Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association has nominated three CNMI athletes to the 4th annual Pacific Sports Awards.
Tennis' Rafael Jones is nominated for the Outstanding Junior Athlete of the Year, while baseball's Joshua Jones and athletics' Yvonne Bennett were the CNMI's candidates for the Male and Female Outstanding Athletes of the Year.
The Pacific Sports Awards is Pacific Games Council's annual recognition ceremony for athletes, teams, and officials from the 22 member-Pacific Games Association. This year's nominees should have recorded notable performances from July1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 or during the Pacific Games in New Caledonia and other international competitions. Winners will be announced this October at the Council's general membership meeting in Wallis and Futuna.
Rafael Jones got the nomination after winning the 2011 Tan Siu Lin Foundation/NMASA Male Student Athlete of the Year Award. He took the coveted NMASA plum after having an outstanding 2011 season while competing in on and off-island events. The 17-year-old Saipan International School student won a couple of local junior tournaments and was named to the CNMI Junior Team.
He then ruled the boys U18 division of the 2011 North Pacific Qualifying Tournament in Guam and helped the Commonwealth beat Guam, Palau, and the Federates States of Micronesia for the overall title in NPQ.
With his first place finish in Guam, Jones qualified for the 2011 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships in Fiji were he made it all the way to the semifinals of the tough boys U18 singles division. The eldest son of John and Flor Jones also competed in Junior ITF events in Fiji last year and was selected to the Pacific Oceania Touring Team that joined several tournaments in Australia in January this year.
Bennett earned the nomination after clinching her fourth straight NMASA Female Athlete of the Year Award. She got NMASA's nod after her impressive performance in collegiate athletics competitions and her participation in the 2011 Oceania Regional Championships and the 2011 IAAF World Championships.
In the Oceania championship in Apia, Samoa, the 21-year-old Bennett had record-breaking races and claimed gold and bronze medals. The Commonwealth sprinter won the 400m race (57.66 seconds) in the Oceania meet and clinched the bronze and set both the CNMI and Micronesian records in the 100m (12.52 seconds) and 200m (25.67 seconds) runs.
Several months before her record runs in Samoa, Bennett suited up for the Boise State University in an indoor tournament and helped crush the Bronco's 23-year-old record in the 4x400m relay. Bennett and three others timed in at 3:44.64 to eclipse the 3:45.60 record of a BSU team in an indoor tournament in 1988.
The Kagman High School graduate also set a new CNMI mark (57.14 seconds) in the 400m during the 2011 Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
From Samoa, Bennett went to Daegu, Korea, to represent the CNMI to the World championships. She raced in the 100m run, timed in at 12.78 seconds, and was just one notch away from advancing to the second round. Bennett finished fifth on her heat and only the Top 4 qualified into the next round.
Joshua Jones, who is now in the mainland to start his collegiate baseball career, has a remarkable resume to boost his nomination for the Male Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award.
He is undoubtedly the CNMI's best pitcher last season, dominating local tournaments and then bringing his A game in New Caledonia where the Commonwealth won its first gold medal in the Pacific Games.
The lefty lifted the CNMI to an 8-4 victory against Guam in the finals. Jones, who was the Commonwealth's relief pitcher in their first meeting against Guam and lost the opener, got his vengeance when he came in to the mound in the third inning and gave up only two runs against the CNMI's fiercest rival.
After the baseball competition, Jones was the unofficial MVP after posting a 5-0 win-loss record, 30. 2 innings pitch, and 42 strikeouts. He allowed only two earned runs and had eight base on balls for an impressive .111 ERA
Jones while playing for the Northern Yankees also led in strikeouts (62 in just three games) in the ongoing Saipan Major League before he left two months ago to play college baseball in Kansas.
The 19-year-old pitcher also played for Kagman High School's varsity team in both basketball and volleyball.
Meanwhile, NMASA had three other nominations (administrator, coach, and team of the year) in the Pacific Awards and nominees names and their achievements will be reported in Saipan Tribune's Friday edition.