ROGERSVILLE — Cherokee High School's seventh-place overall finish out of 48 teams Saturday in the first 10 qualification matches of the FIRST Robotics Smoky Mountain Regionals in Knoxville was a bittersweet accomplishment.
With a record of 7-3 in the first 10 qualifying matches, the Springs were also the best finishing team in Knoxville that hadn't competed in any previous events in 2017.
Every team that finished in the top six, and most that finished behind the Springs, had already competed in one or two earlier FIRST Robotics competitions.
Cherokee Coach Dewey Ferguson told the Times-News on Monday he believes competing in multiple events next year will be Cherokee's best chance at returning to St. Louis.
Cherokee could only afford to attend one competition, so for 2017, they're "one and done."
"We're going to have to start competing more than once per season," Ferguson said. "To compete in a second event would probably cost us between $7,000 and $10,000 extra. But if we'd had an opportunity to compete in an earlier event, there's no doubt in my mind we would have been one of the top teams in Knoxville."
Ferguson added, "We have six weeks to build a robot, and we usually get about 28 minutes to play with it (in competition). About the time we start getting into a rhythm, it's over. That's why competing in one or two preliminary events would mean all the difference in the world. These kids are to be commended for being able to come out with a brand new robot and compete on a completely different arena and still be able to finish seventh."
Prior to Saturday's event, Fellowship of the Springs hadn't finished better than 12th overall in previous competition qualifiers.
After the 10 qualifying matches were completed, the eight top teams were automatically in the finals, and they picked two other teams from the remaining 40 to be their alliance partners.
As the seventh seed, Cherokee picked a team from Logan, W.Va., and a team from North Charleston, S.C., to join their alliance for finals competition.
Unfortunately, they were defeated in their two quarterfinal matches and didn't advance past the first round in the finals.
"I think our greatest strength this year was that our kids worked so well together," Ferguson said. "Our biggest weakness is we don't get to go to other venues and see how the game is played, and we don't get to play another game. Our kids didn't have any previous practice, but they really worked well together, they listened to their coaches, and leading up to the finals everything went just like we planned."
Last year, the Springs built a robot that was a durable defender.
This year, they built a robot that was lighter, more agile and capable of scoring more points, but that took away from its defensive fortitude.
Ferguson added, "In the finals, we were up against a really good team. We needed a (alliance) teammate to defend. Our opponent was really fast, and the teammate we asked to defend for us just couldn't keep up with him, and that was our downfall. Without anybody to block for us, they drug us down."
Still, there's a lot to be proud of, and the team will celebrate its all-time-best finish and other accomplishments during a special event at Cherokee on April 6 beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The event is intended to showcase Cherokee Robotics, as well as its accomplishments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. As part of a robotics team fundraiser, there will be a $10 all-you-can eat spaghetti supper and a silent auction.
The students who participated in the Knoxville competition included: Luke Morgan, Noah Davis, Erin Forgety, David Price, Will Carpenter, Elizabeth Lawson, Leanna Manis, David Riggs, Jay Amin, and Raiden Evans.
Cherokee’s 10th and final qualification round which launched them into their best every 7th place overall finish: