After achieving a resounding victory in regional competition, Casa Grande High School's Academic Decathlon team is heading to Sacramento this weekend to compete against some of the top teams in the country.

"We'll be competing in Division 1 (the top division), and I'm not counting on anything other than the team members having a good time," said Donna Reed, Casa's coach. "But I think that it's possible we will surprise some people."

Traditionally, many of the nation's best teams have been from schools in Southern California, where Academic Decathlon virtually is a way of life.

Casa Grande scored 42,359 out of a possible 60,000 points — the 13th highest score in the state — to win the regional competition in Fairfield in February, and now will compete against the 19 other highest-scoring California schools in regional competition. All of the schools are from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino or Kern counties, except for Casa Grande and two high schools from Fresno County — Edison and University.

Academic Decathlon teams are comprised of students from three levels: honors (students with a grade-point average of 3.75 to 4.00), scholastic (3.00 to 3.74) and varsity (below 3.00).

Casa Grande won 85 individual awards in regional competition this year, and three team members, in particular, all seniors, now have a shot at earning state medals for the second consecutive year. Team captain Kathleen Schaefer, who is competing in the honors category, won three state medals last year, while Chloe Arnold (scholastic) garnered one and Ryan Smith (varsity) earned two.

"Another one of our team members, (senior) Suryatej Mukkamalla, did very well at regionals, and has a chance to win medals in the state competition, too," Reed said. "I could see us walking away with a few medals. We have the potential and the drive to do so, but the question is, &‘Where is everybody else, in terms of ability?' That ultimately will determine how well we do."

Reed feels that the Casa team is particularly strong in speech and interview competition.

"People often are hesitant about speaking in front of others, but our team members can't wait to do it, and it's a life skill that they will be able to carry with them later in life," she said.

Team members have been trying to boost their scores in math and the Super Quiz Relay.

"And they're working on the language and literature area, because they could do a lot better," Reed said.

The Casa Grande team will be leaving for Sacramento Friday, March 11 and return Monday, March 14. The Friday schedule consists of team registration and a mandatory coaches' orientation at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, where sit-down testing will be conducted the following day. The speech and interview testing, followed by the Super Quiz Relay, takes place on Sunday at Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, at 1515 J St.

The relay, from 4:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., is the only competition open to the public.

An awards ceremony on Monday at the auditorium culminates the event.

The Casa Grande contingent needs to raise more money to pay for the state competition.

"We've raised some money recently, but not as much as we need," Reed said. "We're going to do some fundraising, and will try to get more donations."

Anyone interested in contributing should make a check out to Casa Grande Academic Decathlon, and send it to Casa Grande Academic Decathlon, Attn. Donna Reed, 333 Casa Grande Road, Petaluma, CA 94954.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)