Westlake robotics teams participate in State Championship

Not one, not two, but three Westlake robotics teams headed to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston this year to participate in the First Robotics Competition Texas district championship April 6-9. All three teams ranked within the top 52 teams in Texas, continuing the Robotics programs’ saga of success. So, how did they all get there? 2468 Team Appreciate won the Chairman’s award in the Waco tournament six weeks ago. This automatically qualified them to participate in the state tournament, whereas the other two teams, 2687 Team Apprentice and 2689 Team Alpha had to secure their spot in the state tournament by scoring enough ranking points to place within the top 80 teams in Texas. On top of that, this year’s batch of robots has raked in other awards like claiming first and second place and an Innovation in Control award at the Austin qualifying tournament over spring break. 

To put into perspective the magnitude of this achievement, never before has a single FRC program sent three robots to compete at state. In fact, two years ago, there wasn’t even enough space to house three teams here at Westlake. But, thanks to the Robotics facility expansion over last summer, there’s plenty of room to fit the 120+ robotics students in the program and an entire practice field. On Jan. 8, students received the details for this year’s game, Rapid React, and immediately got to work building the three robots and the field elements.

“This year’s game was sort of like basketball,” senior Paresh Grover said. “There’s two hoops, one upper hoop and one lower hoop, and they’re in the middle of the field. And the objective of the robot is to shoot balls in the upper hoop or the lower hoop, depending on how you build your robot. You get two points for shooting it in the upper hoop and one point in the lower hoop. As for the endgame part, there’s four ascending bars [starting] from around four feet to seven feet seven inches. The higher the rung [your robot] climbs to, the more points you get.”  

Obviously, preparing three robots each weighing over 100 pounds in three months hasn’t been easy, and it would have definitely not been possible without the help of mentors and students putting in hours after school. 

“I generally give myself like, five to eight hours in a given week to dedicate to robotics and everything else will be dedicated to schoolwork,” Paresh said. “So I can either clump that in on one Saturday and just stay the whole time or you can split it apart, like in after-school work sessions.”

But, despite having other responsibilities, the large time investment is definitely worth it. Like Paresh, many students spend their free time in the robotics building to help improve the team’s chances of success.

 “Robotics is a really competitive area,” freshman Aaron Atsumi said. “The time you put in is reflective of your team and how they perform out on the field. So I figure the more I put in the more we get out of it as a team.”

After all, robotics isn’t all about winning – it’s also about learning how to succeed in various environments.

“I’ve learned to put myself in uncomfortable situations and deal with it,” junior Nastasia Maldei-Stumm said. “Whether it’s asking a question that should be really obvious, and you feel really stupid for not knowing it, or learning something, even if it’s not an easy process.”

At this recent Houston tournament, Team Appreciate, the senior team, placed 8th and won the Chairman’s award yet again, and Team Apprentice, the sophomore/junior team, placed 18th, qualifying both teams to move on to World Champs. Unfortunately for Team Alpha, despite having an outstanding performance for their rookie year, they didn’t place in the top 23 teams that will be advancing to World Champs. 

“So we’re kind of done; our season is over,” freshman Joann Cyriac said. “But we had a good run. We did really well for a rookie team and I’m pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. Now we are continuing to learn and develop our skills throughout the remainder of the year.”

But for the other two teams, the competition isn’t over yet. Team Appreciate and Team Apprentice will be heading to the same George R. Brown Convention Center two weeks later to compete at the international level, along with 452 other teams from over 50 countries.

“We are all getting ready,” Paresh said. “This is it for us seniors. It’s the last tournament so it’s sort of like a bittersweet ending. But, we’re gonna go out with a bang. We’re gonna enjoy it. We’re gonna see if we can push our robot to the limits and I think it’s going to be fun.”