsome player who combines some of the best history knowledge in the game with generalist ability from his many years of experience. Will Mason and Seth Ebner have both moved on, but Patrick Butenhoff is still around as Hang’s sidekick. Two other players who have been with the WUSTL A team this year, Cyrus Zhou and Lily Hamer, are both eligible for Division II at ICT. The Division I ICT team will instead feature junior Jonathan Mishory and sophomore Alex Newman, the latter of whom put up impressive numbers at this year’s SCT.
18. University of Virginia (preseason ranking: 19)
Projected lineup: Vasa Clarke, Nick Collins, Lawrence Simon, Eric Xu
Ever since the departure of Matt Bollinger and Tommy Casalaspi, Virginia’s lineup has been very stable, with Virginia A for two straight years fielding a roster of Eric Xu, Vasa Clarke, Lawrence Simon, and Jack Mehr. In the third year of that group, Mehr has been replaced by Nick Collins, formerly of Louisiana Tech. The presence of graduate student Collins means that Virginia will no longer be competing for undergraduate titles, but his strength in literature provides a jolt for a team that had perhaps grown stagnant over the course of a long partnership. Clarke will be leaving after this year for law school at William and Mary, but Xu will presumably be around for one more year. Xu has settled into a niche as a solid but not elite player; it remains to be seen whether he can yet recapture the stardom of his high school days.
17. Duke University (preseason ranking: 20)
Projected lineup: Gabe Guedes, Ryan Humphrey, Lucian Li, Annabelle Yang
Despite losing John Stathis, who has moved one county over to study law at North Carolina, Duke has remained competitive, with their best performance of the season at regular difficulty or higher being their second-place showing at the Virginia site of ACF Regionals. To a core of science player Ryan Humphrey, literature player Gabe Guedes, and history player Lucian Li, Duke has added South Carolinian freshman Annabelle Yang, who boasts very deep knowledge in fine arts and especially in myth. A pseudo-Duke team with Stathis instead of Humphrey (who did science editing for the tournament) performed respectably this year at the Maryland site of CMST, including a victory over Ohio State, which suggests that Duke has what it takes to bounce back this year after a very disappointing finish at last year’s ICT.
16. Stanford University (preseason ranking: 9)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Nikhil Desai, Kyle Sutherlin, Nathan Weiser
Stanford is a difficult team to evaluate; now that Stephen Liu has finished law school, it is not quite clear what the composition of the Stanford A team actually is. As a result, Stanford had the largest variance between voters of any team ranked in this poll. Notably, Stanford will not be attending ACF Nationals this year. At ICT, however, they bring back excellent science player Nikhil Desai, who is back in school after taking some time off, as well as NAQT whiz and accomplished humanities player Nathan Weiser. As is often the case, Stanford brought in an excellent class of freshmen this year, so as for so many schools, 2018 will be a year of transition in Palo Alto.
15. University of Oklahoma (preseason ranking: 18)
Projected lineup: Finn Bender, Thatcher Chonka, Maia Karpovich, Caleb Kendrick
Oklahoma burst onto the quizbowl scene in 2016, finishing in the top two in Division II at both ICT and ACF Nationals and ending up at fourteenth place overall at the latter tournament. On paper, Oklahoma is a formidable team, with Caleb Kendrick’s great strength across the humanities and Maia Karpovich’s unusual combination of science ability and potent skill on geography and NAQT-type questions. Since 2016, however, Oklahoma has struggled to put together a full team for tournaments; Oklahoma played without Karpovich at ICT last year and missed ACF Nationals altogether. This year, shorthanded Oklahoma teams have generally come up short against the Sooners’ main quizbowl rival, Missouri. However, this year the full Oklahoma team will finally get to play both national championships together. It’s do or die for the Sooners this year, as next year Karpovich will head to grad school at Maryland and Caleb Kendrick will potentially decamp for parts unknown.
14. University of Michigan (preseason ranking: 17)
Projected lineup: Noah Chen, Austin Foos, Saul Hankin, Kenji Shimizu
After a spectacular two-year run consisting of four finals and two national championships, Auroni Gupta’s time at Michigan has come to a close, as has Will Nediger’s, while Brian McPeak has retired from active intercollegiate competition. With Siddhant Dogra having decamped to medical school in New York, the only remaining national champion at Michigan is Kenji Shimizu, who has evolved from an NAQT specialist into a formidable lead scorer in his own right. Behind a stellar performance from Shimizu, Michigan beat an Ohio State team without Clark Smith but with Chris Ray to win the Youngstown State site of SCT. Shimizu’s supporting cast consists of science player Noah Chen, history player Austin Foos, and seasoned veteran Saul Hankin. With Shimizu and Chen graduating and Hankin returning to his beloved New York City after this school year, the next great Michigan team will look very different, but this year’s team is well-positioned to make a run at ICT.
13. McGill University (preseason ranking: 11)
Projected lineup: Akhil Garg, Jack Guo, Daniel Lovsted, Derek So, Joe Su
Despite the presence of an ambitious Toronto team, McGill showed convincingly that it was the best team in Canada last year, and nothing has changed on that front this year. At ICT, McGill was a surprise top-bracket team; although the team did not attend ACF Nationals last year, it will be present at both nationals this year. McGill is led by Derek So, who remains the best quizbowl player in Canada. His supporting cast provides extra science coverage, but fails to address So’s biggest weakness, which is history. McGill will have to address that weakness to take the next step, but as long as Derek So is there McGill will remain competitive at the national level.
12. University of Missouri (preseason ranking: 15)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Itamar Naveh-Benjamin, Joe Stitz, Dinis Trindade
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Alexander Harmata, Itamar Naveh-Benjamin, Joe Stitz, Dinis Trindade
Like Oklahoma, Missouri plays on the isolated Great Plains circuit, although its relative proximity to the Midwest circuit means that Missouri plays a larger number of nationally competitive teams. The story of Missouri is the story of senior Itamar Naveh-Benjamin, who puts up spectacular numbers across all categories, especially on arts and literature. At ICT, Naveh-Benjamin’s two teammates are freshmen Joe Stitz and Dinis Trindade, the former of whom brought a strong base of knowledge from high school and the latter of whom is a history specialist. At ACF Nationals, Alexander Harmata will be present to add support on science; his absence at ICT will be dearly felt for a program whose best chance at making a splash is this season.
11. University of California, Berkeley B (preseason ranking: 10)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Eric Chen, Rohin Devanathan, Jonchee Kao, John Xiong
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Michael Coates, Rohin Devanathan, Rahul Keyal, Pranav Sivakumar
The Berkeley club is in much the same place as it was fifteen years ago, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of freshmen coming up to augment one of the best teams in the country. The holding pen for all those players is Berkeley B, which made the top bracket of ACF Nationals last year and is in very good shape to do so again despite the loss of Sameer Rai. Two of the Ohioans from that Berkeley B team, Michael Coates and Rohin Devanathan, will return to Berkeley B at ACF Nationals this year, and they will be joined by Chicago-area freshman Pranav Sivakumar. Rahul Keyal, whose strengths are much like those of his older brother on the Berkeley A team, is the only Californian on a team that is oddly Midwest-focused given Berkeley’s great wealth of California high school talent. At ICT, freshmen Keyal and Sivakumar will be playing in Division II, while Coates will be playing on Berkeley A. In their places will step in Jonchee Kao, John Xiong, and Eric Chen. Because the addition of Coates means that Berkeley A will not be eligible for the undergraduate ICT title, Berkeley B will be one of the strongest contenders for that position. Chen will be a particularly important part of that effort, as his strength on NAQT-related categories is such that on most teams he would be the NAQT specialist; it just happens that Berkeley has Coates, who is even better on those categories.
10. University of Chicago B (preseason ranking: 12)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Athena Kern, James Lasker, Tamara Vardomskaya, Morgan Venkus
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): James Lasker, Matthew Lehmann, Luke Tierney, Tamara Vardomskaya
The Chicago club has great depth every year, and that depth is evident this year in the strength of the Chicago B squad. For ACF Nationals, Chicago B mainstay James Lasker and recent doctorate recipient Tamara Vardomskaya join two high school superstars in freshmen Luke Tierney and Matthew Lehmann on a balanced team that has been competitive in the Midwest all year. Lehmann in particular has taken to the college game with gusto, and he and Vardomskaya combine to form a formidable literature pairing, while Lasker takes science and Tierney history. However, both freshmen will be playing (and perhaps winning) Division II at ICT, so in their place will step in Athena Kern and Morgan Venkus, both veteran players with pockets of deep knowledge. As a result, the Chicago B team at ICT will have a major hole in history, and may be subject to wild round-to-round variations in performance.
