CALUMET - Calumet High School's Science Olympiad team had never gone to state. And only half of last year's Washington Middle School team carried over to this year.
So one could be forgiven for expecting a rebuilding year. But the teams had other plans: At the regional competition in February, both finished in first place, and are now preparing for state.
"This year was a huge, pleasant surprise," said coach Darrell Hendrickson.
The high school team tied with Gladstone at regionals, but was awarded first place on a tiebreaker (seven gold medals for Calumet versus five for Gladstone). The middle school team had more breathing room, beating Superior Central by 12 points.
That middle-school team "had a lot of hard-working kids," Hendrickson said, and the high school team's seniors brought their A game.
"They had a big sense of pride this year in going out with a bang," he said. "Plus I think they were able to make Science Olympiad a little more infectious, get students who were never in it before to join."
One of those seniors is Alyssa Dupuis, who has been in Science Olympiad since she was a sixth-grade student. As a high school team member, she has also helped mentor middle school students.
Her top event is Towers, which she's placed first in for five years. The most important part, she said, is attention to detail.
"I like the hands-on, I'm more of a builder ... testing it, I get instant results," she said.
What she'll miss the most is the people, who she called "a little family."
"Everyone loves each other," she said. "It's going to be weird not saying, 'Oh, I have Science Olympiad tomorrow.'"
Dupuis was one of many students practicing on Saturday at the school for state.
Hannah Koskiniemi and Jessica Rich took second place in Forestry at the high school level, while Rebecca Naumenko and Jenna Kivela-Heinz took third in the middle school. They said they enjoy the learning experience of Science Olympiad, as well as the fun of the trips.
"It's really awesome to go down as a group, instead of some of us going down as mentors," Koskiniemi said. "The bus is going to be really crowded."
Seventh-grade students Ilhan Onder, Garrick Ensminger and Nathan Bruchman were working on their Mission Possible device, in which teams must build a device that can accomplish several tasks in precisely 90 seconds.
The most crucial of them is the final task, lifting up a weight to 20 centimeters, completed by a bottle pouring sand onto spokes of a wheel that then wound the string connected to the weight. A trial run Saturday was completed successfully, with the weight raised 25 centimeters in 1 minute, 25 seconds.
They can draw the process out by adding more sand, Bruchman said.
All said they enjoyed participating.
"I think it's the only place we get to geek out," Onder said.
Along with coaches Hendrickson and John Asiala, the team is helped by parent volunteers Eric Hermanson and Soner and Nilufer Onder.
It's rewarding working with the students, they said.
"If we can sustain what we are doing for a couple more years, I think we can be state champs," Soner Onder said. "They are very, very good kids. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to."