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Groton — Coginchaug Regional High School coach Lorrie Martin nervously beat a toy squid and octopus together like pom-poms as her team rallied in the final round to win the annual Quahog Bowl ocean-sciences championship Saturday at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.
"They went like a whirlwind right to the end," Martin said afterward. "I'm really proud of them."
Coginchaug, located in landlocked Durham, beat out Rhode Island's Narragansett High School in the final competition that brought a total of 16 schools to Avery Point. Coginchaug, wearing aquamarine T-shirts bearing the word "cephalopods" — predatory mollusks such as octopuses and squids — came back from a 31-18 deficit in the final round to win.
"This is so scary," Coginchaug competitor Abby Eisner said to friends during a break about midway through the competition. "This is probably the scariest thing I've ever done."
Teammate Ryan Gossart answered several key questions down the stretch that finally put the victory away for Coginchaug. Other members of the team were Deanna Puchalski, Tyler Bjarnason and Amelia Bianchi.
This was Coginchaug's ninth year in the competition, and the first time that it has won. Cranston West, which had been a perennial winner until Ledyard High School broke its victory streak two years ago, was taken out in the semifinal round.
Cranston West won the competition last year and nine out of the last 10. This year, Cranston West finished fourth, with the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in Groton winding up third.
The single-elimination competition covered questions about a wide range of subjects, including technology, biology, geology, geography and marine policy. Some of the questions were toss-ups that both teams had to compete for, while others were challenges that each of the teams had to collaborate on to find the best answers.
"Every round counts, and every question counts," said Thaxter Tewksbury, the director of Project Oceanology, one of the hosts of the Quahog Bowl.
The Quahog Bowl (a quahog is a type of clam) is one of 21 regional competitions sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Winners have the opportunity to go on to the 17th National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Seattle this spring, though Tewksbury said funds to pay expenses for the trip have yet to be raised.
Ledyard High won the Team Sportsmanship Award, while Narragansett took home the Team Challenge Award. Other local schools in the competition Saturday were Bacon Academy in Montville, Norwich Free Academy, Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London and Waterford High School.