Four PYLUSD High Schools Earn Top Accolades at Annual Orange County Academic Decathlon

Esperanza High School's Academic Decathlon team under the direction of head coach Kressler Nguyen-Valdez.

All four Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD) comprehensive high schools competed in the Orange County Academic Decathlon (OCAD) on January 27 and February 3. For 56 years, this event has invited public and private high school students to compete in a series of academic tests and demonstrations. The topics cover a variety of academic disciplines, including art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science, and speech. This year’s theme was “Technology and Humanity.”

On February 9, it was announced that PYLUSD high schools earned top honors at the OCAD Awards Ceremony at Orange County College. In Division 1, Valencia High School came in third place, earning the Tigers an invitation to the state competition, which is scheduled to take place in Santa Clara from March 21 to March 24.

Esperanza High School also had a strong showing in Division 2 earning first place. Yorba Linda High School competed at the Division 2 level earning fourth place. El Dorado High School also participated in the competition, landing at the number nine spot in Division 2. Many students earned individual medals. PYLUSD is proud of the efforts of all four schools!

Here are the individual results.

El Dorado High School

El Dorado is proud of their decathletes for working hard to prepare for the weekslong academic competition season. The Golden Hawks would like to give a special shoutout out to their students who placed in various subject areas in this year’s competition including:

Junior Varsity Team
Claire Ng placed 5th in Literature
Brian Arellano placed 1st in Speech (Brian scored higher than any other Freshman or Sophomore in Orange County)

Varsity Team
Rizwaan Bana placed 4th in Math
Nicole Samet placed 4th in Social Science
Ani Sivalingam placed 5th in Social Science, 3rd in Speech, and 3rd in Interview
Tahlia Pompel 4th in Essay, Speech, and Econ, 3rd in Social Science, and 2nd in Literature and Interview

The team’s head coach is Language Arts teacher Amanda Dato.


Esperanza High School

Esperanza’s academic decathlon team had a very successful competition season! The Varsity team with mainly 11th and 12th graders was 1st place overall team in division two, 2nd place in team Super Quiz, and the “Spirit of OCAD” trophy winner for a 4th time. The fourteen students earned a total of 47 individual subject medals. Noteworthy students are senior Emma Beelner who earned a perfect score in speech and Alex Tumakay who earned eight medals out of the ten events.  

The Junior Varsity team consisted of twenty-one 9th and 10th graders. They also did extremely well, earning 30 individual subject medals with Gissely Rodriguez earning a medal in every event (6 events). In total, the decathletes earned 77 medals this year and Esperanza finished as the 7th overall team in Orange County. Here are the medal winners:

Varisty Team
Alex Tumakay: 8 medals (1st in economics, music, literature + science; 2nd in speech + art; 5th in math)
Matthew Hoang: 7 medals (1st in art, literature + music; 2nd in essay; 3rd in social science and 4th in math + science)
Emma Beelner: 6 medals (1st in speech; 2nd in interview; 3rd in art + music; 5th in math + literature)
Jack Wachter: 4 medals (4th in math; 5th in literature, music + essay)
Jayden Maldonado Rojas: 4 medals (1st in speech; 3rd in essay + literature; 4th in math)
Cynthia Wong: 4 medals (3rd in interview; 4th in essay + social science; 5th in literature)
Paola Silva: 4 medals (3rd in essay; 4th in art, economics + literature)
Samantha Yokote: 3 medals (1st in literature; 3rd in art; 4th in music)
Annette Byun: 2 medals (4th in interview; 5th in art)
Hayley Park: 2 medals (1st in essay + art)
Emi Furuichi: 1 medal (2nd in literature)
Shivali Sharma: 1 medal (2nd in essay)
Eric Alfaro: 1 medal (3rd in math)

Junior Varisty Team
Gissely Rodriguez: 6 medals (1st in literature; 2nd in art; 3rd in music; 4th in speech + social science; 5th in science)
Sofia Fontes: 4 medals (4th in art + music; 5th in literature + speech)
Sophia Diaz: 3 medals (1st in literature; 4th in art; 5th in music)
Fernanda Perez: 3 medals (3rd in speech; 4th in social science; 5th in music)
Lilly Slovenec: 3 medals (2nd in literature; 4th in social science; 5th in speech)
Mohammad Hassan: 3 medals (3rd in art + music; 5th in science)
David Yu: 2 medals (3rd in science; 5th in music)
Thomas Lemesh: 2 medals (2nd in speech; 4th in science)
Keya Valand: 1 medal (1st in speech)
Hayden Do:1 medal (5th in literature)
Clara DeMattia: 1 medal (4th in literature)
Athan Alota: 1 medal (3rd in speech)

Other students contributing to the team and spirit trophy include Tyler Furuichi, Alea Andronaco, Tiffany Bui, Adam Dias, Riki Furuichi, Parker Goo, Riley Hannon, Jocelyn Lam, Sara Samanci, and Ethan Villaflores. The team’s head coach is Science teacher Kressler Nguyen-Valdez.

Valencia High School

The VHS Academic Decathlon team placed third overall in Orange County and will be headed to the state competition in Santa Clara next month. Looking at results from across the state, Valencia is among the highest-scoring teams in California year after year.

“Our starting roster of Ryan Lin (Captain), Saebyeok Keum, Irene Pan, Aina Pan, Asher McCathern, Rini Dagli, Lance Ho, Owen Martin, and Erin Lee did an amazing job,” shared head coach Calen Rau.

Irene Pan was 7th overall in Honors, Asher McCathern was 4th overall in Scholastic, Aina Pan was 6th overall in Scholastic, Owen Martin was 6th overall in Varsity, and Lance Ho was 7th overall in Varsity

Here’s the individual awards:

Ryan Lin: Interview (3rd), Econ (4th), Essay (5th), Literature (5th), Speech (5th)
Saebyeok Keum: Science (2nd), Social Science (2nd), Math (5th)
Irene Pan: Econ (2nd), Social Science (3rd), Music (3rd)
Rini Dagli: Interview (2nd)
Asher McCathern: Speech (1st/Perfect Score), Essay (2nd), Literature (2nd), Math (3rd), Econ (3rd), Art (4th)
Aina Pan: Econ (1st), Math (3rd), Art (5th), Essay (5th)
Owen Martin: Essay (2nd), Music (2nd), Math (4th), Social Science (5th)
Lance Ho: Literature (1st), Econ (1st), Math (3rd)
Erin Lee: Literature (3rd), Social Science (4th), Music (5th), Essay (5th)

Nathan Lee: Music (2nd), Econ (2nd), Math (3rd), Literature (5th)
Joseph Park: Math (2nd), Econ (2nd), Art (4th), Music (5th), Science (5th)
Rohan Apte: Essay (3rd), Social Science (4th)
Aashna Shah: Art (1st), Social Science (2nd), Science (4th), Econ (4th), Essay (4th)
Harshi Sanhani: Econ (4th), Essay (5th)
Yamini Vunguturi: Science (1st), Music (2nd), Art (3rd)
Kulpreet Kaur: Speech (2nd), Econ (3rd), Interview (4th)
Shen Gonapoladeniyage: Econ (1st), Math (2nd), Essay (2nd), Social Science (3rd), Music (3rd), Art (4th), Science (5th), Speech (5th)
Wynn Youm: Music (1st), Literature (1st), Math (2nd), Science (2nd), Economics (2nd), Social Science (4th)
Aarushi Verma: Music (2nd), Speech (3rd), Social Science (4th), Interview (5th), Math (5th)

Way to go, Tigers! The team’s head coach is history teacher Calen Rau.


Yorba Linda High School

The Mustangs also had a strong showing in Division 2 at OCAD, earning 3rd place in Super Quiz and 4th place overall in the tournament. The team clenched 26 individual medals, including the following:

The team was led heavily by Senior Ryan Hernandez, who earned 7 medals, including 1st place for Literature. Senior Kendra Gominsky earned 5 medals, including 2nd place for both Interview and Speech. Senior Cate Nihira helped lead the way as well with 4 medals, including 2nd place for Economics and Literature. Junior Kayla Seo earned a 1st place medal, her 2nd in two years, for the Essay
Junior Basim Jamal helped lead the Mustangs with 5 medals, including 2nd place for Social Studies and Art.

In summary, individual award winners were Ryan Hernandez, 7 awards; Kendra Gominsky, 5 medals; Cate Nihira, won 4; Brianne Burgess won 4 medals, including two 1st place medals; Kayla Seo earned a 1st place medal for Essay Basim Jamal won 5 medals.

“We had a terrific team and they sure worked hard!” head coach and history teacher Kelly Buchan shared.


Read more about the Orange County Academic Decathlon courtesy of the Orange County Department of Education at

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