The 2016 Finger Lakes Regional, Great Strategy, and Dealing with Disappointment

The 2016 Finger Lakes Regional was an incredible and exciting event that left both me and my students on both teams feeling bittersweet (some more bitter than sweet).

I was mostly helping 5254 this weekend, and they did an amazing job throughout the whole event, seeding first while also developing new shots and new autonomous routines throughout, all while having one of the more difficult schedules at the event. We had a tough decision come time for alliance selections, but we selected Team 2791, Shaker Robotics for the combination of their consistent batter shot, their near-unblockable outer works shot, and their consistent autonomous routine that gave the alliance an early lead coming into teleoperated mode.

Team 20 didn’t perform as well in qualifications. The camera targeting that worked so well on practice day suddenly failed during qualifications, and the team was missing high goal shots. Despite this, the team pushed through and scored plenty of low goals, managing to seed sixth at one of the deepest events yet of this year. Saturday morning, in Team 20’s last two qualification matches, the team figured out a solution to start scoring high goals, winning their last two matches in impressive fashion.

Team 20 knew they’d have to face 5254 and 2791 at some point, and both teams have normally unblockable outer works shots, being that a 54″ tall wall can’t stand in front of either robot and block our shots. Additionally, they somehow had to make up the autonomous deficit that they faced, as coming into teleop down two boulders in the high goal against the two best scoring robots at the event isn’t a great strategy, and it’s how the two teams lost Tech Valley to 359 and 3990.

20 opted for a smart, higher risk strategy- pick up two climbing robots to make up the autonomous difference, guarantee the capture with one of those picks scoring low goals, and find a way to slow down 5254 and 2791’s scoring upside.

20 ended up rejecting 5240, and instead picked up 639, a great low-goal scoring robot with a climb, and 1405, a similar pick to 639, but with a less consistent climb. The way to slow down 5254’s scoring was an extendable blocker that reached out 15″ over the opponent’s robot.

On 5254, this was expected. Of course Team 20 was going to find a blocker, so we needed a counter. The counter came in the unexpected form of an amazing third robot- Team 2383, the Ninjineers from Florida. The Ninjineers were capable of scoring 4 high goals a match in teleop and one ball in auto undefended, as they had previously proven at the Orlando Regional a few weeks prior. 2383 had been having a ton of issues with their vision tracking during qualifications that led to an unfortunately poor seeding, but working with them over lunch led to them scoring a few high goals and autonomous in our first quarterfinal match. No robot could defend all three scoring robots simultaneously.

Unfortunately, the two alliances had to meet in semifinals, and the capable #1 seed of 5254, 2791, and 2383 came into the match with high hopes against the smart #5 seed of 20, 639, and 1405.

In the first match, 5254’s autonomous missed for only the second time the whole regional event, and 2383’s auto also missed, after having worked in both quarterfinal matches. In addition, 1405 managed to block quite a few shots, and keep 2791 from getting to the batter to hit their batter shot multiple times as well. On top of all of that, 2383’s teleoperated shots started missing, and 20’s alliance ended up prevailing by only 9 points- or less than one missed autonomous ball, and they had exactly 8 balls in the tower.

5254 was nervous, of course, but we also knew that if autonomous hit, and even one of 639’s balls didn’t go into the tower, we would have won. We ended up switching 2383 to defensive duty for the second match.

The second match had an even worse autonomous disaster, with 5254 and 2383 missing autonomous, and 2791’s ball falling out as they crossed the rock wall (for the first time ever), causing them to also miss in autonomous. This time, we started the match at a 15 point deficit. The nail in the coffin was when 2383 lost communication while on the other side of the field. The Ninjineers regained comm with 10-15 seconds to spare, and almost made it back to the batter, but could not get the challenge in time.

The match again went to 20’s alliance, this time by 30 points- or exactly the amount we would have gotten from 2383 getting on the batter at the end of the match, or the same amount as the three missed autonomous balls.

20, 639, and 1405 went on to win the regional, defeating 4930, 3044, and 340 in the finals to claim 20’s third Finger Lakes Regional Championship.

Both the students and mentors on 5254 have been asking ourselves where we went wrong. Could we have picked 20 instead of 2791? Could we have played those matched differently?

Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that there was no way for us on 5254 to know that 20 would spontaneously start working, and picking 20 over 2791 would have been bizarre, considering 2791’s crazy upside in all periods of the game. And the fact that autonomous went the way it did was just a stroke of horrible luck.

20 positioned themselves intelligently and strategically to take advantage of our bad luck and missteps, and the whole alliance, including 639 and 1405, should be proud of what they accomplished.

And hopefully, this can be an important lesson to the students on 5254 about disappointment. Learning lessons from failure sounds cheesy, and you often don’t want to hear it after a painful loss, but these things happen in anything in life. You lose the battle you wanted to win, you don’t get the grade back you wanted, the person you love doesn’t love you back, and it hurts, but you have to deal with these things. Maybe failure can inspire you to do better and get better at everything you do.

Team 5254 and Team 20 will both be attending the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship in St. Louis in late April, and hopefully 5254 can push through this rough patch and go on to do bigger and better things.

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