CNMI coach Jeff Race is looking for another impressive performance from the Commonwealth junior tennis players when they compete in the 2012 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships in Fiji this month.
Race is bringing over eight CNMI players to Fiji to anchor the North Pacific Team's campaign in the POCJ. The list includes Christian Miller, Chris Cajigan, Negahr Rastguiy, Mikayla Lopez, Michael Ren, Luther Lizama, Isabel Heras, and Carol Lee. Joining the CNMI delegation are Tammy Ackerman and Rafael Jones, who are already in Fiji, and Thea Minor. Ackerman has been training at the Oceania Tennis Federation's regional training facility for about a year after getting a scholarship, while Jones, who is expected to gain a wild card entry in POJC, arrived in Fiji late in June to compete in a separate tournament and train, too. Minor is in Australia and will stay there for three days before going to Fiji to reunite with her teammates for the Aug. 6 to 10 tournament.
The 11 Commonwealth netters will team up with a few players from Guam, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The CNMI-led North team will play in the U12, U15, and U18 singles and doubles games against the representatives of the West (Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Norfolk Island, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) and East (Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga) squads. New Caledonia will also field several players in the POJC.
“We're hoping to duplicate if not surpass our last performance in Fiji. We had six players who made it to the Top 4 last year and I hope we can repeat that,” said Race.
Ackerman, Rastguiy, Miller, Lopez, Jones, and Carl Dela Cruz barged into the Final Four of the POJC last year. Tammy Ackerman gave the Commonwealth its best finish in the POJC after topping the U12 girls singles, beating Rastguiy in the all-CNMI finale. Miller also had a runner-up finish in the U15 division, while Lopez and Jones placed fourth in the girls U15 and boys U18, respectively, and Dela Cruz finished third in the boys U12.
“Some of our players are moving to a higher age group, so they are expected to meet tough competition in their new division,” Race said.
Last year's U12 finalists, Rastguiy and Ackerman, will be competing in the U15, along with Lopez, while Miller is now entered in the boys U18 division.
Race is hoping that the rigorous training sessions they are having will help players moving up to a tougher competition survive the test.
“We're been training almost every day for the past two weeks. Before that, we trained three times a week. Our players are doing well in the training sessions. I think we have one of the best prepared teams this year as since dominating the North Pacific Qualifying in June, we just rested only for a couple of weeks before returning to practice,” the CNMI coach added.
Race and company will leave for Fiji this Saturday and will have their last training session tomorrow.