Winchester’s Dagle Brothers Too Much for Short-handed Somerville Volleyball

(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)

Somerville vs. Winchester Volleyball game three highlights

Steve Walker and the Somerville High School boys’ volleyball team were charged with a tough task Friday afternoon: shut down Winchester High School’s dynamic middle-hitting duo of Garrett and Charles Dagle.

It was a tall order (literally), and the short-handed Highlanders came up … well … short.

The Winchester Sachems swept the Somerville Highlanders, 25-14, 25-21, 25-19. The Highlanders were without three of their starting six due to “Senior Skip Day” at Somerville High.

Winchester controlled the pace of the first two games, but the Highlanders were in control early in the third and looked like they might be getting back into the match.

Senior middle hitter Ronnie Mosley (the only senior at the game) opened the game with a kill, and Somerville and Winchester split the first four points.

The Sachems went up 4-2, but the Highlanders responders with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore Victor Schmoeller’s first serve ate up Winchester’s defense and sailed backwards out of bounds. Schmoeller tagged the net with his second serve, but it ricocheted over and bounced on the far sideline for his two aces in a row.

Lucas Schmoeller (Victor’s brother, also a sophomore) dropped a shot near Winchester’s far sideline, then hit another directly into the Winchester block that fell on Winchester’s side.

Winchester called timeout down 8-4, and unfortunately the Highlanders’ control faded in the minute before play resumed. Winchester took control of the match with a 10-2 run, going up 9-8 on a Charles Dagle kill in the middle of the court.

Though Garrett Dagle, the senior captain, was more dominant in the first two games, it was Charles who took over the third. With Winchester up just 17-14, Charles hit an unplayable spike to the center of Somerville’s court. Two plays later, Charles timed his block perfectly to stuff Lucas Schmoeller’s hit back in Schmoeller’s face. Schmoeller desperately tried to play the ball with his fist, but it bounced weakly out of bounds for the 20-14 Winchester lead.

The Highlanders used a series of Sachem mistakes to go on a 5-0 run late in the game, but down 19-21, Victor Schmoeller’s serve went out of bounds.

Winchester closed the game out without surrendering the serve. The Dagles finished the game with 18 combined kills: 11 by Charles, seven by Garrett. Sachems setter and captain Don Muir finished with 14 assists.

When Somerville’s Mosley played front and center, the Highlanders had some success containing the Dagles, usually extending volleys and forcing the Sachems into weaker hits. When the 6-foot-1 middle hitter rotated into the back row and was replaced up front by 5-foot-7 junior Friguens Augustin, the Dagles swung more freely.

The Sachems also took advantage of communication errors and missed execution by the Highlander back row. In the second game, Winchester scored only five points on direct kills. The other 20 resulted from Somerville hits into the net or out of bounds, two players not establishing a passer and running into each other, or overpasses that gave the Sachems easy hitting opportunities.

Despite the errors, coach Walker said this was the best game he’d seen from his players all season. He said he liked their mobility and especially their attitude given the missing members of their team. He added that communication could still be improved.

Bruins-Flyers: Why History Won’t Repeat Itself

Tim Thomas is the reason the Bruins won't repeat last year's collapse. (Photo from Game Two of Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Philadelphia Flyers; by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The Celtics look old: they just can’t hang with Miami Heat’s run-and-gun offense.

The Red Sox are looking better, but they still won’t be playing meaningful baseball for two months.

The New England Patriots are still four months away from their season not happening. No matter what the courts rule regarding the lockout, you still have a staring contest between the owners, who don’t want the NFLPA to become as strong as the MLBPA, and the players, whose union leaders can’t look weak on their first collective bargaining agreement. Neither side can walk away, and nobody will win.

No basketball. No baseball. No football. So what am I gonna write about? That’s right: the Boston Cannons.

Just kidding, let’s talk about the Bruins.

