The Maui High School Ocean Science Bowl team defeated powerful Punahou School - President Barack Obama's alma mater - in the preliminary rounds but could not repeat the feat in the final match at the Hawaii regional competition at the University of Hawaii-Manoa last week.
The Saber team finished second, losing only to the Oahu private school in Saturday's finals of the competition that tests students' knowledge of oceanography.
Although the score was 92-45, "it was not as bad as the score showed," said Ed Ginoza, retired Maui High science teacher, who helped coach the team with David Gunderson, school biology teacher. The match was close but a series of missed questions by team members who may have been too quick on the buzzer helped Punahou pull away, he said.
In the preliminary rounds, Maui High defeated Punahou 89-70, handing the Buffanblu their only loss in the regionals that included 12 teams. A big 24-point swing in the match occurred when Maui High's challenge of the pronunciation of an answer by Punahou to a question about ancient oceans was upheld, said Ginoza.
After going undefeated in the preliminary rounds and winning the top seed in the championship rounds, the Sabers knocked off Kalani High School of Oahu and Kealakehe High School of the Big Island to reach the finals.
Ginoza pointed out that this was the first year the contest final was decided in a single-elimination format. When Maui High captured the title in 2005, it lost to Iolani School of Oahu before winning out to take the championship, he recalled. The Sabers won regional competitions in Hawaii from 2003 to 2006 and finished as high as sixth in the National Ocean Science Bowl.
"I think definitely we would have had a chance" if the format had been double-elimination this year, Ginoza said, adding that organizers might be going back to the old format.
Despite finishing second, the team felt a sense of accomplishment having defeated Punahou, said Ginoza. Maui High also took home the Spirit Award, receiving a $20 gift card from Consolidated Theaters. The Sabers' prize for taking second was a portable video recorder.
Punahou won a trip to Florida in April to compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.
The competition has teams answering questions about marine history, weather, biology, geology, physics, chemistry, and environmental and social issues. Examples of questions this year included:
Which state has made damaging coral reefs a crime? What year were hydrothermal vents discovered? And, how do whales determine distance?
Ginoza extolled the virtues of Ocean Science Bowl.
"It's the best preparation for college," he said. "It's not the same as preparing for a test. You really have to know the stuff."
He said past Maui High team members have ended up at Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brigham Young University, Harvard University and Boston College.
"To do well at the competition, students need to master the concepts and assimilate a large amount of information equivalent to a couple of college-level courses," Ginoza said.
He has been working with most members of this team, which consisted of three juniors and two seniors, since their freshman year. Since the beginning of the year, they have been meeting at lunch and after school.
The team was led by juniors Dane Oshiro, who was the captain, Michael Flynn and Ross Ito, along with seniors Kelsey Kapisi and Kristine Omura.
Maui High also entered a B team at the competition. No other Maui County school competed this year.
Ginoza, who has high hopes for next year with the three returnees, said the team will be "really, really strong."
"One of the kids said 'I can't wait until next year,' '' Ginoza said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.