With plastic pollution flooding the oceans, fishing populations at increasing danger of collapse, and climate change affecting the delicate pH balance, it’s more important than ever for our students to understand how our global ocean systems work and what we can do to protect them. For 22 years, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) has put high school students through a rigorous tournament testing their ocean science knowledge. Over the years, schools from across the country have risen and fallen in their quest to hold the crown. Dynasties of ocean science expertise emerged and crumbled as new leaders rose to the challenge.

The past four years of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl has been an exciting tour-de-force dominated by three power-house high schools. However, it hasn’t been without other shining stars beginning to expose cracks in these NOSB dynasties. We took a look at the data from the past four years to identify who we think the teams to beat in next year’s National Ocean Sciences Bowl will be. Here’s our analysis of the lay of the land for the 2019-20 bowl season.

Each year, NOSB recognizes the top 8 places in the national tournament. For the past 4 years, three schools have dominated, with one notable exception coming out of the blue to take the top spot in 2018. The Institute of Competition Sciences’ point system helps identify which schools are leading across the field of academic competitions. For a national competition like NOSB, a first place award earns the school 1000 points, 2nd place 750, 3rd place 500, 4th place 250, placements in the top tier below that being 100 points each. For schools placing more than once in the NOSB over the past 4 years we get the following ICS point ranking:

All other schools who placed over the past 4 years did not do so more than once. The highest placements of these one-time schools was third place (Ladue Horton Watkins HS in 2019, and North Carolina School of Science and Math in 2017).

From the ICS points in the table above, it’s easy to see that three high schools have been dominating the National Ocean Sciences Bowl the past 4 years: Santa Monica High School, Albany High School, and Marshfield High School.

What does this mean for competitors in the next NOSB tournament season? Examining the last four years in a bit more details can bring out a few interesting insights.

  1. Even dominant schools are not always #1 – as was seen in 2018 with Montgomery Blair, sometimes schools can come seemingly out of the blue to take the top spot.
  2. Being a dominant team doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win – Marshfield High School comes in as our 3rd most-dominant team over the past 4 years; however, they did not make it to the number 1 spot any year. What’s the take away? Even though you can have a great team, the competition is fierce and you always have to be at the top of your game to make the number 1.
  3. The four year cycle is strong – looking at the dominant teams history demonstrates somewhat of a four year cycle in their success. From 2015 to 2017, Marshfield High School was never less than 3rd However, in the two years before that (2013, 2014) and the year after (2019), Marshfield failed to place in the top 8. Similarly, Santa Monica High School has placed in the top three every year from 2016-2019, but from 2013-2015 was no where to be seen in the top placements. Albany High School shows a similar stretch between 2016-2019, though were absent from the podium in 2017. What does this mean? Maybe many of the teams that become dominant in the NOSB tournaments are reliant on one or a few very skilled students who come into the stage their freshman year, and once they graduate, the club has to build up their experienced student base again.


While all of this is intriguing to analyze, there are no steadfast rules for who is going to be dominant in next year’s National Ocean Sciences Bowl. As with anything where you try to predict the future, the best you can get are indications and ideas. What we have here is a very interesting account of some of the trends from the past years, and indications of what might happen in the future.

Does spending the past four years in the top 3 for Santa Monica High School mean that it’s reign of dominance is coming to an end? Is Albany High School starting out on a new series of dominant performances or closing out an old one? Can Marshfield come back to regain its top tier performances from 2015-2018? Or will another, upstart high school step in to take the crown in 2020 like Montgomery Blair did in 2018?

A great number of schools will be vying for the chance to start their run on the NOSB podium including last year’s batch of leaders such as: Ladue Horton Watkins HS, Centerville HS, Marine Academy of Science and Technology, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport HS and Science and Technology Magnet HS of Southeastern Connecticut. Only time will tell who rises to the top for the 2020 National Ocean Sciences Bowl, but it is bound to be an interesting tournament season after the summer break!

Want to learn more about the National Ocean Sciences Bowl?

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Visit the competition website.

Oceans cover over 70% of our planet. They provide Americans with more than 4.8 billion pounds of food a year (according to NOAA) and are one of the main global drivers of our world’s climate. As of the last census in 2010, 39% of the United States’ population lived on the coast (also according to NOAA), but despite how important our oceans are, and how close so many of us live to them, very few of us know much about them.

But this isn’t the case for a select group of students who compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Each year, thousands of students across the country compete against the best and brightest to identify the country’s most knowledgeable students in ocean sciences!

Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, NOSB has quite the history of great schools that have participated and won the National Championship. But in all those years, a handful of schools have continually shown their expertise in the ocean sciences by showing up again and again in the winner’s circle, overcoming great challenges from new competitors and seasoned teams alike.

With schools all over the United States letting students out for summer vacation, the last thing on most people’s minds is the start of the fall academic competition season. However, for the dedicated few, the summer provides the perfect opportunity to gain an advantage over their competitors. Throughout the next few months, leading National Ocean Sciences Bowl teams will be hitting the books, in the hopes of getting a leg up on their competition for the coming year.

While many of the participating teams exhibit great skills in this stressful, buzzer-beater competition, there are a few teams in particular that ICS thinks will be the teams to beat this coming competition year. Here are our top 3 based on recent performances:


The Teams to Beat


(1) Santa Monica High School.

The most obvious team to pay attention to is the winner of the 2017 national competition in Corvallis, Oregon. After many months of preparation, it was ultimately Santa Monica High School from California that took home the title. This wasn’t the first time Santa Monica High School placed in the national competition either. A year earlier, in 2016, they took home the 3rd place trophy, and back in 2012 they were in the winner’s circle with 5th place. This begs the big question, will Santa Monica High be able to defend their title?


(2) Boise High School

Another strong contender going into the 2018 NOSB season is the team from Boise High School out of Boise, Idaho. They have their eyes set on the top spot for 2018, and definitely have the creds to back up a run for the top! Within the last six years, they are the only team to place first two separate times at the National competition, having done so in 2014 and then again the following year, in 2015. While they did not have a strong showing this past year, they did manage to hit the winner’s circle at 5th place in 2016. This rising and falling action could represent the coming and going of experienced students from the team, which could also mean this might be a strong year for the Boise team as the more inexperienced students from the previous 2 years have become more seasoned for 2018.


(3) Marshfield High School.

To round out the top three teams we're keeping an eye on for the 2018 NOSB season, we have to take a look at Marshfield High School from Marshfield, WI. Coached by Paul Herder, this team has shown great consistency in performance regardless of their strongest team members graduating. Having won the National competition in 2012, Marshfield has placed 3rd or above in four of the last six years at the National level. Even more interesting, in both 2016 and 2017, they barely lost out on taking home the National title and had to settle with accepting just 2nd place. Perhaps this coming year is the year they return to glory. Their strength with consistent showings in the top three the past three years certainly makes us think they are one of the top contenders!


Only time will tell how things actually unfold, but one thing is for certain: the 2018 season is going to be an interesting year for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. The excitement begins next February, but teams are already signing up to take on the challenge!