|Walnut Hills High School
|HSNCT: 2006-10, 2016-19, 2022
MSNCT: 2022, 2023
Walnut Hills High School is a six-year college-preparatory public high school located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Founded in 1895, Walnut Hills High School continues to strive for academic excellence in all fields.
History (High School)
The Illustrious Walnut Hills Quiz Team was founded around 1985. In the early 1990s, new history teacher Scott K. Grunder became coach, and would continue to serve as the Eagles' coach for almost 20 years. In their early years, Walnut would play only events using the OAC format. This denied them the opportunity to compete at a national level.
Walnut Hills finished as the OAC state runner-up to Fisher Catholic in 2006.
Walnut also attended their first NAQT event in 2005, coming in second place at the Tippecanoe Academic Challenge to DCC. This earned them a bid to the 2006 HSNCT, their first in school history. At the 2006 HSNCT, Walnut would only have one player score above 10 PP20, that being junior Jacob Durst at 44.95, but they still ended up finishing 5-5 and a respectable 70th of 128.
In April of 2007, Walnut would win their first ever NAQT tournament, the First Annual Rowdy Raider Invitational, a tournament that Walnut would end up attending many iterations of over the years. Durst, back for his senior season, would lead the team to an 8-1 record and a berth at the 2007 HSNCT. At HSNCT, Durst would lead the team to a 7-3 record in the preliminaries, scoring 48.1 PP20. This would earn them their first ever HSNCT playoff berth, where they would win 3 of their first 4 playoff games before falling to Santa Monica 365-185. Their performance would earn them 13th place in the tournament, which remains to this day the highest placement ever by a Walnut Hills team at HSNCT.
In November of 2007, Walnut would attend the twelfth Tippecanoe Academic Challenge and win both the varsity and junior varsity divisions of the tournament. Leading the way for the varsity team were senior Lei Fan and junior Peter Komarek. The victory earned them a third straight HSNCT berth. At the 2008 HSNCT, Fan and Komarek alongside junior Jon Moller would form a strong core that would lead the Eagles to a 6-4 preliminary record and a second straight HSNCT playoff berth, although they would start in the losers' bracket due to HSNCT rules. Walnut would win their first playoff game before losing to Dunbar A, which would finish them 42nd in the tournament.
Walnut Hills finished as the OAC state runner-up to Green High School in 2009.
In November of 2008, Walnut would attend two tournaments in back-to-back weeks and win them both, with a combined 20-0 record across the two events. The team was led by Komarek and Moller, now seniors, as well as junior Max Bucher to form a strong three-way core. This core would be enough to push Walnut over the top, as they soundly defeated Solon to win their first and only Ohio State Championship in school history. This set high expectations going into the 2009 HSNCT, with Bucher, Komarek and Moller all attending as well as sophomore Joe Nutter as backup. In the preliminaries, the team suffered a series of setbacks, most notably a 515-145 thrashing at the hands of eventual tournament runner-up Dorman, but still clinched a third straight HSNCT playoff berth with a 7-3 preliminary record, as well as the luxury of starting in the winner's bracket. In their first playoff game, the Eagles would lose by just 10 points to New Trier, before earning their revenge on Santa Monica for their defeat two years prior. Their next match was against Detroit Country Day, who promptly mauled the Eagles to the tune of 505-170, ending their tournament run. They would finish HSNCT in 17th place, the second-highest HSNCT placement in Walnut Hills history.
With the graduations of Komarek and Moller, the Eagles would find a replacement for their hefty production in the form of Joe Nutter, now a junior. Senior Rachel Horn would also provide decent production as the team's third. The Eagles would take a step back in 2009, not winning as many tournaments but still placing high in many of them. At the 2010 Ohio State Championship, Walnut looked to repeat as state champs, but only managed 4th despite a career-best day from Horn (44.44 PP20). The Eagles' 2010 HSNCT roster would consist of Nutter, Bucher, Horn and senior Camille Dejarnett. Nutter would be the team's ace, lapping the rest of the team in powers and points per game (38.26). The Eagles would go 6-4 in the prelims, earning them a fourth straight playoff berth but starting in the losers' bracket. In their second playoff game, Walnut would suffer a tough loss to LASA B, in which Bucher and Nutter combined for 5 negs as the Eagles lost by 20. Walnut would finish 27th in the tournament.