I gotta say, this Bruins postseason has been the most entertaining and exciting hockey I have ever seen. When a game has got you holding your breath with every shot, it’s doing something really well. With each subsequent line-change in overtime, I find myself edging more and more off my couch. That way, as I watch overtime goal after overtime goal, I can explode out of my seat all the faster.

I’ve enjoyed these games far more than the Celtics postseason games, and its not just because of the wins. This is exciting hockey. This I get.

And I also get the trepidation true Bruins fans are feeling right now. When your team doesn’t win for a long time, and it doesn’t establish an aura of dominance (see: Patriots), you always fear your team’s newfound success will quickly revert to their well-established incompetence. And having gotten a taste of the sweet life, the loss becomes all the more bitter. That’s what made the 2003 ALCS loss to the Yankees so painful, but playoff losses since 2004 (and especially since 2007) more tolerable.

Tennyson might be right: ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But the latter option is way easier.

So you Bruins fans don’t allow yourselves to feel too much hope for this team. Not yet. They haven’t done enough to deserve that hope. Even now, just a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals and the Tampa Bay Lightning (who the Bruins went 3-1 against this season), you’re all worried. Last year’s collapse against these same Philadelphia Flyers still sloshes in your belly, churning up bile with every recollection.

Don’t worry, Bruins fans: it’s not gonna happen again. And it’s not because of the overwhelmingly high statistical likelihood the Bruins will win one of the next four. It’s not because this Flyers team is so clearly inferior to last year’s, lacking even a competent (let alone good) goalie or any respectable power play offense. It’s not even because this Bruins offense, which in 10 games has scored nearly as many goals (32) as last year’s Bruins scored in 13 (36), is so much deeper.

That stuff all helps. But the Bruins are going to win because of one man: Tim Thomas.

Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the NHL. He set an NHL record with a season-save-percentage of .938. To be clear: no goalie has ever saved that high a percentage of shots on goal before. He made nearly 1,700 saves this year, and he led the league in goals-against per game (2.00).

This was far and away Thomas’s best season with the Bruins, and his dominance has continued in the postseason. In the Bruins’ pivotal Game-Five victory over the Montreal Canadiens (giving them a 3-2 series lead), Thomas made 44 saves, including 19 with the game tied 3-3 in the final 35 minutes, which stretched from six minutes left in regulation to nine minutes gone in the second overtime. He finished the series with a .925 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA.

Pretty good numbers. Against the Flyers, he’s been even better.

In the Bruins’ Game-Two victory (which gave Boston an uber-deflating road sweep), Thomas stopped a ridiculous 52 shots, including 46 in a row. Thomas played perfect hockey for 64 minutes in that game. In three games against the Flyers, he’s saving 95.2 percent of shots and allowing just 1.86 goals a game.

Thomas is 37. He knows his time is running out. He wants a championship before he retires, and he will do whatever it takes to get one.

Fans and the media can blame whatever they want for last year’s meltdown, but the reality is that Tuukka Rask just choked. Rask gave up 4+ goals in three of the Bruins’ final four losses. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d guess that a goalie who gives up four goals is probably gonna lose 75 percent of the time, maybe more. The offense did the best it could, but Rask simply couldn’t protect the net anymore. He had a great regular season (22 wins including five shutouts, .931 save percentage, 1.97 GAA in 45 games), but in 13 playoff games he allowed at least three goals seven times. That’s why the Bruins lost.

Rask had a GAA of nearly 3.6 in his final four playoff games last year. Thomas’s GAA is half that. Thomas will make sure the Bruins win. And he has the veteran mentality to keep it going all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Miami’s Big Three Dominates Boston’s as Heat Take 2-0 Series Lead

LeBron James goes up for a shot against Ray Allen during the first half of Tuesday's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Miami Heat’s LeBron James was an unstoppable force in Tuesday’s Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Boston Celtics. In the paint, through the lanes, from the key, from beyond the arc, it didn’t matter: James hit shots from every angle and spot on the floor.

The Celtics could not contain him, and often they couldn’t even disrupt him with fouls. Celtics ricocheted off him like stones on the water, and James just kept on shooting.

