Tennis players from the CNMI continue to prepare for the 2006 Micronesian Games, according to CNMI coach Jeff Race.
In an interview yesterday, Race said the players trying out for one of the five slots for the men’s and women’s team have been practicing at least five times a week, and this early he already anticipates a good showing by the CNMI delegation in the quadrennial event.
“I think [male and female teams] are in medal contention, and we’re just going to have to continue to practice hard,” he said.
Currently taking part in the tryouts are Race himself, former Hawaii Preparatory Academy standout Tim Quan, and youth sensations Ji Hoon Heo, Ralph Buenaventura, Nicolas Son, and Keith Gabaldon in the men’s corner. The women’s field consists of University of Hawaii-Manoa standout Kana Aikawa, and youth netters Mayuko Arriola, Lila Mailman, Audrey Motto, and Vivian Lee.
Race said he expects the competition to be tough, and said Guam and the Marshall Islands should be the toughest to beat “if they bring their best players.”
“It always depends on who people bring,” he said. “Guam has some strong players that didn’t come to the Mini Games in Palau and if they bring their strongest players, they’re going to be really tough. If Marshall brings its best players, I expect them to win the gold medal. Will they come? We really don’t know. I think those two teams will be our strongest competition if they can field their strongest players.”
Meanwhile, Race said the first round of challenge matches, which are used to determine who will make the five-player squads, will soon come to an end and cuts will be made in the men’s field shortly after.
“It’s better for us to be down to a manageable size,” he said. We’re going to cut it down to five. The women only have five, so we’re not going to cut…”
Race explained that of the 10 total players that will make up the men’s and women’s team, two would serve as alternates.
“We want five going to the Games so we’ll have four and an alternate,” he said. “We want to know who the top four are…whose one through five. If somebody gets hurt, the fifth will step in. I also think the difference between our No. 4 player and No. 5 player will be very close and they’re really going to battle it out for the fourth spot.”
Meanwhile, Race disclosed that the men’s field may have an additional player that would compete in the tryouts as veteran Todd Montgomery may be back in full force.
“Todd is going to let us know whether he is going to be on the team,” Race said. “It looks like he’ll be on the team. He needs to get more practices under his belt, but he should be playing very strong. I’m sure he’ll make the team.”
Race also added that if Aikawa commits to playing for Team CNMI in the Games, “we have a good chance of medals.”
“…Possibly gold,” he said. “I’m pretty sure she’s going to be a top seed, but Guam has a tough lady in Michelle Pang who won the Oceania Junior Championships. Michelle and Kana have played a lot of times in the juniors but they haven’t met in four to six years, so it will be interesting to see them play.”