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THHS rookie robotics team earns trip to world championship

The Agate robot, Sarah, hangs on the pyramid during a match, earning their alliance points. Photo: LaReesa Sandretsky1 / 2
Willem Bohrer, Logan Anderson and Owen Cruikshank controlled their robot, Sarah, during the Northern Lights Regional Contest at the DECC last weekend. Photo: LaReesa Sandretsky2 / 2

At the beginning of the season, Two Harbors Robotics coach and science teacher, Mark Schlangen told the News-Chronicle that the team goal was just to make a robot that moved.

At the regional competition at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center last week, the Agate robot, Sarah, did more than just move. She earned the Two Harbors team a spot at the FIRST Tech Challenge World Competition in St. Louis, Mo. in April 24-27.

"What an awesome, awesome thing for us to be able to do," said Schlangen on Monday at a team meeting.

The Agate team didn't win the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth, which is the guaranteed path to St. Louis. However, the team caught the judges' eyes. The judges have the discretion to choose one first-year "rookie" team to send to the world competition, and they chose Rock Solid Robotics from a field of 10 rookies.

"Right now, you're kind of like rock stars," Two Harbors High School principal Brett Archer told the team.

The robots compete in alliances made up of three teams. At the DECC, the tournament started on Thursday, during which the robots had inspections and teams practiced. Then, on Friday, the robots, controlled by students using laptop computers, competed in random alliances. The teams had to score points by shooting Frisbees into a goal and climbing a pyramid.

Sarah, the Two Harbors robot, doesn't have the ability to shoot Frisbees, but she climbed the pyramid and defended her allies. After the matches on Friday, the top eight teams were chosen. Those eight teams then chose their three allies from the top half of the remaining teams and the eight alliances competed on Saturday. Two Harbors was chosen by the No. 7-ranked team and their alliance was rounded out by another rookie team--combining inexperience with a low ranking.

"Someone called us the Cinderella team," said team member Christin Libal. The Cinderella team proved to be the belles of the ball by making it to the semifinals.

"The drive team did amazing things at the competition...they were nervous, but it's just amazing how quickly they figured it out and did it on their own," said Coach Lauren Burton, a special education teacher at THHS.

Now, their unexpected success has sent them on to St. Louis. Though the team is clearly excited, they have the daunting task of planning their trip and raising money.

"I never dreamed we would go this far," team member Willem Bohrer said.

The team was brainstorming fundraising ideas on Monday. So far, they have set up an account through the school so folks can send direct donations or purchase Granite Gear tote bags and Frisbees.

On Tuesday night, they reserved their spot in St. Louis by paying the entry fee.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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