James dropped 35 points on the Celtics Tuesday night, part of a Miami Big Three that outscored Boston’s Big Three 80-49. The Heat beat the Celtics, 102-91. The series heads to Boston with the Celtics down 2-0.

Heat Too Strong in Final Seven Minutes

No matter what the Heat had done for the first 41 minutes, the game was still tied 80-80 with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when James and the Heat took their game to a level Boston could not match.

After a Mario Chalmers three-pointer and two Dwyane Wade free throws put the Heat up 85-80 with 6:15 left, James went on a personal 7-0 run highlighted by a dunk over Delonte West that also put James on the free-throw line. On defense, the Heat limited Boston to single-shot possessions, and James grabbed two defensive rebounds during that stretch.

Boston finally broke the 14-0 streak that chewed up almost four minutes with a Kevin Garnett jumper with 3:19 left, but Boston could only trade baskets in the final minutes, never eating into the lead.

When James wasn’t scoring, it was Wade or Chris Bosh. In the final 7:09, Miami’s Big Three scored all but three of the Heat’s points, outscoring Boston 22-11 down the stretch.

Bosh finished the game with a double-double, scoring 17 and grabbing 11 rebounds. He outplayed Garnett, who finished with 16 points and 11 boards.

Wade scored 28 and grabbed seven rebounds. You know an offense is working when a 28-point shooting performance is only the second-best of the night.

In the second quarter, Wade faked a three-pointer, then beat Garnett with a crossover dribble through the lane. Garnett knocked Wade as he went by, but Wade simply absorbed the hit and still laid it in for the 43-38 lead and a free-throw. It was one five and-1 baskets the Celtics allowed, all to Wade, Bosh or James.

In the third, after the Celtics had taken a 60-58 lead on a Rajon Rondo offensive rebound and a Garnett jumper, James hit back-to-back threes to put Miami back up 64-62. The Celtics never regained the lead.

Bosh and Wade combined to shoot 24 free throws, part of a 36-22 free-throw disparity.

Celtics Starters Never Finds Rhythm

Five Celtics scored in double digits: Garnett, Rondo (20 points, including seven of Boston’s final nine, 12 assists), Paul Pierce (13 points while limited to 33 minutes due to a second-quarter foot injury), Jeff Green (11 points in 22 minutes), and Delonte West (10 points on 4-4 shooting). But despite good scoring distribution – usually a sure sign of a Celtics victory – there were long chunks of the game when the Celtics simply didn’t score. The Celtics missed six consecutive shots early in the second, then missed seven more in a row later in the quarter.

Every Celtics starter committed at least one turnover, leading to 14 Heat points. Wade and James are simply too big, too strong and too fast to be contained on fast breaks, and turnovers exacerbated several Heat scoring streaks.

The lone bright spot for the offense was Rondo, who may be the one player that matches up favorably with his Heat counterpart. But because the Big Three weren’t scoring – and the Celtics have never incorporated the center into their offensive strategies, mostly because they haven’t had a consistent starting center all season – Rondo had to become a scorer instead of a passer.

While this lead to several exciting baskets – including one in the third in which he fully extended his right arm as if to pass while slashing through the lane, but suddenly pulled it back and laid it in for the basket and a foul – Rondo is best when he’s finding other scorers.

With Ray Allen owning the three-point line, Garnett the post and Pierce the lane, Rondo shouldn’t have to do more than draw coverage and then hand the ball off. But with the Big Three struggling (especially Allen, who scored just seven while dealing with foul trouble and a bruised chest), Rondo had to do it all, and he simply isn’t versatile enough to do that.

Game Two Reveals Potentially Fatal Flaws

While Boston’s bench outscoring Miami’s 21-12, with Green and West each hitting two three-pointers, is slightly encouraging, Tuesday’s game showed cracks in the Celtics’ game that might be irreparable. The Heat are not a strong low-post team, but they played even with the Celtics in the paint. Wade and James caused havoc in the Boston interior, and the team never found a strategy to keep them from scoring, not even by fouling them.

