Maui High robotics team going to national tourney

Maui High School’s robotics team is headed to the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship next month in St. Louis, based on its performance at the Hawaii Regional competition on Oahu on Friday and Saturday.

Sometimes, finishing No. 2 has its perks.

Maui High and alliance partners Punahou and Moanalua High schools on Oahu played their way into the finals Saturday but were swept by an alliance of Waialua and McKinley high schools and Kamehameha Schools Kapalama.

The title qualified all three teams for the world championships, but Waialua had already grabbed a spot by winning a California regional. In years past, under the same circumstances, only the three teams would have qualified, but this year tournament organizers awarded Waialua’s spot to the highest seeded team of the losing alliance.

That team was Maui High.

“When they announced that we (qualified), everybody just started jumping up and down and running down to the stage to get the medals and trophies,” student coach and captain Racieli Andrada said Sunday.

Maui High, with its team of 38 students, was seeded fifth after qualifying rounds in this year’s competition dubbed “Aerial Assist.” Squads competed in head-to-head matches lasting 2 1/2 minutes on a 25-by-54 foot court, which had a truss hanging about 5 feet overhead.

The objective was to score as many balls in goals on opposite ends of the court with bonus points awarded for completed passes to allied robots. Goals had to be scored to claim the assist points, but teams could register points by passing balls over the truss.

“This year was the most fun game we participated in but also the most difficult to design for,” Andrada said. “This year, we spent two weeks of the six-week build season just coming up with different designs and doing a lot of research. We were also waiting for a lot of parts, too, so we weren’t able to build” immediately and spent the time using three-dimensional designing software to make a blueprint.

Despite the delays and difficulties in building its robot, Maui High’s hard work paid off. The Sabers-led alliance outscored opponents 677 to 329 in elimination matches at the state regional.

Their streak ended in the finals, though, as Punahou’s robot suffered mechanical problems. The alliance fell to the McKinley-led team 206-85 and 240-60 in the two-out-of-three match competition.

“We kind of got run out of town in those last two matches,” Maui High School robotics co-adviser Keith Imada said.

Following the championship matches, attendees began to murmur about the possible rule change; Imada tried to temper his students’ expectations.

“I was telling the kids, ‘Don’t believe anything yet,’ ” he said. “But at the end, they called up the finalists and the runner-up . . . and then they said we have a special honor.

“Of course everybody turns to me and goes, ‘Yeah.’ ”

This is the first time that Maui High School has qualified for the world championships since 2009. The championships will take place April 23 to 26 at the Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League.

Andrada, a senior who has participated in robotics all four years, said that she is excited to be going, but her team will need to make some last-minute repairs to its robot and raise $5,000 for the registration fees and, of course, travel expenses.

“We’re going to redesign it to make it more robust hopefully,” she said. “Otherwise, we’ll just pray, because we don’t have that much material left.”

Other Maui schools competing in the Oahu contest were Baldwin, which was defeated by the McKinley alliance in the semifinals. Baldwin finished seventh in the qualifying rounds and selected an alliance that included Oahu’s Kapolei and Farrington high schools.

In its quarterfinal match, the Maui High alliance defeated the Lahainaluna High School alliance, which included Oahu’s Kalani and Maryknoll high schools. Lahainaluna finished 16th in the qualifying rounds.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at