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Members of the Windham Windup compete in the 2014 FIRST Championship in St. Louis on Friday. Anne Browne 

NH team makes it to FIRST semifinal

It was a FIRST experience that put one New Hampshire team on Cloud 9.

Windham's FIRST robotics team was among the last 16 squads standing Saturday after a field of 400 teams from around the world met in St. Louis for the 2014 championship competition. Windham was part of a four-team alliance that made it to the semifinal round of the event.

"Everybody is on Cloud 9 right now," said team mentor Anne Browne.

Windham's team, the Windham Windup, was one of five from New Hampshire that made the trip. The other New Hampshire teams were from Prospect Mountain High School in Alton, Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro and the Milford Area Youth Homeschoolers Enriching Minds squad.

Last week, Windham had to scramble to find a quick backup ride to St. Louis after its chartered bus was canceled.

"It was a very stressful start," Windham High School senior Greg Samsel said Saturday.

But as the event neared its conclusion at the Edward Jones Dome, the 27 students on the Windup crew were chosen to join one of the final alliances to battle for robot supremacy.

Windham students, from Grades 7 through 12, participated in strategy sessions, but team robot "Wingman" waited to fill in if another robot faltered, said Browne.

Students felt the intense competition from the top teams.

"We're playing against the best of the best teams from around the world, and the competition's been tough," said Windham freshman Ken Cole, who flew to St. Louis with his mother.

Five New Hampshire squads were among 400 teams from as far away as Israel and the United Kingdom competing with their robots, made from a kit of parts.

Samsel said a team from South Portland, Maine, whose members became friends with their New Hampshire peers when they paired up at an earlier regional competition, helped the Windham squad, transporting needed supplies - namely tools, spare parts and maintenance gear - on the Maine bus.

Otherwise, he said, "we'd pretty much have the robot sent in the crate and nothing else would have made it."

Carina Savukinas, a freshman at Windham High, said she tagged along with her brother, Danny, to the FIRST robotics championship last year and liked what she saw.

"I had so much fun I decided to join the team," she said. "Every year is a new challenge, a new robot, and different teams make it, so it's new and exciting every year."

For Browne, the highlight of the competition was "seeing all the hard work everybody put in," she said. "Seeing how everybody bonded and just came together."

Former Gov. John Lynch posed for pictures with the Windham team on Friday.

Last month, Windham won top honors at the district competition at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The team also won the Chairman's Award, which was given to the team that best represents the mission of FIRST.

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