Waukesha West Academic Decathlon team takes seventh in division at nationals

Published on: 5/5/2014

Waukesha West Academic Decathlon coach Amy Unti-Runnells acknowledged her team wasn't satisfied with its finish at the recent national meet.

"Quite obviously, the team would have liked to have placed higher," Unti-Runnells said on the team's 18th-place overall finish. "They had lofty goals, and they wanted to meet them."

It was the first time during the school's 13-year run at nationals that it failed to finish in the top 10 overall. Nevertheless, West's score of 40,315.6 was still good enough for seventh in the 19-team Division II field.

"This provides them with a valuable life lesson about resilience," Unti-Runnells said. "I know they will carry that with them well into the future."

The 51-team national and international field included three divisions based on a school's enrollment. The decathlon is broken into three divisions of students: Honors (3.75-4.00 GPA), Scholastic (3.00-3.74 GPA) and Varsity (0.00-2.99 GPA) and the top two individual scores from each team in all three divisions are totaled into a team's overall score for a possible score of 60,000 points.

The decathlon features written tests in art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, science and social science. In addition to essay writing, decathletes will give a speech and an interview in front of judges, and participate in the Super Quiz Relay.

West had some strong individual performances at nationals as Nikhita Chawla, Brandon Phouybanhdyt and Ryan Wilber all earned individual medals. As a team, West also placed fourth in the nation in the Super Quiz Relay.

After finishing as the state runner-up for the second straight year, the team saw nationals as a way to build on its success it has had at nationals over the years, including a national championship in 2002.

"State was difficult, but nationals was a second chance to work harder, and they all know, as individuals, if they met that expectation or not," Unti-Runnells said. "That's what is at the heart of competition: hard work and commitment. They've earned the right to hold their heads high."

The team graduates three national team members, and Unti-Runnells, a first-year head coach, who teaches English at the school, is looking forward to how next year's squad improves.

"I'm happy to have worked with these young people," Unti-Runnells said. "I've seen growth in them and have enjoyed watching them learn and have enjoyed learning from them. It has been equally wonderful working with a veteran coach, Erik Fountain. I've learned a great deal from him, too, and I know we will continue to grow as a coaching team."