With the rest of the 2010 HSNCT team graduated, Nutter, now a senior, would embark on the greatest individual season in Walnut Hills history. Nutter would attend four tournaments in the 2010-11 season and record 104 total powers and 3,770 total points. At the 2011 Ohio State Championship, Nutter would place as the top individual player in the whole tournament with over 100 PP20 as Walnut ended in fourth place overall. Nutter would then attend the 2011 HSNCT all by himself, under the team name Hamilton Scholars. Playing as a solo player, Nutter would go 4-6 in the tournament, missing the playoffs and finishing in 141st place. Nutter would place as the third-highest individual player at 2011 HSNCT. Nutter would finish his career as Walnut's all time leader in points scored (by over 2,000), points per game, and powers.
With Nutter graduating and joining Michigan State's quizbowl team, the Eagles would need to replace his production. They were able to do so with a well-rounded core consisting of senior Sarah Adams and juniors Stuart Johnson, Ashwin Kumar, and Will Schweller. The Eagles would replicate their 2007 feat at the Tippecanoe Academic Challenge by winning both the varsity and junior varsity divisions. This earned them a bid to the 2012 HSNCT, but they did not end up attending, the first HSNCT without at least one Walnut player since Walnut started playing NAQT tournaments.
Joining the ECC
In 2012, Walnut Hills would serve as one of the founding members of the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, and would begin regular-season play using the OAC format beginning in the 2012-13 season. Games in the ECC are played in two-game sets on the same day, with both games counting separately towards a team's record. The ECC gives out yearly awards for Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, and its conference title goes to the team with the best regular-season record.
In their first year in the ECC, Walnut would sweep aside all comers en route to a 14-0 record, although they did have narrow wins over Turpin and Loveland late in the season by just 3, 2, and 1 point. Coach Scott Grunder would win the ECC's inaugural Coach of the Year award.
Despite their new conference, Walnut would continue to play in NAQT tournaments. With much of their junior core from the prior year returning, Walnut almost won both divisions at Tippecanoe again, but lost to Solon in the final match by over 500 points, which placed them as the runner-up. For the second straight year, the Eagles earned a berth at HSNCT, but did not end up participating in the 2013 HSNCT.
After splitting their first set of the year against Kings, Walnut would win their next 12 games en route to a 13-1 record and a second straight conference title. Walnut did not win any conference awards for the 2013-14 season.
On the NAQT front, the graduation of the 2012 senior core took its toll on the Eagles, who failed to find adequate replacement for the production of Johnson, Kumar and Schweller. When they returned to Tippecanoe, the Eagles would struggle to a 4-4 record and a measly 12th of 24 in the tournament. As a result, Walnut Hills failed to clinch an HSNCT berth for the first time since they started playing NAQT.
After the 2013-14 season, Scott Grunder would retire as a teacher at Walnut Hills and subsequently as Walnut's head quizbowl coach.
Walnut Hills' new coach would be history teacher Paul Filio. In Filio's first season as head coach, Walnut would win all 14 of their conference games en route to a 14-0 record and a third straight conference title. Filio was named Coach of the Year in just his first year on the job.
Walnut Hills did not attend any NAQT tournaments in the 2014-15 season.
Walnut Hills would win all 12 of their regular-season conference games (with their set against 0-12 Withrow being cancelled), leading to the Eagles' fourth straight conference title. Senior Nick Fixler would win ECC Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season, the first Walnut player to win the award.
Walnut would attend the first annual Mason Mashup Invitational in February 2016, and would place 3rd of 12 after losing their final game to Northmont. This helped them earn a wild-card berth at the 2016 HSNCT. Walnut would attend HSNCT as a team for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Eagles were led by Fixler as well as Julian Kurtzman, both senior captains. Fixler would lead the team in scoring with 48.28 PP20. After starting 5-2, the Eagles just needed one more win to clinch a playoff berth, but they were defeated handily in each of their last 3 games to fall to 5-5 and miss the playoffs.
