The Convent of the Visitation’s FIRST Robotics team, the Robettes, took their pink bows and fierce mechanical and programming skills straight to the top of the North Star Regional Robotics Competition April 2 at Mariucci Arena.
Competing in a three-team alliance, the Robettes advanced through the quarterfinals, semifinals and final rounds, taking it to the third and final match every time. The points of the alliance as a whole are used to determine who wins the match.
“It was very much a Cinderella story,” said team mentor Melissa Murray, an engineering teacher at Visitation.
The Robettes, the only all-girls team in competition, won five out of seven rounds in Friday’s competitions, and went one for two Saturday morning, ultimately placing eighth in the top-eight secure spots moving forward.
We got really good partnerships … and were able to show off what we do best,” said senior Marie Willette.
Their alliance in Saturday’s finals, composed of Visitation, Washburn High School and Detroit Lakes High School, was nearly eliminated in the finals when they were badly outscored in the first two bouts by the opposing alliance of teams from Lee Summit, MO, Anoka-Hennepin School District and Duluth East, of which two teams have already qualified to go to nationals in other regional competitions.
However, the opposing alliance was disqualified due to penalties, giving the win over and sending the alliances into a third match. Visitation’s alliance won 47-44 in that most-final of final rounds.
Visitation survived despite multiple motor failures and a broken elevator in the final moments of the competition, said Murray.
The Robettes are in their fifth year of competition, and have placed second in regional competition the past three years in a row. The students are divided into mechanical, electrical, programming and public relations sub-teams. Eight new members bolster the ranks this year.
“This is the ultimate for us,” said Mary Sutherland, Visitation faculty and a founder of the team five years ago. “We really thought this was going to be the fourth year of second place … but anything can happen.”
For the Robettes, these competitions are considered a varsity sport, and the approach it that way.
“Being a part of a team is very important to me,” said sophomore Nandi Tippett. “ I don’t play team sports, so this is my team.”
The FIRST program, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” was founded by the inventor of Segways, Dean Kamen, in 1989. Robotics teams are often sponsored by corporations like Boston Scientific and Lockheed Martin, who also supply mentors from the science and engineering fields.
Team mentor Jonathan Stratis of Boston Scientific was taken aback by the ups and downs of the competition. “Words cannot describe.”
The Robettes head to the national competition April 25-30 in St Louis, MO.