PORTLAND — As a first-year group, Newberg High School’s all-female Iron Men (Fe Male) robotics team didn’t have high expectations when they started in the fall.

But after qualifying for the state tournament at its first outing and taking home the top prize, the Inspire Award, at its second, the Iron Men have become a confident SETH GORDON - Calisthenics? -- Jessica Stone (left) and Hannah Hetzler, members of Newberg High School's Iron Men (Fe Male) robotics team, position bot No. 8056 to do a pull-up during the semifinals Sunday at the Oregon First Tech Challenge Championship tournament at Benson High School in Portland.

Collectively, the group’s self-esteem shot through the roof Sunday, as it advanced to the semifinals and was awarded the PTC Design Award at the Oregon FTC Championship tournament, which qualified the Iron Men to participate in the West Super Regional March 20-22 in Sacramento, Calif.

“Even when we’re working on the robot, we’re not thinking that there are possibilities, it’s like, ‘We can do this. We are competitive against these top teams,’” junior Jessica Stone said. “It’s good to have that confidence, but we’re not getting carried away.”

The Iron Men, who qualified third out of 25 teams in the Gordon Moore division, were one of three NHS teams to compete at Benson High School Saturday and Sunday.

Both Team Aeterna and the Newberg Tigers squads faced some technical and communication problems and failed to advance to the knock-out stage, finishing 19th in the Moore division and 25th in the Howard Vollum division, respectively.

“As a team, we got along together well and had lots of fun at competitions,” junior Travis Seevers of Team Aeterna said. “It’s sad to see it end here.”

Although the Iron Men qualified to be one of four alliance captains in the Moore division following their five qualifying matches, they accepted the invitation to join the alliance of Stoller Middle School’s Syntax Error 42, which qualified second, along with the Absent Minded Geniuses from Glide High School.

Their alliance lost the first game in the best-of-three division semifinal match, but roared back to take the final two and advance to the Moore finals.

There, the trio of teams ran into a strong alliance, formed by the Mountain View High School Thunderbots, Stoller’s Hot Wired team and Bulldog Robotics from Hermiston High School, which prevailed 2-1 to advance to the tournament finals against the winner of the Vollum division.

“They’re extremely good collecting bots and that was one of the reasons they were able to kill teams so easily,” Stone said.

By virtue of making the division finals, the Iron Men qualified for super regionals, but were also announced as the PTC Design Award winner, which would have earned them a bid as well.

The Iron Men chose to forgo the oft-used “Tetris” parts that many teams use to construct their bots in favor of manufacturing their own parts in the NHS machine shop.

That has proven to be one of the team’s strengths, along with the ability to work well together and with other teams.

“They’re great in the pit and outside of it,” Absent Minded Geniuses coach Linda Koontz said. “They are the epitome of a good FIRST team.”

In previous years, two or three teams from Oregon, which has a large number of robotics programs and teams compared to many other states, have qualified for the World Championship tournament in St. Louis.

This year, FIRST organizers created several super regional tournaments as an intermediary level between the state and world contests. Due to its depth, Oregon was awarded 13 slots, but will actually send 19 teams (along with one from southwest Washington) to the super regional after seven qualified while competing at state tournaments in Washington and Idaho.

Iron Men team member said they are proud to represent Newberg at the super regional and continue the program’s rich tradition, which includes producing world-championship qualifying teams the past two years.

“There will be a little bit of that weight on us,” Stone said. “But it’s also going to be pretty exciting to be that representative. We really want to perform well. Sure, we understand that we’re probably not going to blow the competition out of the water, but we’re really excited to share our robot and share what we can do.”

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