9. University of Minnesota (preseason ranking: 8)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Jason Asher, Sam Bailey, Peter Estall, Shan Kothari
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Jason Asher, Sam Bailey, Shan Kothari, John Waldron
Mike Cheyne departed from Minnesota in 2014 as the last player from Minnesota’s national championship run. Shan Kothari and Jason Asher arrived the same year, starting a new era of Minnesota quizbowl. Sam Bailey arrived in Minneapolis the next year, and those three have formed Minnesota’s core ever since, as Minnesota has consistently hung around the bottom of the top ten. Minnesota is a fringe top-bracket team once again this year, Asher’s last. Bailey and Kothari are both PhD students with years of experience playing hard questions and plenty of deep knowledge, but they have plenty of holes between them. On the other hand, Asher is very successful at regular difficulty, but he has always struggled with harder questions. There are unlikely to be many surprises from this year’s Minnesota team.
8. Northwestern University (preseason ranking: 13)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Jack Drummond, Greg Peterson, Amanda Rosner, Adam Silverman
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Alex Banta, Greg Peterson, Adam Silverman, Anthony Wang
Last year Northwestern rode a wave of shocking upsets to a second-place finish at ICT but then missed the top bracket altogether and finished a disappointing eleventh at ACF Nationals. After losing second scorer Dylan Minarik to graduation, Northwestern is built around Adam Silverman, who demonstrated that he was one of the best science players in quizbowl last year after a period of relative inactivity as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech. Silverman’s top-scoring teammate is law student Greg Peterson, whose superficially impressive point totals come mostly from buzzing at the end of tossups. Silverman’s obvious ability puts Northwestern firmly in the category of teams that could affect the outcome by beating contenders, but without Minarik another ICT final is unrealistic.
6 (tied). Ohio State University (preseason ranking: 6)
Projected lineup: Enoch Fu, Chris Ray, Aakash Singh, Clark Smith, Laurel Spangler
Although this is Chris Ray’s second year at Ohio State, schedule conflicts and issues with American air transit infrastructure led to Ohio State missing both national tournaments last year, so this year will be the first time truly seeing Ohio State in action. At the Maryland site of CMST, Ohio State’s performance was questionable; the Buckeyes split two games with a Penn team that lacked Jaimie Carlson and Aidan Mehigan and dropped a game to a pseudo-Duke team with John Stathis in place of Ryan Humphrey. Nevertheless, Ray is one of the best players in the game, with the ability to get questions in practically any category against practically anyone, especially at ICT. Dual-enrolled high school senior Clark Smith, the best high school player in the country, has drawn comparisons to a young Tommy Casalaspi. Given Ray’s demonstrated ability to develop talent and assuming that Smith matriculates at Ohio State, this team should be one of the best in the country for years to come.
6 (tied). University of Cambridge (preseason ranking: 7)
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Jason Golfinos, Joseph Krol, Ellie Warner, Yanbo Yin
Following in the footsteps of fellow Ivy League graduates John Lawrence, Spence Weinreich, and Aidan Mehigan, Jason Golfinos opted after graduating from Princeton to continue his studies in England. In his first and only year at Cambridge, Golfinos has become part of the most dominant Cantabrigian team in British quizbowl history. Golfinos’s talents would have meshed well with those of science expert Ewan Macaulay, but Macaulay is no longer at Cambridge and Yanbo Yin will have to fill his shoes as Cambridge’s science player. Ellie Warner and Joseph Krol provide humanities support, and Krol adds mathematics knowledge in addition. Ultimately, though, this team will succeed or fail on the back of Golfinos, whose meteoric rise during his last few years at Princeton has reportedly not been halted at Cambridge. As it stands, the record for best performance by a British team at ACF Nationals belongs to Oxford, which finished in ninth place in 2017. Cambridge is well-positioned to surpass that mark and perhaps become the first non-American team to place in the top four.
