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Two regional robotics competitions take over DECC

More than 120 high school teams competed in the two contests.

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Denfeld High School robotics team’s driver coach Caleb Wedin (from left) gives directions to driver Nicholas Miller and operator Emma Natale during Saturday’s Lake Superior Regional competition at the DECC. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

When Marshall School senior Kaylee Randa takes her place behind her robotics team's computer, hands wrapped around a video game controller and eyes on a field of six robots, she doesn't notice the arena's crowd or anything else.

She's focused on driving the robot for the Marshall School Topperbots.

"When you're in the waiting area, that's where the pressure is," Randa said.

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Marshall robotics team members Micah Stevens (from left), Tyler Zupancich and Kaylee Randa finish a match in Saturday’s competition. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

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The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center hosted two regional FIRST Robotics competitions Friday and Saturday with approximately 60 different teams competing in each regional competition. Most of the teams were from schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with one team travelling from as far as Duluth's sister city in Sweden, Vaxjo.

Prior to the Topperbots' 10th and final qualifying match ahead of the final playoff matches Saturday, the team coordinated with the two other teams it was selected to go head-to-head with in a match against three other teams, including Denfeld High School, in the Lake Superior Regional competition.

"We need to try to find all the of the strengths to figure out what we need to do together to win the match," Randa said of the pre-match coordination.

Teams win 1-3 points by getting their robot to shoot balls through holes. At the end of each match, teams can win a large chunk of points by getting their robot to hook onto a bar in the center of the field and hang in the air, like a pull-up. That's Randa's job and she said that part of the match makes all the difference in terms of how a team places.

Emma Natale, a senior at Denfeld High School, is the team's business captain and an operator for her team's robot, which was built using only a small fraction of pieces from the standard kit each FIRST Robotics team receives.

The team custom-designed a variety of the parts that went into building their robot using welding, a 3D printer and a computer-aided design program the team then sent to Lake Superior College for fabrication, Natale said.

In April, the team plans to attend another regional competition, this time in Florida.

"That just means we have to work that much harder to raise the money," Natale said. "So far we're on budget."

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Nick Miller, a senior at Denfeld High School, drives the team's robot. He views robotics as precursory experience to the education he plans to receive as an engineering student at Itasca Community College next year.

"This is as close to a real engineering job that you can get as a high school student," Miller said, later adding: "(A robotics team) incorporates a lot of different things. It really is a small business."

In Minnesota, about 60% of students have access to a robotics team, which is second to Michigan, said Mark Lawrence with FIRST.

Lawrence, who's also a mentor to Edina's robotics team, said the two regional competitions occurred at the same time in the DECC to cross-utilize volunteers. Each robotics competition can only accept approximately 63 teams to ensure each team gets several times to play.

Final team rankings for area schools

Lake Superior Regional

  • 1. Edina Green Machine
  • 6. Silver Bay Mariner Robotics
  • 10. Cloquet Ripsaw Robotics
  • 13. Carlton Doomsday Dogs
  • 18. Ely Robots
  • 19. Denfeld DNA Robotics
  • 22. Esko's SubZero Robotics
  • 24. Barnum Bombatrons
  • 32. Cook North Woods Robotics
  • 34. Marshall School TopperBots
  • 38. Lakeview Christian Academy's Lion's Pride
  • 41. Babbitt Iron Mosquitos
  • 44. Proctor's Frostbyte

Northern Lights Regional

  • 1. St. Paul NoMythic
  • 15. Two Harbors Rock Solid Robotics
  • 20. Hibbing's Industrial Revolution
  • 27. Hermantown Talon
  • 28. Virginia Boring Robots
  • 46. Grand Marais Ice Storms
  • 47. Duluth East Daredevils
  • 57. Moose Lake Circuit Breakers

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Denfeld High School’s robot shoots a ball in an effort to score points during Saturday’s Lake Superior Regional robotics competition. The team is controlling the robot from near the “4009” sign across the arena from their robot. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

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