Coach Jeff Race has all the reasons to brag about the CNMI Junior Team's campaign in the 2012 North Pacific Qualifying Tournament in Guam last week.
The Commonwealth bets won five of the six division titles, 17 made it to the Top 4, 10 claimed slots on the North Pacific Team, several players posted perfect records in the tournament, and the team logged the highest win percentage among the four participating nations.
“We had an outstanding performance in the NPQ. We took several young players in Guam and they proved that they can play great games in tough tournaments like the NPQ. Our team simply dominated the competition,” an elated Race said in a telephone interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday.
“I watched our very first game last Monday (June 11) with the young Grace Choi battling Guam's Laurel Hughes. She was down in the first set, 0-3, but came back and won, 6-3, 6-4. After that game, I knew it will be a very great NPQ performance for our team,” Race added.
Choi was one of the 31 players the CNMI sent to Guam for the qualifier that also featured players from Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. Together, the CNMI bets played 187 matches, won 158 and lost only 29 for an impressive winning percentage of 84 percent. The host, which fielded 29 players, had a 43 percent winning percentage, posting 74 victories against 98 losses. FSM, which had 10 representatives, was third in the ranking with its 40 percent (26 games won and 37 lost), while Palau, which had 7 players, won 19 games and dropped 32 for a 37 percent winning percentage.
In the individual rankings, Thea Minor and Christian Miller topped the U18 division, Mikayla Lopez ruled the girls U15, and Michael Ren and Carol Lee reigned supreme in the U12 category. The CNMI missed the boys U15 crown after Chris Cajigan lost to Guam's Derek Okuhama.
“I saved my hair. It was so close,” said Race, who vowed to have his hair shaved if his wards sweep the division titles.
“Michael, Carol, and Thea dominated their division, while Christian played the best game of his life,” he added.
Lee recorded four shutout wins and she, Minor, Ren, and Mikayla Lopez did not drop a single set in the entire tournament and allowed their respective foes to no more than three points per set.
The four perfect-record holder, Miller, Cajigan, Luther Lizama, Melody Johnson, Isabel Heras, and Negahr Rastguiy were selected to the North Pacific Team that will compete in the 2012 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships in Fiji in August. The Fiji-based Tammy Ackerman is the 11th CNMI netter to make the team, as she is given a wild card.
North Pacific Team slots were given to the Top 4 finishers in the U12 and U14 age groups and Top 2 in U18 and several other CNMI players made it to the Final Four, but only two berths are allowed per nation.
In the boys U18 division, Rafael Jones placed No. 3, while Jake Lee and Amami Sakano finished fourth and fifth, respectively. In the girls division, Theecel Minor was ranked third, while Alina Ishikawa ended up at No. 6.
In the boys U15, Tommy Choi placed fourth, followed by Seiya Eda (No.5), Moris Villanueva (No.8), Dylan Ackerman (No.9) and Colin Ramsey (No. 11). In the girls division, Emily Jones rounded out the Top 4.
In the girls U12, the CNMI took the Top 5 finishes with Heras, Julia Ishikawa, Elizaveta Atalig, and Ami Tsukagoshi placing behind Carol Lee. Mimi Sakano was seventh, followed by Malika Miyawaki and Grace Choi. In the boys division, Lizama was ranked second, Vince Cepeda came in at No. 7, Robert Schorr was at No. 9, Michael Jones finished at No. 19, and Ken Song placed at No. 14.
Meanwhile, despite the CNMI's impressive run in the NPQ, Race said they should not rest on their laurels, as Guam is getting better and Palau and FSM are doing their best to catch up with the Commonwealth.
“We have to continue working hard and be dedicated during our training sessions,” Race said.