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But mentors Kyle Johnson and Hank Mummert helped the Builders of Tomorrow keep their composure.

“While it was bad, I knew we’d make up for it somehow,” Mummert said.

In the second round, Franklin’s alliance, led by team Sparky 384 of Richmond, bounced back and picked up the 120-109 win.

In the final and decisive round, the alliance put together a similar effort. It looked good for the red squad, but it all came down to the judges.

With both alliances grouped together looking up at the screen in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center, the numbers flashed 123-94 in favor of the red team.

“It was amazing,” Conner said. “I couldn’t believe we did it for the third year in a row.”

“In a way it really hasn’t set in yet,” Mummert added. “I mean to go from the way things were on Friday to a complete turn around on Saturday was a bit unreal.”

As Mummert mentioned, Friday hadn’t gone well. In random groupings, Team 1610 only broke 50 points twice in eight matches. But the robot had shown Team Sparky enough to earn them a spot on the No. 2 alliance, which will advance to internationals. It’s the third year in a row that Franklin’s program has made it to St. Louis.

There had been some other close calls, too. In the quarterfinals, the robot of Triple Helix of Newport News, one of Franklin’s allies, tipped over trying to release a stack. In the process of falling down, the robot also brought down 36 points with it. But worse than that, one of the stacking robots was out of the match.

Conner said that Franklin had to pick up the slack. Team 1610’s role was placing recycling containers on top of stacks, and also using its long arm to pull the containers from the landfill zone, as well as play the part of the all-around utility robot.

Even tougher than dropping a match, a low score in this round of two really hurt. Teams advanced by having the highest average points, so every tote counted and Franklin had to switch its role to stacking. The two remaining robots managed to put up 80 points, which put them on the bubble. They got out of the bubble in the next quarterfinal, however, scoring 106 points.

In the semi-finals, the No. 2 alliance dominated. At the time, the team picked up the weekend’s highest score of 144. That was a highlight for Conner.

“Placing the high at that point of the competition in the semifinals showed what our alliance was capable of,” she said. “It was a nearly perfect match.”

The team averaged 112 points. That was enough to be the highest average going into the finals.

“I was happy for the kids on the drive team when things went well,” Mummert said. “They would dance and joke around, and that tells me they are enjoying it.”

Conner and Mitrovic said they learned a lot and have some modifications for the robot in preparation for internationals, which will be from April 22-25.

“Our role was crucial to the success of our alliance, and we did well, but there is always room for improvement,” Conner said.

Ryan Godwin was the human player. The job of the human player was to help load the stacking robots with totes, and also to load noodles, which were called litter, into the recycling bins. The final role was to toss litter onto the other team’s side. Every piece that wasn’t “processed” earned four points for the team.

Godwin was similarly hard on himself in the finals.

“I felt like I underperformed in the first game of the finals, which made me more determined to pick it up in the next two matches,” he said.

The day did have a highlight, though.

“Throwing a noodle in an opposing trash can was super cool.”