Two days after a Rolla student robotics team was named the state champions, one of its members still cannot believe it.
"We hoped we were going to win, and we were trying as hard as we could," said Aysen Malone, a Rolla High School student and member of Team 4964 also known as the Rolla Patriots. "It was really exciting. It's a pretty nice experience, and I'm still in disbelief."
The Patriots was one of two Rolla teams — the other was Team 6168 known as the Maniacal Mechanics, which placed seventh in the state — that competed against more than 30 teams at the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), a statewide robotics competition, Saturday on the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus.
FIRST means "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."
Saturday's competition marked the second year in a row that the Patriots competed in the state competition and the team has only been in existence for two years.
"I feel pretty good," said Jacob Pommerenke, a Patriots team member. "We were definitely hoping to win but actually doing so is a really fun experience."
Both Malone and Pommerenke were part of the Patriots team last year and Malone said having that previous experience helped them this year.
The team even saw improvement as it competed in regional competitions this school year.
"At the beginning of our first competition, we looked at what other teams were doing and how their robots worked, and then we took some of their ideas and improved our robot with it," Pommerenke said. "Practice does make a major difference."
Team members also said they learned to prepare for failure before it happens.
This year's challenge called "Ring It Up!" had teams try to score more points than their opponents by placing plastic rings onto pegs on a rack that looks like a tic-tac-toe board.
Pommerenke noted that the Patriots did not communicate as much with the other teams during last year's competition, but this year, "we had team members specifically scouting out other teams for the alliance stage and just general communications, seeing if they needed help or if they could help us."
Team member Morgan Long said, "There were no real hard feelings ... until the last rounds when the stakes were higher."
During the Patriots' first year, members not only made it to the state contest, but also to the world championship.
Last year, judges awarded the Patriots team with the second-place Inspire Award, which came with an automatic bid to the world championship. The Inspire Award is given to the team that truly embodies the challenge of the FTC program and is chosen by the judges as having best represented a role model FIRST Tech Challenge team.
This year, the team will compete again in the world championship held in St. Louis again. This year's event is scheduled for April 27-30 at the Edward Jones Dome.
Long explained that there are two parts to the state competition: "Half of it is robots competing against each other and that has a winner based on points and how well you perform and there is a panel of judges for the other half," he said.
"Last year, we made it (to the world championship) with the judges choosing us and here we made it by performing," Long said.
As the team prepares for this year's world championships, they will focus on practicing driving their robot.
Additionally, the team is reaching out to businesses for sponsorship opportunities to help with travel and other expenses for the world championship. Businesses interested in helping sponsor the team can contact RHS teacher Leigh Ann Tumbrink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Malone said the team is already starting to work about next year's design for its robot.