The Celtics have bad hands, and several opportunities for offensive rebounds went out of bounds because the Celtics simply couldn’t secure them. Several other scoring opportunities were killed off by turnovers. Celtics passes were either too flat or too predictable, and the Heat swiped six of them. The Heat have the athleticism to get back and reset their stout interior defense (nine blocks to Boston’s two), so they can afford a couple of turnovers. Boston can’t.

The Heat out-rebounded the Celtics, 44-38, and they pulled down 12 offensive rebounds. The Celtics sruggled with boxing out and positioning, and as the game went on, more and more easy rebounds suddenly became 50-50 balls. In those situations, the Heat were always the ones scrapping more, pushing harder, jumping higher. When you play two of the best scorers in the NBA, you cannot, under any circumstance, give them extra shots.

Tuesday night, that’s exactly what happened. And unless Doc Rivers comes up with a new strategy, it will happen again Saturday in Boston.


Bots on Parade: Boston University Academy at FIRST Regional Competition

Warning: this essay is very long. Make sure you have a few minutes free before you start it.

At the Boston FIRST Regional Robotics Competition, taking place April 7-9 at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, you can find Rambots, Terrorbots and Devil Botz. RoboRebels, Tigertrons and IgKnighters. Kwarqs, Disco Techs and … Cyber Gnomes.

By comparison, Boston University Academy’s team name – Overclocked, an engineering term for running a computer’s central processing unit faster than specified by the manufacturer to increase its performance – seems tame.

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, best known as the inventor of the Segway Personal Transporter. Kamen also invented the first insulin pump and the iBOT, an all-terrain electric wheelchair, among many inventions and patents.

FIRST’s website says its mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders.” Its first competition was in 1992, with 28 teams competing in New Hampshire. The specific game changes each year, and FIRST’s website says more than 2000 teams are now compete in the 48 regional events across the world and the championship in St. Louis.

For Boston FIRST, Agganis Arena is divided into two halves. In the arena, teams are randomly assigned to two teams of three, then remote-control their robots to grab inflatable inner tubes shaped like the FIRST logo – red triangle, white circle, blue square – and hang them on pegs to score points. In the pit, just like in auto racing, teams will try to repair their damaged robots before the next match.

Teams can score up to 30 points in the final 15 seconds of the match by having their “minibot” – a small, pre-programmed robot usually about the size of a forearm – shoot straight up a pole without remote control. Overclocked’s minibot falls off the main robot every time before deployment, so the team spends most of its repair time trying to fix this.

Overclocked relies on cardboard and gray duct tape for quick repairs. The team is constantly trying to secure its minibot, an aluminum, diamond-shaped machine with a set of double-stacked wheels that act as clamps, to the main robot, named “RoboRhett” (after BU’s mascot, Rhett the Terrier). RoboRhett is a five-foot, 120-pound, three-dimensional right triangle, with an arm to grab and hang pegs and a tray to deploy the minibot. Matthew Rajcok, a BU Academy junior from Cambridge, says that the triangle is the sturdiest basic geometric shape: very difficult to bend.

The arm is connected to a vertical plastic frame, which moves up and down using a winch and a black nylon tether. Switches at each end of the frame tell the winch when to stop winding. Overclocked members tell the robot what height to lower or raise the arm to using joysticks and preprogrammed sensors on the arm.

The arm rotates using a pulley, with a pneumatic claw at the end that can only spring open and clamp shut. The team uses different combinations of arm-height and rotation to hang the shapes on the different rows of pegs.

The minibot’s tray is connected to another black nylon tether, which moves the tray forward and backward using a four-axle winch. A small pneumatic clamp on the tray holds the minibot in place until it is deployed for the race. A gray 12-volt battery powers RoboRhett from its chamber on the robot’s base, while a separate, tiny battery powers the motor on the minibot.

