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Rookie Academic Team Ends Winning Season with State Title

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George Mason’s Academic Team, pictured above, won the VHSL Group A Scholastic Bowl Saturday. (Photo: Courtesy Sue Earman)

George Mason High School’s academic team won the state tournament Saturday, ending an undefeated postseason and bringing a state title home to George Mason for the third year in a row. These accolades are made all the more impressive by the fact that at the beginning of the year, no member of the team had ever competed in the knowledge-based quiz activity.

“This was an incredibly gratifying season, as the students started out with no experience at the start of the year and improved so much in the course of one season,” said George Mason teacher and team coach Jamie Scharff.

The rookie team ended the regular season with an 11-3 record, putting them in third behind Manassas Park and Clarke County high schools, but at the Bull Run District tournament in January, George Mason bested both teams to come out on top. A Region B tournament victory earlier this month put the Mustangs into the state tournament, where they faced competition from the top two teams from four regional tournaments across the state.

In the first matchup of the Saturday tournament, held at the College of William and Mary, the team crushed the runner-up from the Region C tournament, Bath County High School, 350-60. A 275-125 victory over Mathews High School, the Region A tournament winners, made the Mustang team one of only two undefeated teams in the double-elimination tournament. They faced the other undefeated squad, the Region D title holders from Honaker High School, to determine who would be guaranteed a spot in the final round of the state tournament.

George Mason took an early 75-55 lead that grew to a 265-125 victory with a strong final round of the matchup.

Three teams, each with a mark against them, competed to see who would face George Mason in the finals, with the task of having to defeat the Mustangs twice if they wanted to take the state title.

Gretna High School, who George Mason defeated in the finals of the Region B tournament to win the title, booted Radford High School from the competition, pitting Gretna against Honaker to see who would move into the final round. With a 210-170 victory over Gretna, Honaker earned the spot.

Honaker took an early 40-point lead in the rematch, as George Mason was docked three times for interrupting a question and answering incorrectly.

“Fortunately, we had a great recovery from that shaky start, taking the last six tossups in a row to move ahead 75-55 at the end of the first tossup round,” Scharff said.

The team continued to pull away from Honaker, entering the final round with a score of 145-85. The final round of 15 tossup questions saw the teams compete in fairly evenly matched play, but with a 70-point lead and six questions left, the George Mason team had secured its state tournament victory. Only penalties docking points could give Honaker the chance to take the lead. Honaker tried to mount a comeback, answering all remaining questions correctly, but the cautious Mustang team, save for one penalty, refrained from buzzing before the question was completely read so as to avoid point loss and maintained the lead to win the game 190 – 185.

“I have to give lots of credit to Honaker for bringing a very competitive team to the state tournament once again,” Scharff said. “Their coach does a great job every year preparing his kids to compete at a consistently high level.”

Junior Liam O’Connell, who has led the team in scoring throughout the postseason, again brought in the most points for George Mason during the tournament. Senior Michael Irvine, the team’s captain, contributed six crucial tossups in the final matchup against Honaker to secure the state title. Seniors Matt Abel, Chris Earman, Matthew Irvine and Misha Terman also brought in points for the Mustangs, and rounded out the team competing in the state tournament.

The team plans to take part in tournaments throughout the area during the spring. Though he’ll be graduating all but one of his competitors this spring, Scharff says that there are members of the school club who come to practices but haven’t yet had the chance to compete “who will certainly be in a position to step up next year and join the team.”

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