Oh, what a difference a week can make.
On Wednesday night, we met up at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a late flight into Richmond, Virginia. Already, our mentors Bill and Mr. Gregor had driven most of the way with a 24-foot trailer carrying our supplies, robot, luggage, and a Fiat. This was our first out-of-state regional, and we were ready to make some noise.
The competition got off to an incredible start on Thursday. We had ditched the mecanum drivetrain we used in Orlando for a more traditional tank drivetrain. Ricky performed incredibly with this, and was a defensive force to be reckoned with. We won all of our practice matches, and began making new friends with other teams. We had a great time practicing with teams 1629 and 1533, among others!
The actual competition started on Friday, and we had a lot to prove. We performed extremely well the day before and hoped to avenge our poor showing last weekend in Orlando. We won our first 5 matches, and ended the day 5-1, ranked 6th. Everyone on the team was doing their part, from the drive team to the scouts to media. Things were looking up, and we capped off the day with dinner from Chipotle (including Christian eating a burrito in less than four minutes) and a strategy session for the next day.
Saturday morning didn’t go as well as we hoped, as we went 1-2 in our remaining qualification matches. However we ended ranked 14th, and were super excited for alliance selections. Since Friday morning, we had been in talks with team 1418, Vae Victus, about the elimination rounds. We played with them in match 12 and in a replay of that match (due to field error) and handled the matches easily both times. With complementary strategies, we would make incredible partners. With the second overall pick in alliance selections, team 1418 selected us! Rounding out the alliance, we picked team 435, the Robodogs.
The quarterfinals got off to a hot start. In our first match, our alliance scored a perfect 75 autonomous points. Our main strategy involved a double assist with 1418, but that changed when their robot tipped in traffic about 30 seconds into the match. Team 435 quickly assumed their role and we cycled the ball with them, leading to an incredible score of 206 to the other alliance’s 160. Our alliance continued with incredible chemistry and advanced into the semifinals for the first time in our team history.
Semifinal match 1 came to us as more difficult than expected. We lost that match, putting our backs against the wall. Win the next two or we were done. We evened the series in our next match, winning 215 to 152. In the rubber match, both alliances went slower than normal, and as the buzzer sounded we looked up to see a loss of about 40 points. Dejected, yet proud, we gathered the robot, ready to exit. However, the referees were gathered to discuss the final score. When the announcer stated that a technical foul was deciding this match, hope shot into us. The score flashed, and we had won! Immediately, all of us exploded into hugs and shouts. We were going onto the finals for the first time ever!
But, this wasn’t time for too much celebration. Our drive wheels had worn down from so many matches, and we needed a quick fix. Our alliance took its’ timeout and Cody got to work, replacing the wheels efficiently. Then, it was finals time. It was a surreal moment as we stepped out onto the field to shake hands with the other alliance’s drivers. I had watched this formality happen so many other times, but I had never been on the field as a part of it. We were ready. The first match was neck and neck the whole time. Down by 8 with five seconds left, we scored a quick truss shot to gain the lead. As the buzzer sounded, the other alliance scored a double assist ball, and we lost 175 to 157. In the next match, we were racing from behind the whole time after missing our autonomous, and lost 150 to 112.
It was a bittersweet experience. I am so proud of every member of this team. During some of those elimination matches, we couldn’t have been stopped by anyone. But, I wish I could go back and change those last two matches. All of us should be proud of our performance though. We proved that we are a top team, that one bad weekend does not define us, that we do not crack under pressure, and that we are not going away. This was possibly my last real competition, as most of the seniors will be at Grad Bash during the South Florida Regional. I am confident that the underclassmen will continue with excellence in that competition, and hopefully get us a ticket to the World Championships. But regardless of what happens, this year has been a culmination of years of hard work from everyone involved. The drive team has 20 combined years of participation alone. No matter how our next competition plays out, this year has been such a success.
Don’t expect us to back down yet.