The last time Bluestone High School’s robotics team advanced to the district championship was in 2016, the freshman year of current senior co-captains Jared Lejda and Kyleigh Brown.

After a runner-up finish over the weekend at a district qualifier, Bluestone’s Team 1413 and its robot, Skrappy, have a favorable chance of returning to the district championship in 2019.

The qualifier was held March 15-17 at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Va. After a 13th-place finish and quarterfinal exit in Bluestone’s previous district qualifier, Team 1413 entered the First Robotics-sanctioned Portsmouth event in need of a good showing to extend its season.

Skrappy and its alliance mates accomplished that and then some, sweeping through the quarterfinals and upsetting the top-seeded alliance in the semifinals before bowing out in the finals, due in part to an alliance members’ robot malfunctioning.

“In past years, it was tough for us to make it past the quarterfinals, so winning both of those matches was huge,” Lejda said. “And then, beating that first-seeded alliance, that was the highlight of the whole competition.”

With 37 teams from up and down the East Coast competing, Team 1413 was seeded seventh after the qualification matches. The top eight seeded teams are then allowed to choose other teams to form alliances with, but instead, Team 1413 joined with 4th seated Goochland 2106 Junkyard Dogs along with Team 5546 A.R.T. Of Petersburg.

After winning two quarterfinal matches in a best 2-of-3 format, Team 1413’s alliance advanced to the semifinals to meet the top-seeded alliance, headed by a squad from Massachusetts.

“They were in first place for 90 percent of the competition,” Lejda said.

Team 1413’s alliance fell in the first semifinal match but won two excruciatingly close matches after that to advance to the finals.

“It gives us good standing to qualify for districts,” Lejda said. “It’s not a guarantee, but we have more points than we’ve had at this point in previous years.”

The district qualifiers will continue through the last week in March. Each team competes twice, and the top 68 teams by cumulative score advance to the district championship April 10-13 in Fairfax, Va.

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is recognized as the premier international high school engineering challenge. Working closely with teachers and volunteer mentors, student teams have six weeks to conceptualize, design, build, program, modify and test remote-controlled robots to participate in a competition that changes each year. Teams work with a common core set of parts but determine on their own how to accomplish tasks. Thus, no two robots are exactly alike.

This year’s game, Destination: Deep Space, presented by Boeing, simulates a mission to an alien planet where teams work in alliances and pilot their remote-controlled robots to secure hatches and load cargo on space ships.