Nima Badizadegan, a junior from Newton, is the team’s programmer, and he is especially proud of the driving system. RoboRhett, built from January 8 to February 12, has four wheels, with 45-degree treads circling them. Badizadegan explains that because each wheel can be individually controlled based on the positions of two of Overclocked’s three joysticks (the third controls the arm and the minibot tray), RoboRhett in any way Overclocked wants.

Badizadegan says it took him 10-15 hours of calibration to get the driving system right, but it pays off in the first match. Another robot drives into RoboRhett to block it, but Overclocked’s driver – junior Will Persampieri, also team-captain – repositions the joysticks. RoboRhett backs up easily, then drives forward with enough force to knock the other robot backwards a foot. Persampieri, arm-controller Andrew Connors (a sophomore from North Reading) and advisor Jeff Stout (a 27-year-old from Denver who will teach physics at BU Academy next year) shout with excitement.

The word “robot” was first used by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). The word comes from the Czech noun “robota,” which means labor, and in an article that appears on his website, Čapek credits the word’s invention to his brother Josef. Science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in his 1941 short story “Liar!”

During its 10 matches, Overclocked never gets its minibot to deploy properly, no matter how much cardboard they strap on to hold it in place or how often they test it on a practice pole. When RoboRhett stops, forward momentum often pulls the minibot off the tray and it tumbles to the arena floor. Even when the minibot stays on until fully deployed, it’s weighted heavily towards its diamond-shaped back, and the wheels never clamp on hard enough to trigger the Tetrix-brand motor that makes it move.

Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” showed the first ever robot in a movie: the golden, female-looking Maschinenmensch (German for “machine-human”). The Maschinenmensch has had widespread influence on popular culture, from the design for the C-3PO robot in the “Star Wars” films to costumes by pop singers such as Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

But the robots at Agganis bare little resemblance to Fritz Lang’s flash and elegance. These skeletal robots are built for function, most of them relying on that basic triangular shape. They’re built from aluminum, not gold, with some plastic for the non-structural parts. A long chain runs behind RoboRhett’s arm-frame to keep the wires from getting caught.

As teams hover and make repairs, the robots look like racecars, complete with sponsor stickers covering them. Some sponsors, such as Dunkin Donuts and Panera Bread, have donated food. Others, such as Shaw’s and JC Penney, have donated money. Still others, such as technology companies Lockheed Martin and Pinpoint Laser Systems, have sent engineers to consult with teams and help them troubleshoot their robots.

It’s not just the minibot that needs constant repair. RoboRhett takes a beating on the floor, repeatedly slamming and being slammed into by other robots. A lack of bolting along the claw results in a piece getting sheared off during the first match. The arm looks more twisted and bent out of shape after each subsequent match. Overclocked members use an automatic drill to attach L-shaped aluminum pieces to the frame after the fourth match, and Rajcok uses a red hand saw to cut extra lengths, “just in case.” He says the L-shape is the ideal reinforcing shape – it distributes weight across both the horizontal and vertical axes, and weighs less than a U- or square-shaped rod.

Sometimes Overclock engineers use fine tools, such as allen wrenches with tiny hex keys (L-shaped hexagonal screwdrivers) to tighten lose bolts. Sometimes they use blunt force, hammering the frame to fix an out-of-joint piece of aluminum or plastic.

When someone uses a Dremel rotary drill to sheer off small bits of loose metal, everyone holds his or her nose or backs away, the smell of burning metal suddenly filling the air.

Nearby, another team’s robot burns out a motor, gray smoke trickling upwards.

“Motors get hot,” says Alex Barden, a BU Academy junior from Milton, as people clear the area.

The pit at Agganis is not just a series of repair booths, though each booth has carefully arranged shelves lined with power tools and spare batteries, and plastic bins filled with sheet metal. Above one booth, a tiny rocket ship orbits a fluorescent green paper lantern. Next to another booth, a giant silver stack ends in a head resembling the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” A humidifier inside blows steam out its conic hat.

