(**warning: title contains spoilers)
I entered the arena on Thursday morning with high hopes. We had an amazing robot, a unique autonomous, and more practice than any other year, but when you’re a south Florida FRC team whose only reputation is “Spirit award winner”, placing confidence in victory is nothing short of foolish. But practice day went pretty well, and aside from a few very aggressive inspectors, we retained our optimism.
Friday: Qualifying rounds.
We started the day extremely well, setting the high score in our second match and remaining the only robot in the competition with a solo stacked tote autonomous. Andrey and Damian drove with confidence and ease and Prajesh quickly learned the mechanics of the tote chute. We were ranked first seed for the first time in Ninjineer history and we felt good.
Then things started to go downhill. We had several bad matches, with our autonomous interrupted by our own teammate, a bunch of totes falling in the wrong position, and dropped recycling containers, and finished the day in seventh. However, one of our scouts’ favorite teams, Sachem Aftershock, came into our pit and spoke with us about our autonomous and robot design, giving us hope that we still remained on the “first pick” radar.
We also won the Entrepreneurship Award thanks to the hard work and dedication of many of our members, including Asad and Pedro for writing and editing, as well as Jeni and Kristine for submission. We can now proudly say that we’ve won an award each year that we have submitted for awards, which is no mean feat.
Saturday: End of Quals
You have never experienced frustration until you change nothing but everything goes wrong. Our autonomous went insane starting on Saturday morning, swerving into random directions, pushing our robot off balance, and losing us countless points. We tried resetting the gyro, turning one off, replacing it etc. until we finally got it working again….. after quals ended. We were in twelfth.
In a tense moment, another team picked Sachem and we waited, worried we wouldn’t get picked at all. But without a second thought, Team 263 declined and picked us, after which we, graciously, agreed to put our noodles in their bins.
Honestly, these matches are all a blur to me now. I can only speak for myself, but I feel like the victory is less real to the drive team than it is to everyone else, simply because the only way to keep your cool on the field is to focus on the moment and not think about what is actually happening. All I registered were the numbers on the screen, through quarterfinals in second place, through semis in first and down to the finals.
The buzzer sounded for the first match of the finals; the first head-to-head of the whole competition, aaaand our autonomous went completely wrong. The bin got in the way, we dropped the totes, and we began the match twenty points down. However, both we and Sachem completed our 6-tote stacks with noodles and bins and with a little help from the Voltage human player, we won the match with a discernible lead (despite my -probably unprecedented- coach foul for stepping into the human player box… oops.) Then, the second match went horribly wrong. The totes fell the wrong way, we dropped our trash can, and we lost by more than 20 points.
Down to the last match, as I suppose it should be. Our compressor finishing just in time, we hustled off the field for our last match of the South Florida Regional. Our autonomous functioned perfectly, we grabbed the trash can in mere seconds after auto, and unloaded our stack flawlessly onto the scoring platform only to realize our alliance captains had lost their trash can. We frantically stacked 3 more in an attempt to compensate and unloaded onto the scoring platform, 386 accidentally pushed them off, we pushed them back, and buzzer.
I quickly scanned the field and saw two stacks with trash cans on the opposite side. I had that sinking feeling in my gut- not again, not again- preparing myself for the pep talk, and slowly accepting my fate. But I still had a tiny glimmer of hope: until they flashed those numbers on the screen our fate wasn’t sealed. And there they were: 100 in a little blue box, and a 104 in the red one, the most beautiful numbers I have ever seen.
I distinctly remember turning around, still processing the numbers when I saw Damian understand what had just happened and jump 3 feet. The next few hours were a blur of laughter, tears, hugs, and camera flashes mixed with a healthy mixture of euphoria and disbelief.
I am so incredibly proud of my team, my fellow seniors (WE DID IT), and all of the hard work and passion that has led to this moment.
As Amy Zhou wisely said on Wednesday night, “‘Tis a year of many ‘firsts’.”