(April 8th): Chesapeake District Championship FINALISTS
I never thought I could experience such a roller coaster of emotions within a 24 hour time period. I can’t really explain it. I guess I’ll just have to relive it and you’ll see.
The journey started out pretty uneventful. I was part of the 5:00 pm group that loaded in. It was nice to see some familiar faces when we were 138 miles away from home, competing at the Chesapeake District Championships hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. As we entered the arena, we shared familiar gazes and smiles with other Montgomery County teams, including Team 5115, the Knight Riders (Wheaton High School), Team 1389, The Body Electric (Walt Whitman High School), and Team 4638, the Jagbots (Northwest High School).
The rows of pits seemed almost unending. There were 58 teams in attendance, nothing like the 28-32 team events we had participated in during the last few years. It was also a bit intimidating, seeing the top teams from the DMV area all in one place.
By the end of Wednesday night however, we were capable and ready to kick some robot-butt. Two weeks previously we had finished as finalists at the Central Maryland competition where our gears per tele-op cycle was decently high.
What could go wrong?
We arrived at the arena doors around 7:20 am, eager to get the best seats. At 8:00 am we gladly secured seats for both our scouters and the rest of our team. At 10:00 am, practice matches kicked off.
We won our first practice match, 305-235. We didn’t get four rotors, but we were able to climb, secure enough gears, and have a successful auto. We also won our second practice match, achieving four rotors and a complete takeoff. Our hearts were pounding and we hoped that if we continued this performance, we’d have a shot at qualifying to be an alliance captain.
Qualification matches began at 2:00 pm. And then, the unthinkable happened. Our robot could not connect to the field management system for two qualification matches. We were stunned. And we earned no ranking points.
As our third qualification match approached us, we feared our robot would not connect again. Meanwhile, FIRST tried to help. They called headquarters, reset the entire field and had technical support swarming our robot. Like a concerned parent, all we could do is stand back and watch. Fortunately, with an in-depth inspection, we realized that the FMS was connecting to the D-link in our pit instead of our robot. Not good, but problem solved.
Qualification match 25 started with mixed emotions. Then a gear got stuck in our robot, meaning that we could no longer deliver gears. We lost that match, and what little hope we had left had vanished.
We were in 58th place out of 58 teams.
One thing to know about The Blair Robot Project is that we like to work really hard and collaborate to solve problems. We’re a veteran team, 17 years in the running. We know how to keep our eye on the ball, our shoulder to the wheel and our heads held high no matter the situation.
On Friday, we gave another team our passive mechanism, hoping that would help them in the rankings. Then, after 9 matches, our first win. It was qualification match 85 and we finally earned ranking points. Although still secured to 58th place, it was a start. In our previous matches, we were showing other teams our potential. Our scouting team tracked every robot and generated a graph that showed that in terms of the number of gears placed per match, our robot was in second place. In one of our qualification matches, we cycled 6 gears total.
Then we won the next 4 matches. It was one of the greatest comebacks, or upsets, in FIRST history. Suddenly, our pit was filled with other teams asking us more about our robot, possibly for greater consideration to be alliance partners. Our confidence slowly rose, and our ranking was no longer an accurate predictor of our skill. We went home that night exuberant.
Had you told us the day before that we would win every match on Friday, we would have told you that you were joking.
Our scouting team went back to the hotel that night with the mindset that we would be chosen for an alliance. We trusted our own scouting data more than anyone else’s. The basis of our scouting system consisted of stand scouting which was both qualitative and quantitative data, and pit scouting, which was entirely qualitative but to a more descriptive degree. Papers were strewn across the room and computer screens with graphs lit up the eyes of the scouters. After a few hours, we had a list of robots, ranked according to our standards. We prepared for the next day as though we were going to be the first seed and alliance captain.
Yet, we were still ranked 57th. So as the last day of the competition began, we had no idea what was going to happen.