After the 2015-16 season, Filio retired from teaching and subsequently as the Eagles' coach; he had been teaching at Walnut since 2000.
The Meeron Years
In 2016, Brian Meeron, a math and statistics teacher, became the Eagles' new coach. Meeron had previously spent a decade as the head coach of Lakota West High School, winning two Coach of the Year awards.
The Eagles would lose 2 of their first 3 games in ECC play before rebounding to win 11 in a row, finishing 12-2 and splitting the conference title with Anderson. The losses were the Eagles' first losses in ECC play since the 2013-14 season. Sarah Hansen, the team's senior co-captain, would be named co-ECC Player of the Year; the award was Walnut's second and the first by a player coached by Meeron.
Starting this season, the Ohio Academic Competition would begin recording history about regional and state tournaments, which crowned their own state champion each year. Walnut has played in the Southwest region of Ohio each year since their first recorded appearance in 2006. The top two finishers in each of Ohio's six regional tournaments earn an automatic bid to the state tournament, with later editions also featuring four wild-card teams to create a 16-team field.
At the Southwest Regional Tournament, Walnut would enter as the 2 seed. They would defeat 3-seed Little Miami and 4-seed Wyoming en route to winning the winner's bracket and securing an advantaged final rematch against Little Miami. Little Miami would stun Walnut by winning both games by just 3 points each, securing the inaugural Southwest Region Championship. At States, Walnut would lose each of their first three games to Copley, Beavercreek, and Fisher Catholic, which caused them to miss the 4-team playoffs and finish in 8th overall.
Walnut would qualify for the 2017 HSNCT after a second-place finish at the Miami Invitational, coming runner-up to Miami Valley. At the 2017 HSNCT, Walnut would lose their final 3 games to finish 4-6 and place 234th in the tournament. Senior co-captain Cory Bargemann would lead the team in scoring at 24.61 PP20.
In 2017, Walnut would capture their sixth straight conference title and fifth outright title in the past six years. Walnut would finish 13-1, with their lone blemish a late-season loss to conference runner-up Loveland. Walnut would sweep the conference awards, with Meeron winning his first Coach of the Year award as senior captain Maren Bickel took home Player of the Year, marking the third straight year a Walnut player won the award.
For the second straight year, Walnut won the winner's bracket at the Southwest Regional Tournament, and for the second straight year, Little Miami won both games of the advantaged final to take the Southwest regional title. At the State tournament, Walnut would avenge their regional loss to Little Miami with a 61-60 win in the opening round, but would still lose 3 of their final 4 round-robin games, missing the 4-team playoff and finishing 9th of 12.
Walnut snuck into the 2018 HSNCT at the eleventh hour after coming second place in the Northmont Invitational in April, finishing as the runner-up to tournament host Northmont. This would mark the third straight year the Eagles made HSNCT. At the 2018 HSNCT, the Eagles would improve upon the prior year's performance, finishing 5-5 and placing 213th out of 352. Junior William Culbertson led the team in scoring, with 28.25 PP20.
In 2018, Walnut would lose their first game of the year to the Loveland Tigers, 71-70, before winning the rest of their games to finish 11-1 and capture a seventh straight conference title. Senior captain Nolan Brown would win ECC Player of the Year, which marked the fourth straight year the award went to a player from Walnut Hills.
Walnut would enter the Southwest Regional as the 1 seed. After three convincing wins, they would enter the winner's finals against Little Miami and lose 74-60. This dropped them to the loser's finals, where they lost a heartbreaker, 75-74, to Wyoming, which caused them to finish in 3rd. Nevertheless, Walnut earned a bid to the state tournament thanks to the new wild-card system, entering as the 10 seed. They won their first game, but then were pulverized, 100-47, by 2-seed Miami Valley. This knocked them down to the loser's bracket, where after beating Hoban and knocking out Little Miami 67-47 they would run into the same Miami Valley team and lose just as badly, 99-49, causing them to finish in 5th after a loss in pool play to Solon.
