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Mercy High TechTigers Claim Victory at Robotic Competition


With six years of experience and learning behind them, on their seventh-year Team 3654, the TechTigers of Mercy High School, claimed victory at the New England Waterbury District FIRST Robotic Event on March 5th, 2017.  Their path to victory: strong recruitment, prioritization, and consistency.

“I’ve always hoped that I could feel the kind of elation that teams feel when they win competitions, and I had faith in our team that we’d get there someday.  It turns out that day was Sunday March 5th at 5:33 PM, because when I turned around from the driver’s station at the end of the last finals match, I saw the scores and went nuts.  It was the best feeling of my life, and I’ll never forget being so happy.  Then the day got even better when we won the Imagery Award.  It was a banner day, pun intended!  I’ve always enjoyed being on this close-knit team, and I think this victory brought us even closer together,” explained Devon Garrett, ’17 TechTiger Co-Captain.

In the fall of 2016, the team was sure to have a presence at the Mercy High School orientation events and club fair. Thus, the team gained many talented and enthusiastic underclassmen. This was the start of a strong season. As the offseason progressed, the team worked on a project to develop new skills, as well as a plan of approach and a set of deadlines for the upcoming season. The offseason allowed for training new members and let veteran members get back into the flow.  What made this year different for the TechTigers comes down to planning.  They thought about strategy.  Loading the gear across the robot reduced time at the loading station and the robot could get to work on the field. They selected a good motor choice.  It was slower but its good torque raised the robot.  Prioritization was essential this year; recruitment, build on strengths, stick to deadlines, and practice.

Suzanne O’Hara ’17 of the business section of the TechTigers explained why she felt the team won the Imagery Award for a second time, “When we found out the game’s theme was steampunk, we were elated.  The team had chosen steampunk as a personal theme in 2014, and we knew we could pull off something amazing.  The business team got to work right away brainstorming ideas for the pit design, which we eventually presented to the rest of the team for a vote.  We decided on a Grand Central Station inspired travel hub.  This included vinyl flooring, faux marble walls, crown molding, and even a working clock!  Steam had two meanings this year, we think of steam power in years past and in today’s age it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM.)  We used all those areas in designing and creating our pit and robot.  As we got into the design more, we picked up more fun accessories for the pit, the robot, and the team members.   Every person decorated a miniature top hat to wear at competition.  The Imagery Award looks at a cohesive image throughout the entire team, and we won it because of our successful integration of steampunk in every aspect of our team. “

Each year FIRST unveils the theme of the competition and details what the robots must do at their kickoff event.  On January 7th, per a press release from FIRST, 83,400 high-school students, 3,336 teams at 123 venues around the globe joined the Kickoff via Twitch Livestream. 

FIRST STEAMWORKS, invites two adventure clubs from an era in which technology relied on steam power to prepare their airships for the ultimate long distance race. Each three-team alliance scores points and prepares to take flight by building steam pressure, gathering materials to start the rotors, and boarding robots onto their airships. The adventurer club with the highest score at the end of the match is the best prepared for the race and wins.”

 At the Kickoff, teams were shown the FIRST STEAMWORKS game field and challenge details for the first time.  Each team receives a Kit of Parts made up of motors, batteries, control system components, construction materials, and a mix of additional automation components – with limited instructions. Working with adult Mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program, and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge. 

5:00pm on Friday, March 3rd.  It’s load-in day for the New England Waterbury District event.  Thanks to their offseason training and effective prioritization during the build season, the TechTigers were confident in their robot.  The team worked hard to perfect their mechanisms before the robot was bagged, allowing them a good amount of time to practice with the robot, and its practice replica, as well.  This was all possible because of the decision the team made to play to its strengths, and to stay within its capabilities thus avoiding taking on too much.  The decision entailed focusing on collecting and placing gears, and climbing the rope. Friday night, the team made it through inspection earlier than usual, and although the real field wasn’t ready for practice, they headed over to the practice field to make some last-minute adjustments and re-familiarize themselves with the game elements.  

Saturday morning at 8:00am, the doors to Wilby High School in Waterbury opened and the TechTigers eagerly filed in. The first match came and went rather slowly due to field issues, but the team persevered throughout the day, demonstrating their consistent and speedy gear delivery and rope climb.  The team ranked 16 out of 42 at the end of the qualification rounds.

After qualifications, the TechTigers waited in anticipation as the alliance captains picked their partners. The team erupted in cheers as they heard their numbers called out by the third alliance captain: Team 236, the Techno Ticks.  It had been three years since the team had last made it to eliminations, and this was the first time they’d ever been picked in the first round. The team is grateful and honored that 236 declined an offer by the seconded seeded alliance so that they could pick the TechTigers instead.  After alliance captain 236 picked team 181, the Birds of Prey in the second round, all three teams of the third seeded alliance were confident that they could fight to the end.  After a quick strategy meeting and pep talk, the alliance went undefeated in the quarterfinals, advancing to the semifinals.  The TechTigers were elated because this achievement marked the making of team history, as this is the farthest the team had ever advanced in this tournament.  The third alliance, as they were now known in the tournament, continued undefeated, earning their way into the finals, where they would remain undefeated and reign as champions and claim the coveted blue banner. The TechTigers gives a big thanks to the Techno Ticks in picking them and being a good alliance captain and the Birds of Prey for being amazing partners and cheering with them to victory.

Buff Bachenheimer, Science teacher at Mercy and a mentor for the TechTigers expounded, “The TechTigers cheered louder than ever, wildly shaking pom poms in the air. People screamed, people cried. Everyone was hugging each other, even the mentors could not resist being extremely excited and proud of this group of young women. Social media blew up, with Mercy students and team alumnae congratulating the TechTigers.”  At the end of the night, the team checked The Blue Alliance, a website for FRC rankings and event scores and found that Team 3654 was number four in the New England region.

Team Co-Captain Eugenia Cho ’17 commented, “This year started off great with our safety animation video being a runner up in the FIRST Safety Animation Contest.  I never expected such good vibes would continue to be with us. Like every other build season, there were a few setbacks, like a snow day on Kick Off Day, but we plowed through, literally, and kept the momentum going. We joked about going to the World Robotic Competition to keep our spirits up, but now that dream might become reality with how things are going. Regardless of how things end up, I am very excited that we got the blue winner’s banner! I still can’t believe it! Everyone--students, mentors, and parents-- are super cool and I couldn’t have wished for a better team to win with.”

In April, the TechTigers will be heading to New Hampshire for the Regional Competition but first they will participate in the Hartford competition which begins March 31st