Seniors lead Trinity robotics team to another successful season


Bailey Baker, Kenny Hessong and Rachel Onken have been involved with Trinity Lutheran High School’s robotics team since their freshman year.

Last year as juniors, they worked together for the first time and made it to the semifinals of the VEX Robotics World Championship.

For their final year of high school robotics, they wanted to leave their mark on the program so others would want to get involved in the future.

Goal accomplished.

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Through 11 tournaments this school year, the trio returned home with a trophy from nine of them.

The highlights were winning the overall excellence award at the national competition in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and making the finals and finishing in the top 24 at the world competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

This year’s game was In the Zone, and that also describes the three seniors, especially at the four-day world competition at the end of April.

“It was one of the best times we’ve worked together that well. We really put ourselves all in for our senior year. It was great,” Hessong said.

“We had everything going for us, and we really did scouting because we usually don’t scout as much as what we did there,” Baker said. “It really helped.”

There were 10 qualifying matches with 100 teams in each of the six divisions. Out of those teams, competitors were randomly partnered up and had two random opponents. Then they were ranked, and they could pick their partners in the single-elimination bracket for the finals.

Onken said their mentors videotaped everybody’s first and second matches.

“We were able to go back and watch what our opponents and what our partners did so we could easily make a good strategy to go against another alliance, whether it be defensive or offensive,” she said. “I think that was something that really helped us.”

Playing In the Zone all school year, the object was to build a robot to pick up cones, stack them on mobile bases and put the base inside a scoring zone. There also was a stationary goal on which to place cones. Points were scored based on where they were put in the zone and how you compared to your opponents.

After a 15-second autonomous period, the drivers took the controls for the remaining 1:45.

Dallas Goecker, who coaches the team with Gabriel Goldsberry and Cory Burbrink, said the fine details make a big difference in that short period of time.

“It is intense the amount of detail and perfection that you have to have in order to be at that level,” Goecker said. “These finals, it’s a 120-second match. It’s not like it’s the best of seven in a baseball World Series of a three-hour game that has nine innings or it has a first half and a second half and umpteen timeouts and whatever else. You’ve got 120 seconds.”

What’s done in that time could be the difference in being knocked out of the competition or vying for a division title.

“To be at this level, they have to be perfect, and they have to do everything right and be able to overcome all of the randomness of what their partners could be doing and what their opponents could be doing,” he said. “It’s a lot of detail.”

Throughout the school year, the robotics lab at the school was open from 4:30 to 9 p.m. two or three times a week. The three seniors and the other two members of the team, freshmen Luke Pollert and James Thomack, spent that time working on their robots to prepare them for competitions.

Baker built the seniors’ robot, Onken took care of programming and Hessong compiled the engineering notebook.

Baker said he built the robot from the ground up three times. By the world competition, he said it was the best it could be.

“I don’t like tweaking a robot, really,” he said. “Maybe change a little thing here or there, but if it’s something really big, I just rebuild it.”

Onken said there’s a lot of overlay with programming from year to year, and she spent most of her time in the lab tweaking the program or practicing driving the robot.

Hessong said the notebook includes sketches and notes by him and programming information by Onken.

“We documented just about everything we’ve done this year — what worked, what doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s what we’re leaving behind for the next years of the team. This is what we want to leave as kind of like a legacy.”

The notebook wasn’t required, but Hessong said it helped the team qualify to win the excellence award out of the nearly 200 teams at the national tournament.

Goecker said it was the highest judged award given out, and it’s based on the team’s overall tournament ranking and ability to efficiently explain their robot.

“They have a very complementary skill set with the three of them,” Goecker said.

That award gave the seniors a boost and helped them succeed at their final competition.

“Us three have made relationships with other teams from the state of Indiana, so I think that was something that kind of came into play,” Onken said. “A lot of our Indiana friends were watching our matches because we were the team from Indiana that made it the farthest in the tournament. … I think that made a big impact on us.”

Goecker said Indiana is well-known for its strong robotics teams, and the three Trinity seniors developed a good rapport with them.

“We invite them to our scrimmage because that’s where you get all of the really hard matches of really the best teams,” he said. “Over the last 10 years, it’s that sort of stuff that has really made Indiana so strong to have some of the best teams because we push each other and work together and support each other that way.”

Goecker said the seniors did a great job of setting standards for others at the school to follow.

Onken said she encourages the underclassmen and others joining the robotics team to determine their strengths and fit those with each other.

“What they really need to do is decide who is doing what and then go from there. They should do a lot better,” she said.

“They are doing better than what we did our freshman year,” Baker said of the two freshmen. “I think for them, it helped to have a team like us above them.”

Pollert and Thomack said they learned a lot from the seniors.

“Having those role models and examples to learn from really helped, and going to these tournaments has definitely helped us learn what it’s going to be like and prepare,” Pollert said.

Robotics was totally new to Thomack, and he said he liked it so much that he stayed. He wound up learning a lot and got to compete at the state tournament.

“The second half of the season, they really were a force to reckon with,” Goecker said. “We hosted a scrimmage here that was basically invitation of the top-10 teams from Indiana and Kentucky. They were here kind of by default, and they held their own.”

That bodes well for the future of the program, Goecker said.

“We were very impressed with their performance the latter half of the season,” he said. “They came a long way.”

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