The Eagles would start their 2018-19 NAQT circuit off with a bang, going 9-0 to win the Southwestern by Northeastern Tournament without having any seniors on their team, which earned them a bid to the 2019 HSNCT. At the 2019 HSNCT, the Eagles would still fail to crack a winning record and playoff berth, going 4-6 and placing 226th of 336. Walnut was without the services of Brown or William Culbertson, two seniors who had combined for 60 PP20 at the Ohio State Championship, but junior Noah Bigger managed to carry the load to the tune of 43.32 PP20, still the high water mark for an HSNCT performance during Meeron's tenure.
Starting this season, Meeron would begin assigning a slogan to each team season. The slogan for 2018-19 was "FOR THE CONQUEST OF THE STATE TITLE". Unfortunately, this slogan would not come to pass, as after Walnut's loss in the OAC state tournament they would finish 13th of 32 at the Ohio NAQT state championship.
In 2019, Walnut would once again lose a game to the Loveland Tigers that would be their only loss of the year, finishing 11-1 to earn an outright conference title, their eighth straight. Meeron would win his second Coach of the Year award for his excellence during the season. Owing to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, there would be no OAC postseason or state title awarded.
The Eagles wouldn't find the same success on the NAQT front. The Eagles attended three tournaments during the 2019-20 season, and failed to place highly in any of them. At the third, the Mason Mashup invitational, two losses in the prelims by a combined 20 points would keep the Eagles out of championship contention, despite Bigger and senior Miro Calderas placing second and ninth individually. As a result, the Eagles would miss out on the HSNCT for the first time in four years.
The slogan for the 2019-20 season was "STATE FEARED, NATIONALLY RESPECTED".
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walnut Hills went fully remote for the entirety of the ECC regular season. This coincided with the addition of longtime rival Little Miami to the conference, who expected to immediately compete with Walnut for conference titles, as Panthers coach Ron Maupin said in his initial statement to the Panthers' newspaper. In the first meeting between the two schools, the Panthers backed up their words by sweeping Walnut in two games. It was the first series sweep suffered by Walnut since they began ECC conference play in 2012. The Panthers would go on to finish the year 18-0 and snap Walnut's conference title streak, although Walnut did win all 14 of their other regular season games as well as the conference tournament. Meeron would win his third Coach of the Year award for this season, although he had to share it with Maupin.
The Eagles hoped to reverse their fortunes in the Southwest Regional, entering as the 2 seed, but they would lose twice more to Little Miami to finish as the tournament runner-up, earning them the 12 seed at OAC States. Walnut would finish 7th at States, being trounced by Northmont and Hoban but defeating Aurora and Wyoming.
Due to COVID limitations making it tough to travel, Walnut only fielded a team at one tournament in the 2020-21 season, the 2021 NAQT Ohio State Championship. Walnut placed 9th of 20 at the tournament, and as a result missed HSNCT for the second straight year.
The slogan for the 2020-21 season was "THE YEAR OF THE CHAMPIONS".
The 2021-22 season would see another big change to quizbowl in the ECC, with a shift in question writers replacing OAC's normal good quizbowl questions with bad ones, featuring speed-checks, quick comp-math during the lightning round, and many other fixtures of bad quizbowl. Entering a road match against Little Miami, both teams sat at 6-0; the two teams would play each other much tighter than the prior year, but ultimately the Panthers would win both games once again, one by walking it off on a question that essentially boiled down to "What does ICU stand for?" As a result, Little Miami would win the ECC title for the second straight year. For the first time in 8 years, Walnut didn't win any conference awards.
In the OAC postseason, Walnut would enter as the 4 seed at the Southwest Regional, which they hosted, but an early loss to Mason saw them place just 6th. Nevertheless, their underlying stats granted them a wild-card bid to OAC States as the 9 seed, where they would be trounced by powerhouse Solon and edged out by Northmont to finish 9th.
On the NAQT circuit, Walnut would field teams for just two tournaments during the 2021-22 season, but at the Fifteenth Annual Rowdy Raider Invitational, they would get 5th of 24 teams, earning them a bid to the 2022 HSNCT. With only four players able to make the trip, and without the services of seniors Ben Liu and Nikhil Kothari, Walnut fell one question short of achieving a winning record and playoff berth, losing their last game to fall to 5-5. Senior Emory Domke led the Eagles in scoring with 31.47 PP20.
