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The point span between New Mexico Activities Association’s Academic Decathlon champion High-land High School and runner-up Belen at the state competition on Saturday, Feb. 23, is the equivalent of a missed buzzer shot in a basketball game.

It was the closest Academic Decathlon final score Belen coach Matt Williams has seen in his five years of association with the program.

“Usually, the point span is 1,000 to 1,500; we were within 335 points of Highland,” Williams said of the competition that was held at Sandia Prep. “Our team members gave it their all and tried their best. They have nothing to be ashamed of, bringing home second.”

Young and hungry, the Belen High School nine-person team improved its performance from the regional competition on Jan. 26 by 4,700 points.

Even with the coveted Super Quiz trophy, Belen still had to settle for second place behind Highland. “Usually, the team that wins the Super Quiz wins the whole thing,” Williams said. “We basically needed two more correct questions from each of our team members to win. It was that close.”

Entering the state competition, Belen’s coach felt his team had a very good chance of winning. “We are a strong team. This year, every single person walked away with a medal at regional and state,” he said of the squad, which brought home 41 of the 80 state medals.

Academic Decathlon is more than competition; it teaches the students how to study. “It opens their eyes to many different possibilities for their future education and careers. It helps them grow as an intellectual and realize how grand their potential can be,” the coach said.

“We found out Tuesday before state that we were 5,000 points behind them at regional,” Williams said of his team’s second place finish against Highland in their first meeting. “The team studied 40-plus hours that week, focusing on their four strongest areas. It paid off with an amazing improvement in our scores.”

Another thing Williams is excited about is that he will only lose two to graduation. “We have two seniors, two juniors and the rest are sophomores. This means we have a solid foundation for the future.”

Academic teams are made up of nine students grouped in three divisions, at all grade-point averages.

Making up the Eagles’ honor squad are senior Amy Coplen, junior Todd Taylor and sophomore Nathan Cotter.

The scholastic squad members are senior Aaron Jenkins, sophomores Bryan Costilla and sophomore Stewart Breck.

Varsity squad members are junior Brett Barrow and sophomores Gabe Guenley and Susanna Sandoval.

Alternate team members for state were senior Michael Jaramillo, junior Mary Saurman and sophomore Marian Rey-nolds.

The students take tests in language and literature, music, art, science, math and economics, and must write an essay, participate in an interview and present a prepared speech.

In the competition finale, Super Quiz, each team member had to answer 40 written and five verbal questions on the subject of “E-communications: The Internet and Society.”

At regional, Barrows was third overall in the varsity division as the team brought home seven gold, eight silver and six bronze medals.

“We had three perfect scores at regional,” Williams said. They were earned by Coplen in speech, Costilla in interview and Barrow in interview.

At state, Barrow took first place overall in the varsity division, while teammate Guenley was third overall.

Costilla was second overall in the scholastic division, while junior Taylor was third overall in the honor division.

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Jane Moorman