Retrospect (n) –
The year has come to an end. After six weeks of planning, designing, building, testing, competing, and cheering we have come to the end of the 2016 FIRST Stronghold season. In my three years of being on the team, this year was the first year where I saw drive and determination in all of the eyes of my teammates. This year was our year to show what we were made of above all. We made this year like that, we wanted to prove ourselves to other teams, and, in some ways to ourselves, prove that we are still a team to be feared and still a team to be watched.
Following our 2015 FIRST Recycle Rush year, it seemed like our team felt a lack of motivation. That season was, without any jokes or sarcasm, the season that never ended. We were in nonstop build from January to well into April with little to no breaks. We placed poorly in LA and then poorly again in San Diego, dampening spirits little by little. Following the miracle of winning the FIRST Championships Lottery, we flew out to St. Louis, MO a few weeks later to compete against the best in the world. We placed 51st in the Curie Division out of around 120 teams. While that was a decent placing for a team that came second-to-last at Los Angeles, the majority of the team struggled to see that. Morale continued to lower, and the expectation for next season was to work less and expect to do just as well as we had done that year.
When FIRST Stronghold was announced, I saw it. The spark our team had been looking for. There was a level of determination that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Teammates who were not excited for the year suddenly became the most excited people in the room, and people who were dreading the thought of working were the first to grab a notebook and start drafting design ideas. I was happy; the team I had joined was truly back. That little bit of “702 Magic” was back, and we were determined, all of us, to make sure we reminded the teams of FIRST just how hard we can compete.
After one of the most stressful final nights of my time on the team, we bagged the robot and waited for the LA regional. It was a dreadful wait for all of us. The itch to compete was in all of us. We all wanted to be at the arena, behind the glass competing, and cheering for our team. When we arrived, we were more confident then ever. I remember the swagger we had as we walked in that first day. Right from the beginning, we felt like champions. But it was gone too soon. We were hit with problem after problem and little by little we lost that swagger, lost the spark and lost our hope. In the end we finished 56th out of 66 teams, a failure in the eyes of our team. For a short while, I was on that boat. Were we going to have another repeat of last year? That thought sat in the back of all of our minds.
Following LA, I remember talking to the members of my team and trying to lift some spirits. It was a hard pill to swallow for most, we had such high hopes and we went out in awful fashion. I remember our captain at the time giving me the sad smile of, “Yeah, we’re a joke.” But we pressed onward and prepared for Ventura. Our plan was to refine our drive and set ourselves up to do much better in the arena. And so we did.
We got to Ventura and felt confident, something that seemed to to bite us in the butt whenever we felt it. Walking into the pit areas I was greeted by the faces of familiar top teams we had competed against: The Beach Bots, The Metalcrafters, The Holy Cows and Spartatroniks, to name a few. It was going to be a tough fight for our team, but we were determined to wipe the memory of our Los Angeles result from the minds of our competitors.
Our first day on the field was a new Bagel Bytes, a phoenix born from the ashes (a throwback to our 2011 robot). We ended the day in the top 20 teams attending and we started to draw the attention of those who watched us. Originally we had been focused on “damaging” the defenses on the field, but over time we realized our strength lied in our ability to play defense. Our defense was mean, our defense was tough and we continually prevented robots in the top 10 from scoring. And whats more, we were scoring off of the defenses as well. I was ecstatic for the team and our drivers. We went back to the hotel room and enjoyed our time away from home. The next day was when all hell broke loose for our team.
We ended the qualification rounds placed 25th out of 42 robots, a already massive improvement from our performance in LA. We were hopeful about our chances of being picked to move forward into the Quarterfinals. And so we headed to the stands and waited. That’s when it all started.
Our coach got a text. It was from our Chief Engineer, Shelby “The Penguin”. Team 207, The Metalcrafters, and the number 4 alliance captain, was very interested in the capabilities of our robot. We all began to become frantic. Are we going to get picked? Is this really happening?! Davis got a phone call. It was from The Metalcrafters captain. They spoke for maybe a minute and Davis hung up. Davis looked towards the field and nodded his head. We watched as Team 207 nodded back. Then we heard the words…
“Team 207 would like to invite Team 702 to our alliance.”
“Team 702 graciously accepts!”
The entire team stood up and roared in excitement. We had been waiting so long for this moment! Two whole years of waiting and we had proved that, once again, we were capable of being in the top percentile of robots. And so we scrambled back to the pit, rushing to make any repairs and make modifications.
In a half hour we had fixed our drivetrain (to the best of our abilities, something that plagued us all year) and created a new autonomous mode that would traverse over the Rock Wall defense. Our alliance between us, Team 207 and Team 3309 began talking strategy, planning our every move. We wanted to win more than anything and our opponents were led by Team 696, Circuit Breakers, a formidable opponent and a high scoring robot on its own. This was our first test.
The first game of the Quarterfinals was a disaster. Our style was countered by the opposing alliance; they were playing defense on us playing defense against them. We were made essentially useless and they won the first match 145-69. We rushed back to the pits and began to argue. “Why didn’t you stop going that direction!?” “I was stuck, I couldn’t see!” “We need to worrying about crossing the defenses!” It was like there wasn’t any hope for us to comeback, but our coach reminded us that we were, in fact, not out of the competition yet. We had one shot at tying up the set. And so we rethought our plan of attack; we would use their own counter-strat on them.
We won that game 172-122. It was a close game and it was clear that each team, on each alliance, was feeling the pressure. Did we go for the same plan of attack? Should we switch it up? We ended up deciding on the latter, a decision that was made all but five minutes before we entered the field.
It was a crazy last match in the set. Every robot kind of just did their own thing. There was no real defense, every robot was simply rushing back and forth, doing whatever they could do score as much as possible. In this type of competition experience closes out games, and it was clear our alliance was the more experienced alliance closing the series 172-98. That moment was one that I can only describe as pure joy. We had made it to the semifinals. But our toughest opponent was just ahead of us.
The Beach Bots, the number 1 alliance captain, was our next opponent. The number 1 alliance could best be described as stacked. It was the top 3 teams at the event and we had little to no chance of winning. But our team went out their and played hard. In a way, those two matches were some of the best we had ever played. We even managed to come within four points of winning the first match against this alliance, something nobody else had ever come close to doing (not even at championships, where Beach Bots ended up taking the win). We were stopped in the semi’s, losing 2-0. But we were the happiest team to ever lose on that field. We had done it, we had proven to ourselves that we were still in possession of that “702 Magic”. And so the team looked forward to next year and we pushed onward. And even now, two months later, I can still see the spark of determination in the eyes of my teammates.
Ventura was a regional filled with success. We proved to everyone we were still a top tier team in the Los Angeles area, an area filled with some of the best teams in the nation. We shared Vision Tracking data with Team 3925, the Circuit of Life, a team which helped bring the Beach Bots to victory at Ventura. We grew as a team and realized our potential was still present, still growing. I am extremely proud of my team and the leadership that lead us to victory. I am proud of our success and progress we have made, whether it be our open-source shooting code or our interaction with rookie teams. We have never looked so promising, and that is something everyone on the team can agree with.
This year was a success. And I am inspired by it to do even better next year. And I hope that I can, to the best of my abilities, lead the team down the same path; down the road of progress.
– Ezra (Head Programmer, Team Captain)