The slogan for the 2021-22 season was "THE RETURN OF EXCELLENCE".
The Eagles' 2022-23 ECC campaign would be marked by several upsets, owing to the nature of teams having adjusted to the new speed-check questions with it being their second year in use. Walnut would suffer upsets at home to Turpin, Anderson, and Milford, along with several other close calls along the way. Nevertheless, the Eagles would enter the final week of the season at 11-3, and with a two-game sweep of Little Miami featuring a dramatic come-from-behind win in Game 2, managed to steal a share of the conference title along with Little Miami and Anderson. Senior Graham Dunwoodie would win ECC Player of the Year for his performance in the Little Miami match, which was the fourth award won by a Meeron-coached player and the fifth by a Walnut player.
Walnut would enter the OAC Southwest Regional as the 4 seed, where they would be trounced by 1-seed Little Miami before being walked off by Indian Hill in the losers' bracket, causing them to place just 6th. Once again, the Eagles' underlying stats earned them a wild-card bid to OAC States, where they entered as the 12 seed, lost to Little Miami again, and then were walked off by 13-seeded Troy to be part of the first group eliminated, placing 15th overall.
Walnut fielded teams at three NAQT tournaments in the 2022-23 season, but failed to place highly in any of them, owing to a stronger field at the 16th Rowdy Raider featuring Solon, Beavercreek, and Michigan powerhouse Detroit Catholic Central, fresh off their 2022 HSNCT championship, as well as Dunwoodie's unavailability for two of the tournaments. As a result, they failed to qualify for the 2023 HSNCT, their third miss in four years.
The slogan for the 2022-23 season was "THE YEAR OF DOMINATION".
In ECC play, Walnut started the season 16-0, with their closest game being a double-overtime win over Anderson that was walked off by junior Miles Spieler. That set up another de facto conference title match against 15-1 Little Miami. Walnut won the first game of the match 71-68 and, although they lost the second game in blowout fashion, clinched their first outright ECC title since the 2019-20 season and eighth overall.
Walnut would win their first tournament of the 2023-24 NAQT season, THE Buckeye Fall Novice Invitational, with sophomore Jackson Riddle scoring nearly 80 PP20, with 26 powers in 180 questions heard. However, due to field restrictions placed on the tournament, the Eagles wouldn't qualify for the 2024 HSNCT with this win. Two weeks later, the Eagles would barely miss out on an HSNCT berth at the Miami Valley Kickoff after going 0-3 against the top two finishers, Little Miami and Beavercreek. On November 4, a 380-275 win over Little Miami propelled Walnut to a 5th-place finish at the 28th Tippecanoe Academic Challenge, securing their spot in the 2024 HSNCT. Riddle placed third individually in the tournament with 69.3 PP20.
The slogan for the 2023-24 season is "THE REIGN OF THE WAR EAGLES".
History (Middle School)
Meeron's tenure also saw Walnut's first foray into middle school tournaments. Many of Walnut's middle school players played in Brain Bowl, a trivia league for 4th through 6th graders run by Cincinnati Public Schools. Some Walnut high school players moderate matches for Brain Bowl.
The 2020-21 season saw Walnut's middle school team travel to its first middle school tournament, the 2021 Ohio Middle School State Championship. Walnut placed 2nd of 16 in the tournament, with eighth grader Declan Mohler leading the team with 76.88 PP20. The success earned them a bid to the 2021 MSNCT, though they did not end up attending.
The 2021-22 season saw Walnut's middle schoolers build upon the momentum that the previous year's state championship had given them. At their first tournament of the year, the Northmont Middle School Invitational, they managed to win with a 7-1 record, earning them a bid to the 2022 MSNCT. At the 2022 Ohio Middle School State Championship, Walnut would be upset by Incarnation Catholic, causing them to place as the state runner-up for the second straight year. They attended the 2022 MSNCT, their first in school history, and placed 93rd of 140 with a record of 3-5. Leading the team in scoring was eighth grader Jackson Riddle with a mark of 38.82 PP20, the best by a Walnut player at any MSNCT.
