Tuesday, Mar. 12 2013 6:19PM
Better than most
By Toriano Porter
Having already qualified for the World Championships, Team Titanium, a robotics from Lee’s Summit West High School, could stand idly by and rest on their laurels.
However, with the second of three regional competitions set to begin March 14 at Kansas City’s Hale Arena, Team Titanium chose to instead enter the contest trying to perfect its craft after qualifying for the World Championships with an outstanding showing and first place finish at the FIRST Robotics Hub City Regional Feb. 27-March 2 in Lubbock, Texas.
“Lubbock was pretty great,” said junior co-captain and driver Cameron Lerch. “It feels great being able to go into the other tournaments already qualified. We had a great opportunity to go down to Lubbock and play some really good teams and get some good practice before Kansas City.”
“It’s my first season on the team so I don’t know exactly how things are supposed to go,” added senior Chris Matthews. “But, I would assume this year has been better than most for not only our team but all of the other teams out there.”
Forty-one teams gathered in Lubbock from Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Mexico for the Hub City regional. Robots drove around a 27-foot-by-54-foot field, shot Frisbees into elevated goals and climb 8-foot steel pyramids. Each team was given just six weeks of after school and weekend time to design, prototype, order parts, make their own specialty parts, wire, program, test, break, redesign and rebuild their creations.
“It was a great experience for us to travel down to a place that I’ve rarely been to at all,” said senior Dylan Fuehrer, lead mechanical on the team. “It’s incredibly difficult for a team to do this kind of thing in just six weeks after they release the game. It’s incredibly difficult for a lot of teams.”
In the qualification rounds robots are randomly assigned to three team alliances to compete. Every team played in 11 qualification matches, each with a different set of alliance partners.
Team Titanium was the only robot to go undefeated in qualifications and earned the No. 1 captain position for alliance selections.
The top eight robots are given the opportunity to draft alliance partners for the elimination tournament. With the top pick in the draft, Team Titanium selected a team from Chickasha, Okla. With the last pick in the draft they selected another team from Kountze, Texas. The alliance went undefeated in the elimination tournament and all three members are now qualified for the World Championship to be held April 24-27 in St. Louis.
“We don’t feel like we need to adjust our strategy,” Matthews said. “We feel like we made the right assumptions about this game and since we’re ranked No. 1 in the world it’s not just pride telling us that. We feel pretty confident that we don’t need to change our strategy going into Kansas City or Oklahoma City. We just need to make a few mechanical changes before we get there.”
In addition to winning the tournament Team Titanium was also honored with the Entrepreneurship Award for their business plan which was prepared and submitted by Laura Spatz, a senior on the team. The team won the Quality Award for their attention to detail in robot design and construction. Jay Urban, a junior co-pilot and driver on the team, was honored with the Dean’s List finalist award which is the highest honor given to an individual student by FIRST. The award is given based on essays written by mentors describing the contributions of their team members. This is the fourth consecutive year that a member of Team Titanium has been honored as a Dean’s List finalist.
Urban will compete at championships alongside the Dean’s List finalists from the other regional tournaments for one of 10 Dean’s List spots.
“We qualified in Lubbock, now we have two extra tournaments to improve everything on our robot,” he said. “We get to clean it up more and make sure there are no shorts anywhere and just make it look cleaner; just get all of the flaws and make it more tolerant on how we play the game. That’s it. Just keep on improving. By the time we get to the championships we are already used to playing this game.”
Several teams showed up to Lubbock with robots that were not ready to compete. Some weren’t finished while others didn’t fully comply with the rules and had to be modified before they would be allowed to compete. Team Titanium students spent hours in those pits offering an extra hand, parts or just plain expertise to get those teams ready.
“It was (a large number of) rookies and second-year teams, which was great,” Lerch said. “It gave us an opportunity to go to other teams’ pits and help them help out.”
Team Titanium competes again not only at Hale Arena March 14-16, but in another regional in Oklahoma City March 28-30 before the World Championships.
“Every year we try really hard to think about how the game is going to be played,” said Nancy Spatz, a coach on the team. “It’s not like a regular sport where you know what the game is. It’s a new game every year. There are a lot of variables and you don’t know what it’s going to take to win.”
Added husband and Team Titanium head coach Jeff Spatz: “I’m really excited about the team this year. We have a group of students that their experience is coming together and their talents are coming together and it’s just been kind of a combination of students that have made us extra good this year.”