Every uniform is also a costume. Students (the FIRST Robotics Challenge is for high school students; FIRST has other competitions for other age groups) and their advisors wear leprechaun hats, gnome hats, construction hats (with and without lights), train-conductor hats and hats shaped like cow heads. They wear red capes, blue capes and green sequined capes.

Everyone, without fail, wears safety goggles. Constant shouts of “robot!” warn teams of other robots moving through the aisles to the pre-match queues.

Devils and wizards walk side by side, as do a witch and a princess (those two also dance together in the spectator seats). An orange rebel shares the floor with a blue patriot. There are two lions and a tiger, but no bears. Oh my.

In the stands, a crowd fills up the seats normally reserved for BU students at hockey games. The JumboTron replays the matches. The public address system blasts music, from oldies to contemporary. The crowd tries to recall the dance moves to Los del Río’s “Macarena,” with limited success. The Village People’s “YMCA” is executed in far better unison.

Robots and robotics might be 20th century words, but the concept of automated machines, even humanoid machines, dates back to at least the third century BC and the Chinese text Lie Zi‘s tale of an artificer and his artificial man.

In the first century, Heron of Alexandria described over 100 automated devices in his Pneumata and Automata.

In religion, a clay humanoid called the Golem has roots in Jewish folklore that date back to at least 200, with stories appearing in the Talmud, a central text of Jewish ethics, law and philosophy. In Norse mythology, the Younger Edda, written around 1220, tells of a clay giant called the Mistcalf built to aid a troll in his battle with the god Thor.

Leonardo da Vinci designed a mechanical knight in 1495.

American engineer Norbert Wiener introduced cybernetics, the study of decision-making processes and regulatory systems that made practical robotics possible, in 1948.

The first industrial robot, Unimate, was installed at a General Motors assembly plant in New Jersey in 1961. It was programmed to automatically move die-castings – molten metals hardened into specific shapes using fabrication molds – from the assembly line and weld them onto car bodies. The robots at Agganis Arena must be programmed to automatically hang a yellow circular “Ubertube” (another inflatable shape) on a peg in the opening 15 seconds, called the autonomous period. Doing so will earn a team six points on the top row (approximately 11 feet off the ground), four on the middle row, and two on the bottom row.

RoboRhett doesn’t have a sensor to realign itself during the autonomous period; it can only raise its arm to a preset height, drive in a straight line for a preset length of time, release its claw, then back up. If it’s not lined up exactly right, RoboRhett will not release the Ubertube at the right moment.

Persampieri (or backup driver Harrison Krowas for the matches when Persampieri is in class) gets down on the ground next to RoboRhett before each race. He relies entirely on line-of-sight judgment, constantly rotating RoboRhett a degree clockwise or counterclockwise, pushing it mere inches to the left or the right.

Persampieri doesn’t get the positioning right until the team’s 10th and final match.

Physicist and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla introduced the first radio-controlled vessel in 1898. After the autonomous period ends, the two-minute, 15-second remote-control period begins, when teams will try to hang as many inflatable shapes as possible on the pegs.

Shapes on the top row are worth three points each, the middle pegs two, the bottom pegs one. Hanging a shape on the same peg as an Ubertube doubles that shape’s score.

Forming the FIRST logo all on the same row doubles a team’s score for that row. Forming the logo on the highest row will score, 18 points, 24 if the Ubertube is also there.

Persampieri uses two black joysticks to drive RoboRhett from the pegs to the feeding lanes on the opposite ends of the floor. As he drives RoboRhett over, he presses one of three buttons covered with red, white or blue vinyl tape. Each button lights up a tiny light emitting diode on RoboRhett to signal his teammate which shape he wants. When RoboRhett enters the lane, a teammate feeds the requested shape through an elliptical hole cut in the thick plastic that lines the arena, then holds up a hand, signaling Connors to close the claw and Persampieri to drive away.

RoboRhett performs very well during the remote-control period in every match. Persampieri and Connors usually hang at least three tubes, usually on the highest row of pegs.