At Walnut's first tournament of the 2022-23 season, they sent two teams to the Miami Valley Middle School invitational, who ended up getting first and second and thus playing each other for the championship. In a hard-fought battle, the A team managed to win by just 5 points. Needless to say, this earned them a bid to the 2023 MSNCT. Walnut did not end up competing for the 2023 NAQT Ohio state title, as travel difficulties prevented the team from making the 3-and-a-half hour trip north to Copley, Ohio, to participate in the state tournament.
Walnut would attend the 2023 MSNCT. Playing a big role in the Eagles' 2023 MSNCT run was the mystery of floor "V," a floor that was represented by a button on the elevator that was discovered during a chaotic game of Elevator Tag, but wasn't accessible. (In fact, "V" refers to Ventana's, a former restaurant on top of the hotel that is now mostly unused but occasionally opened for specific events.) Without Meeron around, the Eagles spent several hours searching for floor "V". The team ended up finding a janitorial closet, thought to be "V" at first, but only created frustration when it was revealed to not be. Walnut won 3 of their first 4 games, and the hot start was credited to the blessing of floor "V". Unfortunately, Walnut would be blown out by Redwood, an eventual top-8 finisher, and the team would spiral into a 4-game losing streak to finish the tournament 3-5. The losing streak would foster a feeling of anger and betrayal towards the hidden floor, effectively cutting the hunt short. The team leaders in scoring at the 2023 MSNCT were eighth-graders Tiernan Hicks and Rishi Pampati, scoring 23.7 and 23.5 PP20 respectively.
Since they finished 3-5, they would not be able to accomplish a better record than Arab Junior High, whom captain Cal Moore proclaimed rivals and "opps" on the day before the tournament began for reasons unbeknownst to most of the team.
Walnut Hills' middle school team would see a big shakeup entering the 2023-24 season, as only one member of their 2023 MSNCT team, Alex Flamme, would be part of the new season's team.
At Walnut's first middle school tournament of the year, the Miami Valley Kickoff, they would win their first seven games, setting up an advantaged final against Perry Middle School. After losing the first game, Walnut would roar back and win the second game handily, winning the tournament and securing a bid to the 2024 MSNCT. In his first NAQT tournament, seventh-grader Dashiell Radkey-Drilling would lead the way with 71.04 PP20, the highest-scoring performance at an NAQT event by a Walnut seventh-grader (also known as an "effie".)
- Emma Smith (12) (sr. captain)
- Raghav Gangatirkar (12)
- Brodie Kreder (12)
- Kenner Bailey (12)
- Declan Mohler (11) (jr. co-captain)
- Miles Spieler (11) (jr. co-captain)
- Luke Jump (11)
- Jackson Riddle (10)
- Nikolai Fedorov (10)
- Ana Smith (10)
- Adithi Rao-Bedi (10)
- Rick Roychoudhury (10)
- Neil Shanbhag (10)
- Tiernan Hicks (9)
- Rishi Pampati (9)
- Larry Hilton (9)
- Shea Dillon (9)
- Ben Jump (9)
- Cal Moore (9)
- Alex Flamme (8)
- Owen Donlin (8)
- Maxwell Pipitone (8)
- Evelyn Schuett (8)
- Sasha Fedorov (7)
- William Laurenson (7)
- Xavier Corbus (7)
- Dashiell Radkey-Drilling (7)
- Jacob Durst (2005-2007) - Ohio State
- Peter Komarek (2007-2009) - Ohio State
- Max Bucher (2007-2010) - Ohio State
- Lei Fan (2006-2009) - Carnegie Mellon
- Joe Nutter (2008-2011) - Michigan State
- Stuart Johnson (2010-2012) - Cincinnati
- Nick Fixler (2012-2016) - Minnesota
- Sarah Hansen (2015-2017) - Miami (OH)
- William Culbertson (2016-2019) - Miami (OH)
- Nikhil Kothari (2018-2022) - Ohio State
- Graham Dunwoodie (2018-2023) - Chicago