The 2018 Virginia Tech Hokies Soil Judging Team took first place among 22 teams in the group judging event at the Soil Science Society of America’s National Intercollegiate Soil Judging Contest on March 23 in Martin, Tennessee.

The Hokies finished ahead of the University of Maryland, Tennessee Tech University, West Virginia University, and Kansas State University.

This is the second time that Virginia Tech has won the group judging national championship. The team’s first victory came in 2006. This year, the Hokies also took second place in the overall score, falling just 16 points behind the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and pushing ahead of West Virginia, Maryland, and Purdue University.

The team was led by eighth-place individual finisher Ben Smith, a sophomore student from Chesterfield, Virginia, studying biological systems engineering. He was joined by Sam Withers, a biological systems engineering major from Asheville, North Carolina; Cameron Bermand, an environmental sciences major from Bedford, New Hampshire; and Chris Moritz, an environmental sciences major from Gloucester, Virginia. All four individuals scored in the 52nd percentile or better. There were 87 students in the contest.

The group judging event included 10 students from Virginia Tech. These include the four individual judges, along with Sabrina Vladu from Yorktown, Virginia; Megan Leach from Falls Church, Virginia; Morgan Ré from Winchester, Virginia; Jirius Abdallah from Vienna, Virginia; Xuanyu “Peter” Guo from Beijing, China; and Annie Konjevoda from Falls Church, Virginia. Izzy Fish from Haymarket, Virginia, was unable to attend the contest due to illness.

“Soil judging is an ultimate example of experiential learning where students must excel at learning and applying new concepts. We were literally learning up to the last day of practice and then had to test our knowledge the next morning. It was a mental and physical challenge,” said John Galbraith, the team’s coach and an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences. “The team did so well in the group judging because all 10 students worked together, cooperated, and respected each other. The team is very tight-knit. Now they know how much dedication and sacrifice it takes to be the best at something. They deserve their awards, and I am proud of them.”

The assistant coaches were graduate students Mike Badzmierowski from Rhode Island, and Alexandra Schmidt from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Daniel Smith from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was unable to attend.

The contest was a qualifier for the 3rd International Soil Judging Contest, sponsored by the International Union of Soil Scientists in Itaguaí and Seropédica, Brazil in August 2018, just before the 21st World Congress of Soil Science in Barra da Tejuca, Brazil. The top eight individuals qualify for two teams from the United States. Ben Smith qualified for the second U.S. team, team A, as did Galbraith, who will coach the team. This is the second time Galbraith has qualified as a U.S. team coach. He is the only person in the world who has coached at all three international contests. 

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