Story Featured in Pacifica Tribune:
Many awards were arrayed on a display table during this past weekend's Northern California Robotics Championships, but two trophies towered above the others. Terra Nova took home both.
Three weeks earlier, the Terra Nova Basilisks, FIRST (For
Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge team
6002, sailed through their qualifying tournament at Jefferson High School in
Daly City, going undefeated against 27 other teams. However, the
championships were a different story.
FTC matches pair up teams into alliances that compete
head-to-head, but each year the game changes, demanding new robot designs from
previous years. This year, robots have to pick baseball-and golf
ball-sized wiffle balls from the floor and deposit them in rolling vertical
tubes of four different heights. The higher the tube, the more points are
awarded to each scored ball. The highest tube (four-foot) is fixed to a
structure centered in the field and worth double the highest (three-foot)
rolling goal. Balls can only be scored in the highest goal autonomously
at the beginning of a match and during its last half minute, making for last
The Basilisks got off to a shaky start, barely winning
their first two matches. Balls weren't consistently making it into goals,
then falling back inside their robot to get jammed in their shooter. This
required a lengthy recovery routine, wasting precious match time.
They jammed so badly at the end of their second match
that both shooter motors burned out. With a worst-case turnaround on
their schedule, Fryslie and Snitovsky only had time to fully diagnose the
problem before they were called up to the field for their next match.
They pulled the plugs on their motors, but were able to drag goals up a ramp
for minor points and eke out another win.
After replacing their motors, Fryslie confessed that she
was feeling the pressure of being undefeated all season, a record that
increased to 14-0 after winning their fourth and fifth matches of the
day. As the only undefeated team, a win in their sixth and final
qualifying match would guarantee them the number one seed going into alliance
selection, where the four top teams in the two tournament divisions take turns
selecting partners for the playoffs. A loss would mean a drop to the
fourth or fifth slot, and a tough road through the playoffs at best, and the
potential of not being selected at all at worst.
Despite facing one of the best teams, the Basilisks had
their best match of the day, and a close 248-224 victory. However, there
was no time to celebrate. The remainder of the team had to be quickly
debriefed by Terra Nova’s scouter, sophomore Sophia Shaw (15), who had been
carefully documenting the performance of all the other teams throughout the
tournament, before making their alliance selections.
Terra Nova invited Vulcan Robotics, FTC 8375, from San
Mateo to be their primary alliance partner, but they declined, preferring
instead to form what they believed to be a stronger alliance with Terra Nova’s
former partner from the Jefferson tournament, the Fremont-based RoboKnights,
FTC 5220. The Basilisks then selected the Knights of Ni, Team 5206, from
the Stanford University Online High School, and rounded out their alliance with
the Enterprisers, FTC 5326, from Reno, Nevada.
Meanwhile, off to the side, team supporter Danny Fryslie
(12) of Cabrillo Elementary School, happened
to be looking down into his big sister’s robot and noticed something shiny in
the bottom of their shooter. It was a screw, one of the few redundant
parts in their robot, and likely the cause of many of Terra Nova’s
inconsistencies all day. After bringing it to his big sister’s attention,
she tipped it out, and walked their robot over to the playing field with a
Both the Basilisk and Vulcan alliances dispatched their
lower-seeded opponents by winning the first two of the best of three
quarterfinals. Then, in a decided upset, Terra Nova won both their first
two matches against the heavily-favored Vulcan alliance, advancing them to the
The Basilisks elected to partner with the Enterprisers,
who could barely score but had proven themselves to be an exceptional defender,
in the first finals match. The Basilisks easily outscored their heavily
defended opponents, but at a cost. The Enterprisers had overdone it,
twice, for two 50-point penalties and a loss by a mere 8 points. This
ended Terra Nova’s incredible 18-match winning streak. Their opponents were
now just one win away from becoming champions.
In the driver-controlled period of Finals Match 2 a field
control error made the Knights of Ni robot drive into a wall, tip over and
split apart. Since this was not the fault of the team, game officials decided
to replay the entire match and give the Knights of Ni five minutes to repair
their robot. Five minutes was only enough time for the Knights to remove
their scorer (now neither of Terra Nova’s alliance partners could score balls)
and get in starting position. In the Autonomous portion of the match
replay, the Basilisk robot was blocked by FTC 8367, but the Knights of Ni’s
robot sat idle, allowing 7391 a free shot at a rolling goal and a 30 point lead
going into the driver-controlled period. Fortunately, the Knights could
still manually drive their robot and did their best to defend, but it was not a
fair fight. With just 20 seconds remaining, Terra Nova’s opponents had
stretched their lead to 190-60. Snitovsky however, had moved into position
at the lucrative center goal in possession of four large balls. Fryslie
let loose with the trigger, filling up the center goal for a dramatic win, and
sending the finals to a third and deciding match.
In the autonomous portion of the last match of the tournament,
the Enterprisers blocked their opponent from scoring, while Terra Nova
sophomore Edward Finsness’s (16) pre-programming performed flawlessly for a
50-point lead. The driver-control period stayed relatively even until
both alliance captains lined up at the center goal and waited for the 30-second
period that would determine which team would become Northern California
Champion. The Basilisks were ahead, but only held two balls. Their
opponents held four. Then the worst happened, there was a horrible sound
that could only be a motor breaking. Snitovsky was sure it was their
shooter motor and wanted to drive to the minor 10-point scoring area.
Fryslie wasn’t so sure. It might have been their intake motor. So
she told Snitovsky to stay put and fired both balls into the center goal for 90
points, just as their opponents missed scoring all four balls. The
Basilisks were Champions.
The awards ceremony capped a glorious day for Terra
Nova. Junior Ashley Asaro (16) had spent the day staffing the team pit:
managing the critical job of battery charging and talking to spectators and
judges about their team and robot. Largely as a result of her efforts,
Terra Nova was awarded the tournament’s top prize, the Inspire Award, which
FIRST recognizes as a higher achievement than even winning on the field.
It was the first sweep by a Northern California team in many years.
Conveniently for most Basilisks supporters, Terra Nova’s
next competition is against the best 72 teams in the Western US, in Oakland,
March 27-29. It’s Terra Nova’s chance to advance to the World
Championships for the sixth straight year.
Terra Nova Robotics is sponsored locally by the Sam Mazza
Foundation, Rotary Club, and Kibblewhite Precision Machining who 3D printed the
robot’s curved, shooter pipe from the student’s CAD model, the largest 3D
printed part KPMI has ever produced.