Who needs March Madness? In Long Beach on Saturday, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy busted brackets and opponents’ hearts as the D’Penguineers marched toward their third straight victory in the annual FIRST Robotics Los Angeles Regional Championship.
Two days of intense competition capped off months of hard work by 30 DPEA seniors. With a target on their back as the two-time defending champion, DPEA’s Team 1717 overcame more than 60 competitors to win the title and earn a spot in the FIRST Robotics World Championships in April.
“I’m feeling on top of the world,” said Phillip Downey, one of the team’s drivers.
“I was really nervous going into the final matches,” added driver Anthony Blair, who guided the robot on an outstanding spin move with just 20 seconds left in the final game; the move led to a 40-point goal that clinched the title.
Like an NCAA basketball game going down to the wire, the winner at Long Beach was not decided until the final game of a best-of-three series. DPEA won the first game of the finals, and then lost the second. A large crowd of black-and-white-clad supporters urged the team on from the stands as the final game began.
Both of the teams in the final could pour in the points, but it was DPEA’s defense that appeared to be the difference. After their robot pumped in several high-scoring goals (teams earned extra points for assists that led to goals), the DPEA robot put a perfect block on an opposing robot heading for the goal. In the end, a 50-point technical penalty on the opposing alliance gave DPEA and its partners a clear 236–146 win.
To reach the final round, the team had to overcome a surprising loss during qualifying. After eight games, they were 7–1 and in first place overall, headed for a No. 1 seed. But a loss dropped them to 7-2 and they needed a clutch victory in the final game of qualifying to finish as the fourth seed, setting up their championship run.
For these seniors, it was the ultimate wrap-up of a four-year engineering odyssey.
“I remember when I was a freshman and saw the excitement of the seniors winning, and now I get to experience that myself,” said senior Léa Tran Le, reflecting on the four-year journey that this year’s team has been on leading to Saturday’s big win. “That feels really special.”
“The key to victory was just hanging in there, when it got really rough,” teacher Sam Ridgeway added. “Huge props to Anthony and Phil for their driving. And thanks especially to Jamil Abo-Shaeer (a team mentor) for his strategic planning.”
During closing ceremonies at the Long Beach Arena, each team member received a championship medal before posing with the victory banner along with their beloved robot. FIRST Robotics also announced that DPEA had received the Excellence in Engineering Award for their innovative and outstanding robot design.
The team has a short rest and then goes back on the road to defend another title at the Las Vegas Regional, April 4-5. With Saturday’s victory, the team also clinches a spot in the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis.
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— Jim Buckley and Katie Tover are members of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s Communications Team.