Saturday morning was a day of more conquests and comebacks. We won our remaining two qualification matches. By the time elimination matches rolled around, we were on the edges of our seats. And we were ranked 52nd.
Throughout the stadium and in the hallways, we hung graphs of our scouting data, showing where other robots fell when compared to one another. Some teams used our scouting data for alliance selection, while others just enjoyed the pretty bars.
In FRC, the top eight teams become alliance captains and get to choose two robots to be on their alliance for the rest of the competition. The goal of the competition is to build the strongest alliance and rise as the highest scoring team.
We had high hopes of being chosen because of our capabilities, but we didn’t know which seed we’d fall into. Crossing our fingers, our breaths got a little shorter when we realized we weren’t chosen during the first round of alliance section. Then we rolled around to the fifth seed and we still weren’t chosen.
Then we heard the words we were dying to hear. “Team 1885 invites Team 449…” I think we blew up the stands.
FRC Team 1885, ILITE, and Team 2363, Triple Helix, selected us as the third robot on their alliance. The constant pushing we did during the last few matches was worth it. We pulled out every trick in our hat. We played rough defense, pushed our robot’s speed to the limit, and took risks during the endgame to get the very last gear on the peg. We made an impression.
I’d never seen such large smiles on my team member’s faces!
Our alliance was incredible. Triple Helix had a fantastic shooter auto and earned points for our alliance KPA. Both our robot and ILITE’s robot were able to get a rotor turning during auto as well. That in itself was worth 60 auto points in addition to some KPA points. During tele-op, we worked gracefully as a team, getting all four rotors turning for eight elimination matches in a row. We were practically unstoppable. We glided through quarterfinals and then semi-finals.
We blew up the stands again when our alliance even earned a legendary “449 points” which consisted of KPA, all three robots climbing for take off, getting four rotors turning, and achieving a perfect autonomous.
Then it was time for finals. We knew this was coming. FRC Team 384, Sparky, remained one of the top two robots of the entire competition. They could make magic on the field effortlessly. We knew in this match, there was no room for error. We all had to climb, we had to guarantee four rotors were turning, and we all had to achieve a perfect autonomous. In the first round of finals, we beat the second seeded alliance. All we had to do was guarantee that same performance once more and we would be champions.
FRC is double elimination, which means best 2 out of 3.
During our second match, we were one gear short of earning 449 points and winning the entire event. Defense on our opposing alliance was much stronger than before. Also, all robots at this point in time had been pushing themselves beyond their capabilities. Things were not functioning as perfectly as before, and obviously that hindered our ability to perform as well as we wished. Nevertheless, we persevered with high hopes for our last match.
ILITE had not won a championship in their entire FRC career, and we had not won one since 2004. This moment was huge for us. As the match started, we clung to the edges of our seats. The autonomous was perfect. We were hopeful. However, midway through tele-op, our robot drove onto a gear. Our alliance partners tried to bump us off the gear, but unfortunately, they pushed us further onto the gear, and we ended up stuck.
We lost that match and it hurt a little because we had made it so far. Together, we still celebrated our extraordinary performance and chemistry as an alliance.
Everything that had gone wrong was not enough to deter us from being finalists at the 2017 District Championship.
A lot of factors play into whether a team makes it to championships. For us, since we were lacking in ranking points, it was imperative that we make it to semifinals and win an award, or make it to finals. Even then, other teams could bump us out of the top 23 by earning multiple awards. The next hour was another nail biter. The judges announced the award winners, and we were happy for the other teams, but unfortunately we didn’t hear our team name. We didn’t earn an award at District Championships, but that was okay because we performed well on the field and acted with complete gracious professionalism throughout the event.
Just as we were about to leave our seats and begin packing, a judge announced “So who wants to hear which teams are going to Worlds?”
She began to list the teams in descending order, from the top most ranked in our district. We were hearing names, none being our town. Then “449” was announced and we jumped out of our seats. There was an odd silence around us, no one fully understanding our joy. But we knew that we had made history for Team 449 that day. And now we were going to Worlds.