A Reynoldsburg robot named Sparks and the Technical Difficulties 4085 team won big over the weekend, capturing first place in the Miami Valley Regional FIRST Robotics contest.

"I was hugged so hard by some of the team that I almost got the wind knocked out of me, but I was too excited to care," said Aleyna Dragonette, team captain and chief project manager.

The e-STEM Academy team competed against 46 other high school teams March 9-11 at Wittenberg University. The teams were from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, New York, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and one group from Istanbul, Turkey.

Clad in purple T-shirts with a robot figure on the front, the Reynoldsburg team yelled "forty-eighty-five" as Sparks competed on the field during the final rounds of the Steamworks competition.

The Steamworks game was a high-energy race to collect plastic balls and large plastic gears, then place them in designated areas.

The balls were shot into boiler-shaped goals while the gears were placed on prongs, to be used by human players on the field.

The ultimate goal of the contest was to score more points than the opposing team in two minutes and 30 seconds.

Dragonette said she had no idea what to expect.

"Normally, the first competition is a trial run that we can learn from and improve for our next regional," she said. "As the long days of qualification matches started, the drive team and I were feeling confident in our robot's performance.

"Our team was then picked for an alliance to move on to quarterfinals, so we were ecstatic," she said. "We then made it to the semifinals and then the finals, which was when it started sinking in that we could win this."

She said the final matches were full of some tense moments.

"From mounting our broken climber back into place and fixing the robot's wheel, Danny Phillips (a drive team member) was able to do it all," Dragonette said.

"I will never forget the moment that I watched the final score flash on the screen as I was embraced by fellow drive team members."

Coach and teacher Jim Coley said the team was in 16th place during the qualification rounds but was chosen for a three-team alliance by a third-seeded team, so competed in the quarterfinals with Team 48 Delphi E.L.I.T.E, from Warren, Ohio, and Team 2451 PWNAGE, from Illinois.

"We lost our first quarterfinal, but went on to win the next two, so moved onto the semifinals," he said. "We went 2-1, which put us into the finals, where we also went 2-1. Needless to say, each round was a real nail-biter."

He said the climbing mechanism on the robot broke down during the quarterfinals and the robot lost a wheel during the final round.

"They made both these repairs in under three minutes," Coley said. "The team's hard work and training during the build season gave them the knowledge and confidence to assess technical difficulties and make the necessary repairs on the spot."

The build season started on Jan. 7.

"From that point, we had six weeks to build the robot," Coley said. "Stop build day was Feb. 21, when we bagged and tagged Sparks until we got to the Miami Valley Regional."

He said team sponsors TS Tech, Dynalab, LBrands and Buckeye Power Sales made it possible for the students to build a practice robot on which they could make improvements, which they were allowed to install on Sparks during the three days of competition.

Dragonette agreed that preparation was key to the team's success.

"This team has become a family and can work very well together," she said.

"Without the quick adaptability and the relationship between our team, this successful weekend wouldn't have been possible."

The team will compete next March 30 and 31 and April 1 at the Buckeye Regional in Cleveland.

By placing first March 11, it has qualified for the world FRC Championship, April 26-29 in St. Louis.

That honor comes with a price tag, however.

"The entrance fee is $5,000, which the team will have to work hard to raise before the deadline in four weeks," Coley said.

pwillis@thisweeknews.com

@PamelaThisWeek

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