West Ashley robotics team wins state tournament championship

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 5:33 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A local high school is bringing home a state championship.

West Ashley High School’s robotics team, 9623Z-Zulu, competed at the VEX Robotics Competition in Greenville and left as the 2021 tournament champions. The victory secured a spot in May’s world championship which will be held virtually.

“I always set the expectation for my teams to qualify for the state championship,” West Ashley Robotics Coach Nicholas Holmes said. “Nationals and Worlds are different but State is kind of mandatory here at West Ashley Robotics. The last time we won was in 2016 and this time felt about the same as that, amazing! We work so hard all year to get to this point and we have had it slip through our fingers a few times. It was also special because the team that won in 2016 came to cheer on our teams this year. It was nice to have everyone there.

Team 9623Z includes seniors Oriana Perez and James Thorne, junior Brandon Gillner, and sophomores Karl Brenkert and Syniah Brown. The team also received the Innovate Award, which goes to the team whose unique engineering element demonstrates a group that thinks outside the box.

Another West Ashley High School team, 9623X-BotX, finished in ninth place. They received the Think Award which is given to a team with impressive and effective autonomous programming.

This year’s competition had robotics teams competing against each other in a game called “Change Up” where teams formed an alliance between two robots that work together in a timed challenge to put 32 balls in nine goals located around the field.

Restrictions due to COVID-19 limited the West Ashley Robotics Team. In previous years the team consisted of 36 students building six robots, but due to restrictions this year’s team consisted of ten students building two robots. The team says despite the virtual start there were a few advantages. The team was able to compete with groups from around the world without leaving the classroom

The team initially thought they wouldn’t compete after the shortened 2019-2020 season, however they received the go-ahead to compete after implementing new safety precautions and other COVID-related safety measures.

The students say the greatest part of the season has been watching their hard work pay off.

“When I heard we won, I was in disbelief,” Brenkert said. “But I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment. I was incredibly excited that everything that we’d gone through all year paid off. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget! It taught me that hard work does pay off.”

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