The only bad round is the fifth, when the laptop that wirelessly controls RoboRhett’s computer loses its connection, and RoboRhett stops dead after just a few seconds. After the match, Badizadegan decides the problem is mechanical, that the port connecting the laptop to the bridge that transmits to RoboRhett is damaged. For the rest of the competition, whichever advisor is on the arena floor with Persampieri and Connors has to hold the laptop-bridge cable in place.

Overclocked has 35 members, so not all of them work on design and repair, instead focusing on fundraising, outreach to middle school students, and safety maintenance. Faculty advisor Gary Garber and Stout stress that this team is run almost entirely by the BU Academy students, with the advisors there mostly to answer questions and write grant proposals. When Rajcok sends younger teammates to other teams to form alliances on the second day of competition, he tells them to stress RoboRhett’s mobility and claw system.

Persampieri grows increasingly agitated across Thursday’s practice day and Friday’s first day of competition. The team goes out for lunch together on Thursday, but Persampieri stays behind to work alone. When an alternate minibot flies up Overclocked’s practice pole, Persampieri’s eyes go wide. When he explains how RoboRhett works to visitors on Friday, he kicks his legs back and forth. When Friday’s competition ends, he sits by himself in the top row of seats for a presentation until girlfriend Sarah Magid joins him.

Persampieri’s nervous energy boils over before the first match begins on Saturday, the final day of competition. He screams at his team about properly positioning the zip-ties that hold the minibot’s battery in place.

When asked about Persampieri’s reaction, Rajcok supports his captain, agreeing that Persampieri’s issue was a valid one that the team should have already addressed. But the day before, Persampieri had a far more accepting opinion of errors.

“It’s part of the process to try things that don’t work,” Rajcok says on Friday. “There’s no point in getting pissed.”

Rajcok, Connors and Stout all say that Persampieri’s general engineering knowledge and deep understanding of RoboRhett’s design and capabilities make him a good captain.

By Saturday afternoon, Persampieri’s mood has lightened. When safety instructor Sarah Hyman, a BU Academy junior from Swampscott, reads proper lifting instructions to the team, Persampieri jokes with Connors as they lift RoboRhett onto its cart.

“Shortening the communication process is essential to safety,” he yells sarcastically as he barks one-word commands at Connors. Everyone laughs. Later, he adds, “No, you’re using your back!”

After the round robin competition ends, the eight teams that have scored the highest individually are allowed to choose two teams from the rest of the playing field (including the other top seven scorers) to compete in the three-round, single-elimination playoffs. Overclocked, which goes 3-7 in its 10 matches and finishes ranked 37 out of 53 teams, is not selected.

TJ2 from Bridgewater-Raynam (Mass.) Regional High School wins the competition for the second straight year. Overclocked wins the Regional Chairman’s Award, which FIRST promotional literature calls “FIRST’s most prestigious award.” The booklet says the award “honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purposes and goals of FIRST.”

Stout and Barden agree that while RoboRhett worked great, the minibot needed a better design and better communication between the design and deployment teams.

Stout also says that Overclocked lived up to the FIRST core value of “gracious professionalism,” the willingness to aid and assist other teams even if they might use that aid to later beat you, despite the problems they faced during the competition.

“There was a lot of stress,” says Stout. “I felt the stress, I got frustrated at times, and it’s hard to swallow that. I didn’t see a single incident of somebody losing their temper or losing their patience.”

Says Barden after the selection process, “We’re a bit disappointed, but we learned that we’re going in the right direction in terms of organization, outreach, construction techniques, everything. Going up, we’re not quite there yet.”

Palmer and Hamilton Lead Villen at Anderson Invitational Ultimate Tournament

(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)

Villen Ultimate Highlights

Rory Palmer (Somerville High ‘2013) to Brandon Hamilton (‘12). Palmer to Hamilton. Palmer to Hamilton. Over and over again. The unstoppable duo of Villen, Somerville High’s club Ultimate (Frisbee) team.

