When Ann Conway-Konzelman began the VIL²A BE²S math team in Villa Victoria Academy nearly 30 years ago, she did so with a specific vision in mind – to prove to the students in the Ewing all-girls’ school that they can be competitive in the field of mathematics.

And based on the number of awards the team has won over the years in national math competitions – 41 in all – not to mention also placing in the top four schools nationally – the student participants in turn have proved that their coach was right.

The VIL²A BE²S team members are now celebrating what they refer to as “the summit of mathematical excellence,” earning first-place ranking in the country in the Catholic Math League Advanced Division. In addition, team member Jane Fan of the Class of 2020 placed first among all competitors in the nation.

“After all the work that our team has put into each competition, it feels amazing to gain recognition for our hard work,” said senior Megan Hayhurst, a two-year team member.

“Although our group of girls works tirelessly without expecting much recognition, it still feels great to have achieved this wider perspective,” Hayhurst said. “I am excited to carry on this legacy during my senior year at Villa. Mrs. Conway is an incredible teacher, and our talents continue to grow under her leadership.”

Conway-Konzelman has been with Villa Victoria for 32 years, during which time she has taught various math courses for grade levels eight-12, including Honors Algebra 1; Honors Algebra II; CP Algebra II; Honors Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus. She explained that from 1991 to 2009, the VIL²A BE²S participated in the CML’s Varsity and Junior Varsity divisions, winning 41 awards and placing nationally in the top four schools 12 times. In 2005, “We took first place,” she said.

However, when the CML league dissolved in 2009, the team joined the Catholic Math League under the coordination of Educontest, an online testing solutions group, and participated only in the Advanced Math Division. The CML is a national math competition that serves hundreds of Catholic schools, and team members work from September through March to prepare and participate in four written tests.

Reflecting on the many successes the VIL²A BE²S have experienced in the Advanced Math Division over the past 11 years, Conway-Konzelman likened the team’s competition preparation to that of a sports team. VIL²A BE²S trains regularly with practice math problems and routines similar to a basketball team practicing layups and jump shots, she said, noting that every week, each team member submits a series of completed math problems for Conway-Konzelman to review. On the day of the competitions (pre-COVID-19), team members, who are wearing their team shirts and visors, convene in Conway-Konzelman’s classroom and before beginning the test, the team prays.

“Each competition brings a new challenge – or opportunity – to demonstrate my knowledge in a new aspect of mathematics,” Hayhurst said, adding that while team members don’t know for certain what the test will incorporate on the day of the competition, she appreciates how Conway-Konzelman makes sure that each girl has practiced math problems that range from algebra to calculus. This practice is given in the form of packets of math problems that each team member works on at home during the months leading up to the competition.

Teammate Emily Ordonez, a senior, shared her reason for initially joining the team: It would be a way for her to both challenge and discipline herself in future math-based courses.

“I have learned to not only pay attention to the process but to use those steps to my advantage when looking at similar problems. Now I am able to solve questions quicker and really dissect the question to fully understand it,” she added.

Noting how very proud and ecstatic she and her teammates were to win CML’s national recognition, Ordonez said, “I felt honored to be part of such a great team with great people.”