CNMI coach Jeff Race is still confident about their chances in the 2012 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships despite losing top U12 bet Michael Ren.
“It's disappointing to lose Michael a day before we leave for Fiji. He is one of the favorites in the U12 division. However, I am still positive we have a strong chance of duplicating our performance in last year's POJC. We may get the championships in the U15,” said Race during an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday at their last training session at the Pacific Islands Club hard court in San Antonio.
Ren will miss the POJC, which will be held at the Dr. Robin Mitchell Regional Tennis Centre in Fiji from Aug. 6 to 10, after sustaining an ankle injury while training in China.
“He has been training in China for over a month and this morning he called me to deliver the bad news. It's too bad that he won't be able to join us in Fiji, but I think we still have a formidable team,” said Race, who left for Fiji early this morning with four CNMI players.
With Ren out, the CNMI Team is down to 10 players. Race left Saipan with Negahr Rastguiy, Isabel Heras, Carol Lee, and Luther Lizama. Completing the CNMI Team are Thea Minor, Christian Miller, Rafael Jones, Mikayla Lopez, Chris Cajigan, and Tammy Ackerman. Ackerman has been in Fiji for about a year after getting a scholarship and she and Jones are training at the Oceania Tennis Federation regional facility. Miller, Minor, Lopez, and Cajigan have different flight schedules with Race and company and will reunite with the rest of the team in Fiji.
Ackerman, Lopez, and Rastguiy will play in the girls U15 division and they are favored to make it to the Final Four after their impressive showings in last year's POJC. Ackerman ruled the girls U12 singles, beating Rastguiy in the all-CNMI finals, while Lopez placed fourth in the U15.
“I was in the Final 4 in my first time in Fiji and then was second last year. Hopefully, this year, I get to finish first. I, Mikayla, and Tammy will play our best game next week,” Rastguiy said.
In the CNMI's 10-player roster, three are first-timers-Lee, Heras, and Lizama, who will all compete in the U12 division.
“I am a bit nervous going to Fiji because it will be my first time to play there. However, we trained hard for this tournament and coach Jeff help us to get ready for the tough matches there. My goal in Fiji is to at least finish in the Top 4,” Heras said.
Last year, the CNMI had six players making it to the Top 4 in the POJC, which will also feature players from the North squad's Guam, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia, the West's Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Norfolk Island, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, and East's Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga.