Tears shed down Greenbush-Middle River senior Emily Tarala’s face following the final match at both last year and this year’s Minnesota State High School League State Tournament, but for two different reasons. After capturing their first state title in 2016, Tarala and the Gators fell one win short of a second straight title at the 2017 tournament, leading to tears of heartbreak. She fell to her knees and needed help getting up.
At this year’s state tournament, the GMR team recaptured that state title, this time leading to tears of joy for Tarala and her teammates.
“It makes such a lasting memory because this is the last thing I’m going to remember for my robotics season,” Tarala said. “We got to win state championships. We’re the only team to win twice in our school. It’s so huge.”
The team’s two state championships are the only ones the Greenbush-Middle River School District has ever won as a team. The GMR team wasn’t the only team representing “Gator Nation” down at the state tournament on May 19 at the Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The Badger Robotics team advanced to its first state tournament, but did more than qualify, competing in the semifinal round and finishing fourth.
GMR Robotics Head Advisor Mary Anderson said winning that state title was wonderful but made even more special by having Superintendent Tom Jerome and GMR Principal and Gator Activities Director Sharon Schultz there supporting them.
Superintendent of both the Badger and the Greenbush-Middle River, Tom Jerome was beaming with pride watching his two schools not only compete at the state tournament, but both advance to the championship semifinal round.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment for our two school districts,” Jerome said. “There are no multiple classifications in the state of Minnesota. There’s no 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A in FIRST Robotics. It’s everybody, and to see what our kids have done and to see what they’ve accomplished this weekend, it’s really amazing.”
In the qualification round, the GMR team finished with an 8-1 record and the top ranking, and the Badger team finished 6-3 and the thirteenth ranking at the 36-team state tournament.
As the top-ranked team, GMR automatically advanced to the championship round and invited Team #4539 out of Frazee-Vergas, and Team #6175 out of Eden Valley-Watkins to join its alliance—the same alliance that won the Great Northern Regional in Grand Forks in early March.
“This is just a special year because our alliance, we’ve come full circle,” GMR Advisor Anderson said, “… We got to work with them again at the state tournament and win it together, so that’s what I think the cool thing is about it and just they’re good people.”
In the semifinal round, the GMR team’s alliance defeated the fourth-ranked alliance, captained by GMR team friend, Team #1816 out of Edina. This fourth-ranked alliance also included Team #2169 out of Prior Lake and Team #3276 out of New London-Spicer. The GMR team’s alliance won in straight matches by scores of 441-206 and 426-319 to advance to the state title round.
In the state title round, the Gators won in two straight matches over the second-ranked alliance, including Team #2052 out of Irondale, New Brighton, Team #3130 out of East Ridge, Woodbury, and Team #2491 out of Great River School/Avalon School. The GMR team won by scores of 402-347 and 423-301.
Before commenting on the GMR team’s state title, Jerome recognized and thanked all the advisors and mentors of both the GMR and Badger teams, explaining how accomplishing what these teams have accomplished comes thanks to a group effort.
“I want to thank everybody for coming together for one purpose—that’s to serve our students. (For the GMR team) to be state champions two of three years is amazing,” Jerome said. “… I’m incredibly proud and happy for every one of them.”
Badger Robotics Head Advisor Val Truscinski also highlighted her mentors’ dedication.
“Everybody donates their hours or volunteers their hours,” Truscinski said. “None of my mentors are paid for this, so to see these guys drop everything to come in every night and every weekend to work with these kids and teach them and guide them to learn the things that they’re learning (is great).”
As for the Badger team, it advanced to the championship round after accepting an invite from the third-ranked alliance, Team #2502 out of Eden Prairie. This alliance also brought on Team #2175 out of the Math and Science Academy, Woodbury.
The Badger team’s alliance faced that second-ranked alliance led by Team #2052 out of Irondale, New Brighton. After dropping the first match in the best-of three series 380-339, the Badger alliance won 343-122 to force a winner-take-all match to advance to the state title. The Badger alliance lost this match 379-250 to drop into the third-place match against the Edina-led alliance.
In this match-up, the Badger team faced some adversity, seeing its own robot tip over. It would get lifted up by a fellow robot and its alliance held a lead late but lost that lead in the closing seconds to finish fourth, falling by a 268-248 score.
Regardless of the ending, Truscinski couldn’t be prouder of what her team accomplished this season, capped by her team’s first state tournament showing and fourth place state finish—the “perfect note” to the end of a monumental season.
“We have done probably more this year than we have accomplished in the last seven years prior (with this program), so it’s been an amazing experience for not only me as their coach, but for all of them,” Truscinski said. “They’ve made great friends with teams from not only Minnesota, but beyond. We’ve had teams helping us and working with us from places like Edina (Minn.), as far away as New York… As a team, they have come together and accomplished so much this year. I’m just speechless at what they’ve done.”
To see the complete story, read the May 23 issue of The Tribune in print or online.