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Masuk Robotics teams punch tickets to World competition in Dallas

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Two Masuk High School Robotics teams emerged from the regional competition at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport to advance to world competition in Dallas this April.

Team 4478E is competing in the VEX Robotics World Championship for the second year in a row and three members of Team 4478U have experience from having competed on a different team.

On Monday evening, they fine-tuned their robots for the competition to be held from April 24-28.

“It’s bittersweet because it’s our last year as a team together,” said Emma Cusa, a senior on Team E. “We’re definitely very prepared.”

Cusa said team members have gotten better at time management and are more knowledgeable than last season.

“We all know we have to work really well together,” she said.

Team E also includes seniors Lucas Cartagena, Arvin Sarma and brother Ashwin Sarma, Liam Kelly and Matthew Mea, and junior John Iacono.

Team U includes junior Lindsey Merriman and seniors Bhutan Hospet and Andreea Rusu, who competed at Worlds together on a different team last year, and juniors Grace Lein and Chris Maslar, who volunteered at the event but did not compete.

“We volunteered and watched last year,” Maslar said. “It pushed us to qualify.”

Anish Sharma, a senior, is also on Team U.

“I think our chances are really good,” Rusu said. “Me and Bhutan have been on the same team every year of high school and we qualified every year. One year was online, because of COVID.”

Rusu said in-person competition continued during their sophomore year. “We learned a lot about communication with other teams,” she said. “Some teams speak other languages. We were aligned with one team that was deaf, so we worked with their mentors.”

Bhuvan said they had to learn how to communicate. “It wasn’t sign language,” Rusu explained. “It was a hand signal we learned in advance with their mentors. It made it easier in the match.”

Fifteen teams from Masuk and Jockey Hollow competed in the regional competition in Bridgeport and Coach William McDonough said Monroe came close to having five teams advance.

“Two teams lost a match that would have put them in the Worlds by the last nine seconds,” he said, “and we had a lot of skills scores that were close and could also have gotten teams into Worlds.”

Team 4478U
Team 4478E

Scoring goals

Every year, robotics teams play a different game, giving their robots a chance to score skill points by completing tasks and facing opponents in head-to-head matches. The playing surface for this year’s game resembles a soccer field with a net on each end. Robots shoot and push triballs into their opponents net.

The skills competition gives teams one minute to score as many goals as possible. Then there is a one-minute-45-second match pitting two teams against two other teams. At the end of the game, teams try to hang their robot on a bar.

“The higher you get, the more points you get,” Hospet said of the final task. “It really is a team effort. It takes all of us to succeed at this level.”

While one player is steering the robot, Hospet said teammates watch other matches and robots to help prepare for the next match.

During the season, several awards are given at competitions, including tournament champion, finalists, excellence and design. In 10 competitions, Maslar said Team U won nine awards.

Beast of the East

The Masuk Robotics program is led by Coach William McDonough and assistant coaches Jeff Giordano, Rich Infante and Sean Deely. Infante is a Masuk alum who was on the first robotics team to make it to world completion in 2013, and Deely was on the school’s first robotics team.

Deely was a member of The Ice Cream Club. “I had to bribe them with ice cream to go to the work sessions,” McDonough said of getting students interested in robotics early on.

As the Masuk Robotics program grew over the years, ice cream was no longer needed to inspire involvement. This year, the program has a total of 176 participants, including Masuk, Jockey Hollow Middle School and STEM Academy students.

McDonough said Masuk has the biggest robotics program within one school on the East Coast, with 10 percent of the student population participating.

Masuk competes in the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Region, which is tough this season. “In any other region, five or six of our teams would be going to Worlds,” McDonough said.

Internal competitions

This season, Masuk’s large robotics program required three buses to take students and coaches to 13 weekend events. McDonough said this is not sustainable.

Next season, 15 weekend events are scheduled, but Masuk teams will not go to all of them, because he said the long competitions can lead to burnout for students.

Fewer teams will travel for weekend competitions. Rather, internal competitions will be held at Masuk on Wednesdays from 3 to 8 p.m. The top five or six teams will win the right to compete on a given weekend.

“We’re basically creating a JV and a varsity,” McDonough told robotics students during their end of season meeting. “You can volunteer on that Saturday if you don’t make it or think of how you can improve your robot, so you’re not staying home the next time.”

Coaches said they believe the internal competitions will allow their teams to have more matches, while making each other better. These matches will count toward regionals.

Due to the large size of the program, McDonough said coaches cannot always get to everyone, so he encourages students to communicate and learn from each other.

“It’s been a really long season,” he told the gathering of participants, “basically a year. Every single one of you did everything that was asked of you and more, and I thank you.”

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