On March 17, a group of four sophomores from Catholic Central High School in Troy were feeling pretty lucky -- and not because it was St. Patrick's Day.

The four boys had just won the local Academic World Quest competition, held at Sage College in Albany, qualifying them for a national competition April 28 in Washington, D.C.

They'll compete against teams from 225 other schools from around the country.

"It was surreal," said team member Lucas Kania about the big win. "It was just amazing."

Academic World Quest is an international affairs and foreign policy competition. Students are asked 100 multiple-choice questions in a series of 10 rounds, with one minute to answer each question. Students receive one point per correct answer.

The topics for questions vary each year, with tougher questions at the national competition. This year's topics included NAFTA, India's bid for global power, cyber security, Saudi Arabia and American diplomats.

Three CCHS students - Paul Barnas, Sebastian Kania and Michael Paglia - all joined the school's Academic World Quest team last year as freshmen. Sebastian said he recruited his twin brother, Lucas, to the team this year.

For the win

Catholic Central has been competing in the local competition for four years, but had never won until now.

Michael said at last year's local competition, their team took home third place. He thought that, with a little more studying, their team "could really win this."

He was right.

"It's an insane amount of information," Michael explained. "We really bonded as a group, and towards the end we were meeting up every week."

"It's a really good learning experience," Paul said. "It's exhausting but worth it."

The local competition allows each participating high school to enter up to 12 students, or three teams of four. CCHS entered two teams; the other team, comprised of students Colby Beach, Spencer Daley, Amber Fisher and Zoe Henzel, took home fourth place.

CCHS teachers Andrew Krakat and Lexi Cuomo are co-advisors for the program. Mr. Krakat teaches advanced-placement U.S. and world history and senior government economics, and is the school's acting dean of academics. He received the students' study materials in November, but he said the team does most of their studying on their own time.

"They take the lead," said Mr. Krakat. "They only engage with Lexi or myself if they have any questions. The credit is due to them for their drive. They pretty much have got a plan."

Sebastian explained the process: The team divides up the work and has each person become an expert on one or two topics. Each person is then responsible for teaching the other members about those topics.

"At the end of the week [before the local competition], we all came to my house and studied a full six hours," Lucas added.

Tightly-knit team

The team agreed that the local competition needed to be taken very seriously if they were to have a shot at nationals. In addition to working well together academically, Sebastian said that all four of them have been friends since seventh grade.

"We're definitely sticking together," said Michael. "Every year, we're getting better and better."

At the regional competition, every team sat at separate tables while a moderator read off the questions. Michael described the room as "dead quiet." Many teams didn't talk at all to rule out any possible chance of another team eavesdropping.

Michael added that having only one minute to answer questions seems especially short when it comes to difficult topics. It's important to miss as few questions as possible, Sebastian said, because "every point matters."

"We only won by six points," Michael explained. "If we second-guessed anything, that's a point [gone]."

At the end, the boys all assumed another local high school was taking home first prize, but that team ended up getting fifth place. When it was announced that Catholic Central was the winner, Sebastian said they couldn't help but celebrate: "We lost it," cheering enthusiastically.

Ready to roll

Now, the team is preparing hard for nationals. In addition to World Quest, the boys juggle other extracurricular activities along with schoolwork: Sebastian runs for the school's track and field team, and Michael and Paul are in CCHS' social media club. Paul is also an altar server at his parish, St. Michael's in Cohoes.

Michael said that having time-management skills "is an underrated part of the [Academic World Quest] competition."

All the boys expressed excitement about traveling to D.C., and great pride in representing their school in the national competition.

"There are a lot of great schools, so we've really got to push it," Michael said. "I think it's really going to be a great experience."