For the first time, NAQT’s High School National Championship first-place trophy is going to Southern California.
Justin Nghiem scored 55 points in the final as Arcadia (16-3) High School from the Los Angeles area beat LASA 410-285 in the HSNCT single-game final in Chicago, preventing a three-peat for the Austin ISD magnet school.
Confronting the same foursome that eliminated them a year ago in the round of 7, with three returning players of their own, Arcadia overcame six negs in the ultimate match (five in the first half; four from captain and leading scorer Kevin Wang) by simply taking control of the direction of the game. Arcadia buzzed first on 17 of the 21 tossups heard, and despite LASA’s 210-135 halftime lead, it was evident that the Californians would determine on their own – positively or negatively – who would claim the title.
For the LASA group of Alex Denko, Forrest Hammel, Corin Wagen and Ethan Russo, it resembled their last on-stage elimination match, the year before as LASA B taking on LASA A. Like last year, they were faced with an opponent that negged six times, mostly in the first half, to spot them a halftime lead. And like last year, they never seized control of their own destiny.
Arcadia’s title run was defined by leaving little doubt in their victories. After their first four games Saturday morning, they simply had no close-call wins. With losses by 15, 35 and 150, they posted 12 Saturday afternoon and Sunday Ws, with none closer than the 125-point final. Their two victories over third-place Detroit Catholic Central (14-4) were by remarkable margins of 430 and 395 points.
Yet when their Sunday win streak ended in a 375-360 loss to LASA in the winners’ bracket final, their fate last year must’ve come to mind. In that tournament, they lost a heartbreaker by 5 to St. John’s at the same stage, never trailing in the match until after the clock expired. They never recovered, losing their next match, 405-305, to Denko, Hammel, Wagen and Russo.
On the flipside of the coin, Sunday’s 15-point win meant LASA could finish no worse than second, simply needing to avoid consecutive losses to claim a third successive crown. They had already beaten DCC by 175 and Eric Xu’s Western Albemarle by 105 before their Arcadia victory, and everything seemed to be lined up for them. Denko had 15 powers in the first 4 LASA wins Sunday, leading them into the first clash with Arcadia – and leading his team with 49.74 points per 20 tossups heard (PP20TUH). Wagen followed with 40.46, and Russo with 36.34.
LASA’s momentum disappeared on the stage in the Grand Ballroom, where DCC stayed alive with a 575-295 drubbing of LASA, posting 12 powers to force a 2-vs.-3 matchup with Arcadia for a place in the final. Jack Watts and Austin Foos combined for 155 points – and nine powers – as the Michigan side left LASA in its wake.
DCC’s ascendance would come to an even more abrupt end when Arcadia arrived after eliminating IMSA (13-5). The Shamrocks wound up on the opposite end of another 12-power performance on the main stage, and an even more lopsided scoreline than they inflicted on LASA: 580-185. Remarkably, Arcadia’s 15-pointers were split evenly across their four players, three going to each.
This set the stage for the final – and the momentum seemed to shift again as Arcadia’s stumbles helped LASA to an early 90-(-10) lead. But LASA never got going, taking little besides what Arcadia donated, and even as a fifth neg – this one protested – allowed LASA an 85-point halftime lead, something had to change.
That change wasn’t coming. Arcadia plowed forward, with only one neg the remainder of the game, to replace the memories of last year’s close call with a story of relentless speed and a devil-may-care attitude to their brief setbacks.
Fitting then, perhaps, that their stat line as a team for the final match reads 6 powers, 6 10s, and 6 negs. Yet this achievement required no selling of souls, nor any sleight of hand – Arcadia reign as deserving, impressive champions.