Steel Mustangs Robotics Win it All in California

Mackenna Yount, Prospector Editor-in-Chief

The Manitou Springs High School (MSHS) Steel Mustangs team 2945 made a truly impressive trip to sunny Del Mar, California. There, the team participated in the FIRST Robotics Competition Del Mar Regional among a total of 58 teams from several states and countries. The Steel Mustangs made Manitou history on March 8th by winning the regional competition and qualifying for Worlds after 12 years of being a team. 

Students who went to Cali. were Captain and Driver Liam Davidson (12), Drive Coach Mackenna Yount (12), Human Player Jaxen Sellers (10), Driver Lisa Gutierrez (10), Field Technician Kaynen Caraballo (10), Elena Reavis (9), Safety Captain Madison Cavender (9) and Ki’Ara Flores (9). Mentors and coaches who went were Todd Reavis, Andrew Slama, Christi Marquardt, Ian Gutierrez, John Clune and Morgan Shepherd.

Last year was the first time the team traveled out of state to compete and they enjoyed it so much, they decided to go back. That was one of the best decisions the team made. “Everyone seemed to work a lot better together than last year,” said Reavis, “I think the whole team wanted to just do better. We were already close and everyone was friends with each other. People were more willing to listen to each other’s ideas.” These things greatly contributed to the amazing win the team was able to pull off.

Teamwork is an important aspect of this year’s game, Infinite Recharge. Two alliances, consisting of three teams each, compete against each other on a volleyball court-sized field in a two minutes and 30 seconds match. During the first 15 seconds of the match, drivers are not allowed to touch the controls as the robot must score points in an autonomous period through programmed movements. The remaining time is teleoperated by drivers, including the last 30 seconds, endgame. During teleop, robots must shoot foam balls into power ports to score points. In endgame, robots must either park in the rendezvous point located in the middle of the field or hang on a bar and make the bar as level as possible.

“It’s surprising that we were one of the best climbers there,” said Sellers. The climber for the Mustang’s robot was added the night the team was packing up to leave for Cali. It had not been tested until the team had their first practice match. “We had just a simple bent pole and a cord. Somehow we were able to climb really well with that,” Sellers said.

The Steel Mustangs won seven out of the nine qualifying matches that they played. “We had our challenges, but I think the team focused more on the details than we’ve done before. Everyone seemed to know what to do and just naturally worked together,” Head Coach Todd Reavis said. In Match #24, the Steel Mustangs worked with their alliance to pull off the first triple climb of the regional, which just happened to be the second qualifying match that the team had played. 

2945 ended qualifiers in seventh place making them an alliance captain. Due to higher seeds picking other captain teams, the Mustangs were bumped up to be the fourth seed alliance captain. Davidson represented the Mustangs when he picked Super NURDs (team 3255) from Cali. and Mid Pacific Owl Robotics (team 6704) from Hawaii to be on an alliance throughout playoffs.

The alliance that the Steel Mustangs picked worked incredibly well together, even though they had never been on an alliance with one another. “It felt like our alliance was one big family even though we never really knew each other. It felt like we were all part of the win and everybody contributed to complete our underdog story,” said Davidson.

“We didn’t blame our alliance for things that went wrong. We were thinking ‘What could we have done better?’ rather than ‘What did they not do?’,” said Caraballo. The teamwork shown by all three teams was bound to be incredible as “The two teams that we had in the playoffs with us were the two teams that were the kindest and most welcoming,” said Reavis.

Strategizing was vital to progressing through the playoffs, where each level is played as best out of three, and the Mustangs lost the first of every level. Yount said, “Getting input from drive coaches, drivers and the stats teams from our alliance really helped us. We made those little strategy changes that brought us back.”

In semifinals, the Mustangs and their alliance beat two-time World champs (team 294) and last year’s Del Mar Regional winner (team 3647). “I learned that we can contend with those who we always saw as a lot better than us and that we always have a shot no matter what,” said Davidson.

In the last match of the finals, the Steel Mustangs, Super NURDs and Mid Pacific Owls won as the Red Alliance with a score of 148-147. The Red Alliance outscored the Blue Alliance in auto, however, Blue outscored Red by one point in teleop. The Mustangs’ alliance did a level triple climb while their opponents completed a level double climb. The closeness in the final score was due to fouls by Red. “We won by one point was because we touched the other alliance when everyone was climbing, so we got that tech foul. I saw that foul and I was worried,” said Caraballo.

“The team’s laser-focus and comradery just seemed huge all the way through. While it was stunning what was happening at the end as we rose to win it all, it also was like ‘Yeah, I saw that coming’,” said Coach Christi Marquardt. 

All three teams on the Red Alliance qualified for Worlds in Houston, which was set to occur from April 15th to 18th. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, FIRST released an official statement canceling the event. The Mustangs were set to compete at the Denver Regional Competition this week but FIRST canceled all other events as well.

“This year exceeded all of our expectations. We wanted to be an alliance captain, in charge of our own fate. But we never dreamed we’d win the whole thing,” said Coach Reavis.

You can watch the Mustangs’ matches from Del Mar here.