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Gator Robotics faces down adversity, wins third state title


photo by Emily Wicklund
Gator Robotics drive team coach John Langaas (center) helps guide team operator Berlyn Burkel (left) and team driver Sawyer Strand (right) during a match at the MSHSL State Robotics Tournament from Williams Arena in Minneapolis on May 7. This group and its alliance partners helped lead the Gators to the program’s third state title– its first since 2018.

photo by Ryan Bergeron
The Gator Robotics team members, sporting their state championship medals, pose with their robot and state championship trophy at the team shop in Greenbush after the team returned home from the MSHSL State Robotics Tournament. Greenbush Fire Department trucks and a LifeCare ambulance vehicle escorted the team from Strathcona to Greenbush. Pictured are (L-R): Front: Ray Tarala, Rhiana Utter, Jozie Stohs, and Brylie Kjersten; Back: Sawyer Strand, Vincent Stenberg, Berlyn Burkel, Lauren Stenberg, Bella Burkel, Wyatt Whitchurch, and Francis Cudnik.

photo by Emily Wicklund
Gator Robotics mentor Thor Anderson lifts up Gator Robotics Alliance Captain Vincent Stenberg as he puts one arm up in the air after the team found out it had earned its third state title following the second finals match at the MSHSL State Robotics Tournament at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis on May 7.

photo by Emily Wicklund
The Gator Robotics team’s robot named Osprey moves along the field during action at the MSHSL State Robotics Tournament, held at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on May 7. This robot, along with its two alliance partner robots, one from Becker and the other from Edina, captured the state title.

Greenbush-Middle River Gator Robotics, Team 5172, mentor Thor Anderson lifted the team’s Alliance Captain Vincent Stenberg up, as Stenberg raised one arm high in the air after seeing the final result of the second state finals match.

The Gator Robotics team and its alliance partners, Team 4607 (C.I.S. out of Becker) and Team 1816 (The Green Machine out of Edina) had won the state title, winning the second finals match by a score of 136-112, at the MSHSL State Robotics Tournament held at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis on May 7.

“When I saw the final score go up for that final match, I was very excited and I was jumping all around, hugging other people,” Stenberg said. “(It’s) just something that I felt for the first time.”

For all of the students on this team, this would be their first state robotics title. This win would secure the Gator Robotics team of its third overall state title— its first since 2018.

Gator Robotics team operator Berlyn Burkel called the moment of winning a state title as “really cool.”

“It was kind of surreal,” Burkel said. “I wasn’t expecting it first, but we pulled through.”

This moment between Anderson and Stenberg and this final achievement remained far from “expected” during semifinal action, but the Gators and its alliance partners managed to work through it to get to this historic moment.

After the first semifinals match, one the Gator-led alliance won by a 110-98 score, drive team member Burkel and fellow drive team member Sawyer Strand noticed an issue with a swerve motor. According to drive team coach John Langaas, one of the drive motors had went out during this match. The team had two timeouts and two matches to get this issue fixed.

The Gator Robotics team couldn’t get its issue fixed quick enough to go out for its second semifinal match. The alliance partners decided to go out without the Gator Robotics team’s robot, in a two-robot against three-robot semifinal. If the alliance didn’t win this match, it would just go to a tiebreaker.

Meanwhile, Gator Robotics senior Ray Tarala, Langaas, and mentor Aaron Kvien continued to work on the robot from the floor. The Gator team’s alliance partners from Becker and Edina found a way to pull out the win in the second semifinal match by a 74-69 score— not needing that tiebreaker match and instead advancing to the state finals.

“All of a sudden, we win and I don’t think they (Tarala, Langaas, and Kvien) had a clue,” Gator Robotics Advisor Mary Anderson said. “Everybody else was jumping and yelling, and they’re just kind of still working, getting it done.”

The Gator Robotics team would finish as the fourth ranked alliance after qualification rounds, finishing 6-2. It moved up to the third alliance captain after the top ranked team, Team 3630 (the Stampede from Breck School) chose the third ranked team, Team 2052 (KnightKrawler out of Irondale).

Led by team Alliance Captain Stenberg, the Gator Robotics team chose C.I.S. out of Becker— the tenth ranked alliance— and The Green Machine out of Edina— the twenty-ninth ranked alliance—to be its alliance partners.

Going into the tournament, Stenberg said they had a pretty strong idea of what teams were performing the best throughout the year, but still wanted to see how other teams performed at state. Over the course of the state tournament, the Gators took notes, seeing how each robot performed independently and how they would play with their robot.

“When it came down to the decision, me and a couple other mentors that helped strategize came up with a plan,” Stenberg said. “And these two teams (C.I.S. and The Green Machine) that we picked were both teams that we know and work well with and just good robots all around.”

The Gator-led alliance had defeated the second ranked alliance of Team 2823 (The Automatons out of St. Paul Highland Park), Team 5913 (The Patriotics out of Pequot Lakes), and Team 2491 (NoMythic out of Great River School/Avalon School) in the semifinals.

After missing that second semifinal match, the Gator team’s robot was ready to compete alongside its alliance partners to face the top-ranked alliance of Team 3630, Team 2052, and Team 4728 (The Ratcheteers from ROCORI) in the state finals. The Gator-led alliance pulled out a narrow 96-93 win in the first finals match before winning that second finals match 136-112.

“I was really excited about the (state) win. Being the third ranked alliance was kind of a letdown, I felt,” team driver Strand said, “but we pulled back and ended up winning, so I was pretty excited about that.”

Mary Anderson called the state win “special” and “unbelieveable” given the swerve motor obstacle. The day was going in a direction in which Anderson didn’t feel as if they would be choosing an alliance as an alliance captain.

To capture this state title, given the circumstances, showed the growth this overall young and inexperienced team made throughout the season. For example, at state, they discussed how in the two matches they lost during the qualification round, they had climbed in, and in the matches they won, they did not climb in. They decided to not climb from that point on, and Anderson said this was a deciding factor in the team winning.

“They worked well at proving that they were a team that can take challenges,” Anderson said. “… Anything that came their way, it really kind of appeared as though it didn’t faze them.”

To see the complete story, read the May 11 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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