Members of Santa Monica High School’s Academic Decathlon team created thousands of flashcards, spent countless hours in after-school practices and honed their skills with challenging short-answer exams.

Then they put their preparation on display.

Up against some of the brightest young minds in Southern California, Samohi captured third place at the National Science Bowl regional competition Jan. 31 at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

It wasn’t quite enough to advance to nationals — that distinction belonged to Arcadia, which edged Goleta-Dos Pueblos for the title — but it was a standout finish in a field that featured 24 talented teams.

“I knew we had trained hard and gave it our best shot … and that our third-place finish reflected our efforts in a tough field of competitors,” team member Dean Chien said. “I’m proud of the way we held ourselves during the competition and sincerely enjoyed working with my teammates in representing Samohi.”

Guided by science teacher Ingo Gaida, Santa Monica’s team — Chien, Jackie Osaki, Nick Charchut, Jordan Docter and alternate Kai Hakomori — engineered an impressive outcome by answering technical math and science questions in a double-elimination, Jeopardy-style contest.

Samohi started the tournament on a hot streak, holding an undefeated record entering the semifinals. That’s where it lost a head-to-head battle against Arcadia.

In the losers’ bracket, the team made a valiant comeback after falling behind early but ultimately came up short against Dos Pueblos, the eventual runner-up.

The tournament offers a balance of fun and intense pressure, Chien said.

“While we are very competitive in-game, we have respect for our opponents and always make a point of demonstrating good sportsmanship,” the junior said. “So, overall, we have a good time during competition but we always know what’s at stake.”

The regional contest comes after months of learning and practice as students expand their knowledge bases in a variety of subjects and work together to simulate tournament conditions.

Each student contributes expertise in a particular field. Chien, for example, is the designated astronomy and earth science specialist.

But speed and accuracy aren’t the only required assets.

“Beyond simply being able to answer questions quickly and decisively, we must think critically when discussing team-based bonus questions and communicate our viewpoints with each other based on our knowledge,” Chien said. “We have to trust our teammates to make the right decisions at the right time, but also act on our own initiative to answer questions on time and on point.”

For the Academic Decathlon students at Samohi, the extracurricular club offers valuable lessons beyond raw, technical information. It introduces them to new disciplines, widens their academic foundations and strengthens their skills beyond what might be taught in Advanced Placement courses.

Chien said he hasn’t pinpointed a career just yet but added that he likes being able to keep his options open.

“I am sure that the knowledge and skills I’ve picked up in training will help me to determine what I want to do in the future,” he said. “You really do learn a lot more than just the facts.”

Indeed, although Samohi was certainly happy to participate in the medal ceremony, what went into preparing for the Science Bowl — the flashcards, the reading, the practice tests — wasn’t exclusively for the competition.

“It may seem like a lot,” Chien said, “but it’s all in a day’s work for us. The truth is that we love what we do here.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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