by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
Both of Presque Isle County’s robotics’ teams will be competing at the state tournament in Saginaw.
The programs from Posen and Onaway made historic runs in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics, district event at Alpena and were pitted against each other in the finals with their respective alliance partners.
The state tournament gets rolling with qualifying matches today (Thursday) at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU).
More than 5,000 students will be competing this week for a shot at a state championship, as well as a spot in the world championship at Cobo Hall and Ford Field in Detroit. The world meet was conducted in St. Louis in 2017.
Posen’s FIRST Robotics’ team, Wiking Kujon (Team 6077), won it’s first-ever district event last Saturday at Alpena High School and earned a banner to bring home to hang in the high school gym.
Following a runner-up finish in Shepherd the week before, it easily has been a season that has exceeded the expectations of lead mentor Brian Konieczny.
“It is our first district championship in our three-year history, that is quite an accomplishment,” said Konieczny. “There are 508 FIRST Robotics’ teams in the state of Michigan, and due to our two strong district performances, our team is now ranked 17th in the state, and headed to the state finals, and likely the world championship in Detroit.”
Posen was in a team alliance with a strong Alpena team (Team 5505) who finished second in Ontario the weekend before, as well as another northern Michigan team from Grayling (Team 6121).
It may have been the strongest alliance on paper going into the playoffs, but they suffered a lopsided loss in the first quarterfinal match and were one loss away from being done.
“I told the kids, you definitely have the strong alliance here, but that does not mean you cannot lose,” he said. “One of my coaches used to harp, ‘Any team can beat any team, on any given day.’ That was a big wake-up call.” They did not lose another match.
The Onaway Onabots, Team 5354, claimed the school’s first runner-up finish. They had competed in three semifinals, but never made it to the finals. Onaway was aligned with the other strong team from Alpena, 5230, as well as a program from Saginaw, Team 5193.
“With the emotional year that we had, it means everything to be quite honest,” said lead mentor Lewis Robinson of the second place finish. “If we would have lost in the semifinals, there would have been no trip to state.”
Alpena’s robot was not at full capacity in the finals with various mechanical issues.
But by making the finals, it gave the Onabots just enough points to qualify for state. Of the 160 who made it, Onaway is ranked at 137. It’s their first trip to state since the program’s first season four years ago. They missed it by four points two years ago.
“To get to the finals is extremely tough,” said Robinson. “It was a great feeling to get there. Obviously, everyone wants to win.
The team also was able to raise the $4,000 entry fee in two days on Monday and Tuesday.
“We had some really nice private donations that did not want to see one kid not be able to go to state,” said Robinson.
There are no classes or divisions in FIRST Robotics. Meaning, programs like Posen and Onaway are competing against Class A –size schools with much greater resources and budgets.
The qualifying matches at SVSU begin today (Thursday) at 3:30 p.m. and continue Friday at 9:30 a.m.