Ranch Robotics: From Underdogs To Champions

Cheyenne Yodong, News Editor

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His name is Rocky.

And just like the dedicated students who hung tight to design, create, test and program him, and the committed instructor who supported their effort, Rocky was much like his namesake, that overmatched Philadelphia-boxer, Rocky Balboa.

“[Rocky] was the underdog,” said Brandon Juarez-Zambrano, of this nonliving competitor that only seemingly comes to life to represent Weston Ranch.

Like Rocky, this competitor, “kept losing,” said Jesus Avalos.

That is, Avalos said, until Rocky “started winning. Then the other teams didn’t know where to hide.”

Rocky’s main event is March 2-3 in Vallejo. It’s the state robotics tournament, where Ranch Robotics will step into the ring with the eye of the tiger.

Rocky’s latest win, on Feb. 3, put the Ranch Robotics on the map as one of the best in California. The underdog team won the San Joaquin Delta VEX League. It’s a story worth starting from the beginning.

Photos Courtesy of Rick Salas.


With only about five months of experience and practice, the team’s victory is a feat that is both astounding and worthy of praise.

Challenges to the team came right away. Though the Robotics class started off with 67 students this school year, when it came to being part of the Robotics club, that number dropped down to only three dedicated students: Avalos, Juarez and Horacio Castillo. They became a team with a will to survive.

These three students would meet with the goal to “design, create, test, program and modify [for] their competition,” said Weston Ranch Robotics Instructor Clifford Borden. The team has spent more than “120 hours working on their robot.”

The San Joaquin Delta VEX League held four seeding competitions between October to January. Championships were last week. Among the schools who participated came from Stockton, Lodi, Hayward, Olivehurst, Folsom, Tracy, and Pittsburg.

The Ranch Robotics team placed 11th after the four-seeding competition and those who rank on the Top 8 are named ‘Alliance Captains.’ Each captain can pick a different team as an Alliance, and our team was picked by Folsom High School who ranked 7th place.

The overall stats for that Robotics team were “6-0-1 scoring an average of 73 points, with [an] average of margin of victory of 34 points,” according to Borden.

The members of the team had different stances on the outcome of the competition.

After placing 11th overall, Avalos said, “We felt really nervous because there were very experienced players. We thought we were going to lose because we were in 11th place because we were basically down the whole.”

On the other hand, Castillo had a different outlook.

“Going into the league competition, we felt iffy. We came in nervous and a little confident, but once we got into the competition and began winning, we started to feel like we could actually do it,” stated Castillo. “And that couldn’t have happened if we didn’t prepare before. All the preparation we did transitioned into the field.”

It was one of the moments when you couldn’t avoid the life lesson. Perseverance outweighed talent and experience, Castillo said.

Ranch Robotics student members Jesus Avalos, Horacio Castillo, Brandon Juarez-Zambrano and club advisor Cliff Borden.


“We got to talk to some of the people, and they’ve been doing it for like five or more years,” Castillo said. “We only had five months.”

Castillo said he, “kind of knew we were going to win because we prepared so much. We came after school and looked at videos [almost] every day. We kept practicing controlling the robots.”

Then the team qualified for the state tournament.

Each team member has a different role in the competition. Avalos is the mechanics engineer, the designer, and the driver. Castillo is the team’s programmer and the co-driver. Juarez is the Scout team, time keeper, as well as the designer for the upcoming competition.

Rocky can lift and move cones. These are essential moves since the object of the game is to get as many points as possible by stacking the cones on the stationary bases as well as the mobile bases that need to be pushed in either the 20/10/5 goals.

Since it is a dual system, the robot is controlled by two students.

Avalos maneuvers the robot and controls the mobile lift, which carries the mobile base and drives in into the goals.

Castillo controls the arm/claw of the robot that stacks cones into the stationary and mobile goal.

While the process may appear easy, it’s not.

The team gave me a chance to take the controls. Making the robot move smoothly took time and practice. That sneak peak into what necessary to left me impressed with what they’ve learned to do in short period of time.

Though Rocky has been the performer in the spotlight, the students know their dedication has been critical to the team’s success.

Said Juarez, the robot wouldn’t be great, “if it weren’t for the drivers.”

The trio hopes their championship drive will transport them to the Bluegrass state.

Along with the upcoming state tournament, the trio is continuing to design something that could take them to the World Championships in Kentucky in April.

If that sounds like a longshot, then these might be the right underdogs to rise up to the challenge of a rival.

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