ACC KoiBots Doing Swimmingly: Blacksburg and Alexandria Competitions

Shangwen Cheng, Staff Reporter

Photo by Jack Schiavo, KoiBots alumni. At Alexandria, the team explodes in cheers after a great moment of teamwork with team 5115.

“[…] the lost voices aren’t from [COVID-19] being caught on the trip, everyone just decided to scream like they were gonna die on Monday” — Anna (sophomore on the team)

      It’s been an eventful few weeks for the robotics team at ACC. At the beginning of the month (March 3rd-5th), they took a three-day trip down to Blacksburg, VA (near Virginia Tech!) to compete. Just this past week, March 17-19th, they went to their second qualifier competition in Alexandria, VA. Before we dive into those action-filled weekends, let’s start with a brief overview of how competition season works in the First Robotics Competition (FRC).

      Our team, the KoiBots, belongs to the Chesapeake District, which covers Virginia, Maryland, and the country’s capital, Washington, DC. All teams, upon completion of registration, compete in two qualifier events. At each event, the top eight teams can pick an alliance of two other teams to compete in playoffs and win. If a team scores high enough between both events, they move on to the District Championships. This year, they are held at George Mason University, very close to home! At the time this article was written, the team had just been invited to the District Championships.

      Blacksburg wasn’t an event they were originally assigned to. “We chose to go to Blacksburg so we would have two weeks in between our first and second competition,” Anna Litwiller tells us, referring to the fact that teams often work on their bot between competitions to improve their performance. The team pooled resources with Yorktown’s FRC team, #9033 the Ocebots, to rent a charter bus for the weekend. Friday was used mainly for travel and to set up the pit (a small space that served as a mini workshop for the robot).

      The action truly began to heat up on Saturday, when the team was up for the first match with a barely-finished robot. “[There] were a few members who had to work on it last minute,” Anna recalls. The team was also competing with brand new drivers, Xander Haywood and Naomi Mickelson, both freshmen. Nevertheless, the team finished the day within the top 8 teams, setting them up to compete in playoffs on Sunday.

      The next day, the KoiBots continued to perform excellently, eventually ending up being selected as the first pick for Alliance #7 (there are eight alliances of three teams in the playoffs). They went on to be eliminated in semi-finals round two, ending the competition ranked 11th. In addition to the competition itself, the team’s buttons (a tradition in FRC) were incredibly popular. The art team made over 500 pre-competition, and every single one was taken by the end of Sunday. “My first competition was both fun and stressful,” Naomi says. They had a great time collecting buttons from other teams, citing it as one of their favorite parts.

    In the two weeks between Blacksburg and Alexandria, the robot was nearly entirely redesigned. Jack Ploetz led much of the redesign, saying “What’s the point of having 2 weeks between comps if you don’t completely redesign your bot?” The art team was busy too, making signs for the stands and making sure the team had a ready supply of buttons.

      The highlight of the new additions is undoubtedly the new intake, shaped like a fish reaching out to pick up game pieces. Not only does it match our team’s theme, but it also has improved functionality, something many team members commented on. “[At Alexandria] we performed slightly better than Blacksburg, with major improvements in our ability to pick up pieces,” Anna says. Naomi agrees, joking that “both competitions were fun, but the second one was a bit more fun [because] we had a robot that broke less”. They finished the first day ranked 2nd, and the scouting team spent two hours going through data afterward to prepare for alliance selections.

      The second day was incredibly intense, but there were two moments that the entire team (and likely the rest of the arena) agreed were highlights of the event. In qualification 79, their last match before playoffs, the team was at one point the only working robot on their alliance. At the very end, they were able to push an alliance member up onto the charging station with them to earn extra points (watch that moment here!). By the time playoffs rolled around, the KoiBots had dropped slightly in the standings, but still maintained an excellent position, enough to become alliance captains of Alliance #6. In their final match, the bot fell off the charging station, ending up stranded on its side. Alliance member #5115 Knight Riders was able to push them upright so they could go right back to playing (see it here!). The cheers were deafening, and as one mentor from team 5115 put it, “that was the loudest that place was the whole weekend”. When asked later, he said, “[I’ve] been to 8 events now, […] and besides the event we won, that was probably my favorite thing to ever happen”.

      The team is now winding down from a stressful few weeks, and preparing for a long event ahead (from April 5th to 8th). No matter how they perform at the District Championships though, it’s been a valuable experience for all of them. “It’s really great to see how much the team has grown. When we started four years ago it was just 8 underclassmen, and now our team is going strong with [thirty-six] members and competing all over the region,” Jack says. “The robotics team is the embodiment of Arlington Tech, truly the ultimate PBL.”

People interviewed:

Anna — Anna Litwiller, sophomore on the team

Naomi — Naomi Mickelson, freshman on the team

Jack — Jack Ploetz, senior on the team

Special thanks to Daniel Johnson, a mentor on team 5115, for his support and enthusiasm of both the team and of this article!