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NHS Fe Male robotics team bows out at FTC West Super Regional


Competition — All-girls robotic team finishes 20th in its division to cap stellar debut season

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Aspiring to study engineering in college, Newberg High School senior Hannah Hetzler saw robotics as a chance to gain some practical experience before college, but knew little about it, the NHS program or the FIRST Tech Challenge competition.

In that sense, Hetzler was like the rest of her teammates on the all-girl Fe Male team: pretty much a total “newb” (a newbie or inexperienced rookie in the online and gaming worlds).

The eight-member squad, Fe Male (think periodic table), quickly turned that idea on its head when they qualified for state finals at their first qualifying tournament. by: SUBMITTED - Girl power - Riley Woodland (far left), Hannah Hetzler (center) and Zoë VanderWater of Newberg High School's Fe Male robotics team gather their robot, JARVIS, at the FTC West Super Regional competition March 28 in Anaheim, Calif. Capping an impressive debut for the all-rookie team, the team placed 20th in its division.

From that point on, Fe Male kicked off a run of success that didn’t come to a halt until March 22, when the team was finally eliminated at the FTC West Super Regional Anaheim, Calif.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started robotics,” Hetzler said. “I didn’t know anything about the challenges or anything about the game, so it’s been a fantastic experience to learn.”

Fe Male team members said their robot performed quite well, but felt their alliance ratings were held back by weaker or mismatched partners.

Consequently, the team qualified 20th out of 36 in the Silicon division of the tournament.

That made it unlikely Fe Male would be selected to advance to the knockout rounds, but the group found a creative way to pitch themselves as a viable option to the four alliance captains.

“We had two people watch all the matches in their division, score how each robot scored individually and in autonomous, control and end game,” junior Naivit Velazquez said. “We put that data into a system and that system calculated the consistency of each robot and how they did by themselves instead of how the game works, which is how you do with your alliance.”

The analysis showed that Fe Male was among the most consistent performers in the division, but the team was not selected to advance. That, however, didn’t dampen their spirits or spoil what was an outstanding campaign.

“We loved this. We thought it was a great experience,” junior Jessica Stone said. “It was great as a team bonding experience to be at this level because when we started this season we didn’t anticipate getting anywhere close to this.”

The team will lose Hetzler and fellow seniors Aurora McCollum and Nashmy Luna, but will return Stone, Velazquez, Zoë VanderWater, Juli Dubois and Riley Woodland.

The team is hoping its success and increased profile will help recruit more students to the robotics program, perhaps even to join Fe Male.

They have already begun preparations for next season even though the specific FTC game won’t be released until September.

The group has created a notebook of ideas based on their experiences this year, including one stemming from the regional tournament.

“We have plans for building an app that records the data that we were doing this year and does it more easily,” Velasquez said. “We’ll just input it into the app instead of tallying it down on paper and then put it into the computer.”

Although Fe Male didn’t advance, several other Oregon teams excelled, including Portland-based teams AFOOFA and Hotwired, which were on the tournament winning alliance, and fellow Portland team Batteries in Black, which won the Inspired Award as the best team overall.

“They were in our division and we were definitely rooting for them,” Stone said. “We’re glad to see the representation of Oregon all the way down in California.”