5. Columbia University (preseason ranking: 5)
Projected lineup: Gerhardt Hinkle, Rafael Krichevsky, Daniel Shao, Ben Zhang
After missing the top bracket at ICT last year, Columbia upset top-ranked and hitherto undefeated Michigan en route to a surprising fourth-place finish at ACF Nationals. Both Wilton Rao and Kailee Pedersen are gone from that team, but Ben Zhang and star Rafael Krichevsky remain. In recent years, Columbia has increasingly become the Rafael Krichevsky show, and things are unlikely to change in that regard this year; at the Columbia site of CMST, Krichevsky nearly doubled the point total of his teammates combined. At that tournament, Columbia dropped its only game against Rutgers and also lost in convincing fashion to Yale. Krichevsky’s talent should be enough to lead Columbia to the top bracket again, but a repeat of last year’s ACF Nationals would be a surprise.
4. University of Chicago (preseason ranking: 4)
Projected lineup: Alston Boyd, John Lawrence, Kai Smith, Jason Zhou
Coming off a relatively disappointing performance in 2017, Chicago has been forced to move on without the face of the team, the now-graduated Max Schindler. Schindler’s loss is most acutely felt in his specialty area of science, where Chicago has no real replacement and will have to try to get by with Kai Smith. Nevertheless, Chicago remains a formidable team. John Lawrence is almost unmatched on music and nearly as strong on literature, and Jason Zhou has taken the path that Weijia Cheng seeks to emulate, going from a specialist on a national championship team as a sophomore to the primary history player on a strong team as a senior. Alston Boyd adds further support across the board, with particular strength in philosophy. Chicago is unlikely to win this year, but this team should produce top-bracket finishes worthy of Chicago’s illustrious quizbowl history.
3. University of Pennsylvania (preseason ranking: 2)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Jaimie Carlson, JinAh Kim, Aidan Mehigan, Eric Mukherjee
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Jaimie Carlson, JinAh Kim, Paul Lee, Eric Mukherjee
Eric Mukherjee won ACF Nationals with Penn in 2015, but his best chance to win ICT is this year, his last before he ends his very long collegiate quizbowl career and decamps for the world of medicine. Mukherjee’s prowess in science remains unmatched, but this is not a one-man team, as Penn showed by finishing in second place at the Georgetown site of SCT even in his absence. That victory was powered in large part by undergraduates Jaimie Carlson and JinAh Kim, who look to provide Mukherjee with something resembling the humanities support that he received from Saajid Moyen in 2015. A major coup this summer for Penn was landing Aidan Mehigan, formerly of Columbia and Oxford, but because he has class the weekend of ACF Nationals, Mehigan will presumably only be available for ICT. While Penn should perform strongly at both national tournaments, the presence of Mehigan means that ICT is Penn’s best shot at making a final or winning a national championship.
2. University of California, Berkeley (preseason ranking: 3)
Projected lineup (ICT Division I): Michael Coates, Aseem Keyal, Bruce Lou, Justin Nghiem
Projected lineup (ACF Nationals): Eric Chen, Aseem Keyal, Bruce Lou, Justin Nghiem
Berkeley has hung around the top tier for several years, but in Aseem Keyal’s senior year the team has taken a step forward. Bruce Lou’s history numbers are eye-popping, and Keyal can get most everything else. Justin Nghiem and Eric Chen add additional strength on literature and history, respectively, while Michael Coates will serve in the same NAQT specialist role at ICT that he did as an undergraduate at Chicago. The ACF Nationals team, made up of four undergraduates from California, is more or less a lock to win the undergraduate title. Playing in the remote northern California circuit, Berkeley has faced very little strong collegiate competition aside from other Berkeley teams, Stanford, and occasionally UC San Diego. As a result, there has been little evidence since last season to suggest how Berkeley will match up against other top collegiate teams, which adds an air of mystery to this year’s proceedings.
1. Yale University (preseason ranking: 1)
Projected lineup: Stephen Eltinge, Adam Fine, Isaac Kirk-Davidoff, Jacob Reed
After Matt Jackson’s graduation in 2014, Yale had no need to rebuild, but merely to reload. After very strong performances in 2016 and 2017, that cycle appears to be complete now, as graduate students Jacob Reed and Stephen Eltinge lead a Yale team with no real weaknesses. Reed is known for his ability in music, where he is without peer save for John Lawrence, but he can buzz with impunity across the distribution. Eltinge is one of the very best science players in the game, and he receives further support on science from young Adam Fine. The incomparable Isaac Kirk-Davidoff, in his last year at Yale, contributes on history, and his best-in-the-country ability on NAQT questions will give Yale a boost at ICT. The main knock on this team is that they have attended very few tournaments, but their dominance when they have played has certainly justified their #1 ranking.