Palmer passed for 27 goals, and Hamilton scored 13 – nine off passes from Palmer – to lead Villen at the Andover Invitational Ultimate tournament Saturday, played at Greater Lawrence Technical School.

Villen went 2-1 in their first three games, so their chance to contend for the tournament title centered on fourth-round team Abington High School. Unfortunately, Abington High School had the taller, faster team, and they used it to their advantage.

On offense Abington used a horizontal stack offense (two horizontal lines across the field), which gave them the option to sprint for the end zone on any play. Villen’s inexperience with defending the horizontal stack allowed Abington to run this play repeatedly.

Abington also used a strong zone defense, in which three players constantly surround the player with the disc, then the remaining four play up-field to cut off passing lanes. Villen got strong movement from its middle-of-the-field passing options, called “poppers,” but less from their wings, who were usually positioned too deep to be effective.

When the Abington defense forced a turnover, they would usually go on the fast break, again sending a player streaking towards the end zone for the long pass.

Villen patiently worked its zone offense to score first against Abington, but Abington responded with their quick offense and frustrating defense to score five straight. They went into halftime up 6-3, and held on to win, 11-7.

Unable to contend for first place, Villen opted to give reserve players extra playing time for their fifth-round game against Kraken from Newburyport, which simply did not have the throwing and catching abilities to match up against Villen.

Villen took half 6-1, and went on to easily win, 11-5. Sonam Ngwang (’14), who was introduced to Ultimate by Villen during his eighth-grade year at the Healey School in Somerville, got his first experience as a handler, the primary disc-passer on the field. He hit Hamilton in the first half for a goal. He finished the tournament with two assists and five goals.

Since Villen will lose handler Peter Gutierrez (’11) at the end of the year, getting Ngwang used to playing that role may be essential to the team’s future.

Villen’s final game was against Force Lightning from Boston University Academy. Ultimate is a both physically and mentally exhausting sport, one where every player must have the conditioning of a cross-country runner, the vision of a point guard, and the explosive power of a wide receiver, all at the same time. Playing that way for six hours drains you of every ounce of energy, and by the sixth game, Villen was drained. Small mental errors, such as weak throws and dropped passes, started cropping up on every point, as Villen lost the focus and patience necessary to run its zone offense (Force Lightning relied exclusively on zone defense).

Villen lost, 10-7, and finished the tournament 3-3, in sixth place out of 12.

Villen coach Ted Blake saw this game less as a chance to improve the team’s record and more as a developmental opportunity for all of his young players.

“In one day they’ve played twice as much Ultimate as they’ve played in their lives,” Blake said.

Villen won its second- and third-round games by a collective score of 22-9. Getting in on the scoring was Sam Badot-Fisher (’13), a tall, quick player that provided a constant deep threat for Villen. Several times he simply out-jumped his opponent, snaring a high throw or knocking one down on defense. He scored four times and threw for a goal against third-round Timberlane High School (NH), and finished the tournament with 10 goals and an assist.

Against second-round Newton North Ultimate, Obed Diaz (’13) scored the first Callahan – a one-point version of football’s safety – of the season for Villen. Newton North was pinned deep in their own end zone;. Diaz knocked a pass into the air, then came down with it for the score.

In their first-round game against Uruk-Hai from Cambridge School of Weston, Villen was up 6-4 at halftime, but then allowed four consecutive goals and lost, 8-6.

Coaches Blake and Alicia Kersten said they were very pleased and proud of how much Villen improved across the day. They said they especially liked the way Villen played zone offense and defense.

“Watch our record get better over the rest of the season, because now they get it,” she said.

Kersten said she would still like the team to improve its basic offense, relying less on deep cuts away from the disc and more on straight cuts towards the disc.

Said Kersten, “If we get where we need to be on that, we’re going to be playing at the top of Div. 2.”

Related content:

Villen website

Timberlane Ultimate website

Abington Ultimate info

Kraken info

Andover Ultimate website