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Another regional, another Gator Robotics victory: Gators win Great Northern Regional


Gator Robotics, Team #5172, operator Berlyn Burkel, driver Sawyer Strand and one of their mentors Mary Anderson stood by each other looking up at one of the Alerus Center scoreboards.

The Gator Robotics alliance had won its first championship match and had just completed its second championship match in the best of three series. Needing just one more win to capture a regional title, the three Gator team members saw the final result on the scoreboard. Anderson hugged Burkel and then Strand.

The Gator Robotics team’s alliance won the match 102-68 to capture the Great Northern Regional title— the team’s second regional title this season— at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on March 26.

“It was really exciting,” Strand said, “… We pulled through and it was really fun.”

The Gators won this 49-team regional beside its alliance partners, Team #876, “Thunder Robotics” out of Hatton-Northwood (N.D.), and Team #6453, “Bog Bots!” out of Kelliher (Minn.). The Gators’ first regional win this season came at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth, Minn., held March 2-5—a 53-team event.

“It was pretty cool,” Burkel said about earning this second regional title.

The Gators captured its first regional title after going 8-1 in qualification matches and earning the top ranking going into the playoff rounds. The team followed a similar script in its second regional win.

At the Great Northern, the team went 8-0 on day one and 2-0 on day two to go 10-0 in qualification matches and earn the top ranking going into the playoff rounds.

Senior Gator Robotics team spokesman Ray Tarala was elated with this win, but enjoyed the weekend for more than just the win.

“So much just enjoyment is coming out of this, not only being able to build a robot and being able to compete here and help other teams build robots,” Tarala said, “but also just talking to people. I’ve been here for a couple days, and I’ve probably talked to 100 different people about our robot and others.”

At this regional, officially taking place March 23-26, team members and fans filled one side of the Alerus Center to take in the action. Members of some teams held up individual team number signs, including Team #5172 with its blue number signs. Chants of “blue alliance” and “red alliance” sounded throughout the event in the crowd. Red and blue lights flashed across the arena floor, a space designed in the “Rapid React” airport game theme.

Well-known area FIRST Robotics announcer Yoji Shimizu— decked out in rainbow-colored pants, a red shirt, and black vest— emceed the event, announcing each team and waving its flag before each match.

The Great Northern Regional at the Alerus Center returned after not taking place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time it took place was February 26-29, 2020. The GMR team again helped host this year’s event. Anderson said seeing this place packed again for this regional meant the world to her.

“I know what this does to kids and how it impacts them,” Anderson said. “And having it packed with not only teams from around Minnesota, North Dakota, but with people from Greenbush and Middle River, Badger area, it’s very impressive.”

Asked about his reaction to this latest regional win, Gator Robotics drive team coach and former student participant John Langaas said it’s crazy, considering how green these team members are to the FIRST Robotics environment. He is impressed by how this team handles itself at these competitions.

“Going into the season, none of them had ever even been to a competition, so we started from the ground up,” Langaas said. “And we had to teach them everything from how to put the battery in to how to get the robot onto the field. So it’s crazy just to win that first regional, and then go on and do the exact same thing.”

With two regional titles under their belt, the Gator team members now shift their focus to the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston, April 20-23. They’re all excited for the opportunity for various reasons.

Tarala hopes to get some time in to see the city.

“It’s a part of the country that I’ve never seen before,” Tarala said, “so I can’t wait to go and look around and eat good food.”

Burkel and Strand are looking forward to the opportunities of the competition.

“(I’m) just looking forward to just improving more and getting better,” Burkel said, “and competing at a higher level.”

Strand added, “I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the good teams and what they’ve done, especially the ‘Cheesy Poofs,’ Team 254.”

Langaas wants to see these students’ first reactions when they arrive at the “Worlds” competition— an event that will feature teams from all around the world.

“The event will be about 10 times the size of these events,” Langaas said. “… It’ll be like them going to their first regional all over again. It’s going to be really exciting to see.”

Having celebrated numerous successes with her robotics students and seeing much growth from them already, Anderson looks forward to seeing her students grow and come together even more as they head to Houston.

“My goal of the rest of the year is to kind of build a team. We have a great robot,” Anderson said. “We have a team that is accepting that great robot and using it to its fullest, but we need to grow as a team. We just need to build.”

To see the complete story, read the March 30 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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