Harford Christian School won its seventh consecutive Harford Envirothon Wednesday, the culmination of weeks of studying, but the students' coach warned them they couldn't rest long with the state competition about six weeks away.
"[There are] volumes of more information they have to put in their head between now and the middle of June," said coach Ada Stambaugh, who also teaches biology, environmental science, physiology and animal behavior at the Darlington school.
Harford Christian won the Maryland Envirothon last year – its second state win since 2008 – and placed seventh in the national finals, competing with students from across North America.
Harford County teams have won eight of the past 22 state competitions. Harford Christian is the second-winningest team at the county level behind Joppatowne High School, which won eight non-consecutive times between 1992 and 2001.
"It was a lot of pressure to win county, since we had just come back from such a good run last year," said team captain Hunter Howell.
Hunter, a senior, is the only veteran member of the team's five-person A squad, which will compete at the state level. The other members are junior Gracie Shannahan, sophomore Danielle Reifer, senior Dani Fiedler and junior Maddie Feustel.
"They put in a lot of hard work, and we managed to pull through," he said of his teammates.
Wednesday was the second and final round of the county competition, which was held at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon and involved eight local schools – Harford Christian was the only non-public school competing.
Harford Christian had a healthy rivalry with Havre de Grace High School going into Wednesday's competition.
Havre de Grace had taken first place in the first round and was ahead of Harford Christian by only a few points.
"It was anybody's ball game today," Harford Christian's Stambaugh said. "Havre de Grace very well could have been the champion."
Students had to show their expertise in five fields: aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and a Fifth Topic. Envirothon organizers select a different Fifth Topic each year, basing it on environmental issues affecting the state where the national competition will be held.
This year's nationals will take place in Montana, and the Fifth Topic was rangeland management. The students had made oral presentations on the Fifth Topic during the first round, and spent Wednesday going from station to station throughout the Leight Estuary Center grounds, completing written exams on all five topics.
The exams required students to identify various local plants and animals, measure trees and write out how they would solve scenarios such as ensuring they had enough grassland to feed a herd of livestock.
The teams' scores Wednesday were added to their scores from the first round, giving them a total score out of 600.
Harford Christian scored 540, and Havre de Grace was just 14 points shy with 526; North Harford High School came in third with 425.5 points.
"They're getting better and better every year and they're really showing a lot of commitment to the program, and I wish them a lot of luck in the coming years, after I leave," Hunter Howell said of Havre de Grace.
Havre de Grace team captain John Biondo said he and his teammates "were really hoping to come out on top," and knock off Harford Christian.
"It was pretty intense, almost like a rivalry," said Biondo, a senior. "We wanted Havre de Grace to be the first public school to [win]."
Havre de Grace's team was heavy with seniors.