TOP STORIES OF 2014
Fists pumped, arms raised, players hugged, and supporters cheered.
These celebrations happened on July 23 when the CNMI Men’s National Team beat Macau, 2-1, in the Preliminary Round 1 of the 2015 EAFF East Asian Cup in Guam for the Blue Ayuyus historic first win in an international competition.
With this achievement, the Blue Ayuyus headed the list of Top 10 stories in CNMI sports in 2014.
Making history happen for the Blue Ayuyus were Nick Swaim and Kirk Schuler, who scored the two goals in the CNMI’s victory over the tough Macau aside. Completing the squad were Johann Noetzel, Ethan Dickinson, Trey Dunn, Joe Miler, John Taisacan, Jonathan Takano, Jireh Yobech, Joel Fruit, Daniel Agulto, Sean Perez, Ruselle Zapanta, Jehn Joyner, Kennedy Izuka, Lucas Knecht, Bo Barry, and Dae Won Jeon. Kiyoshi Sekiguchi coached the team and was assisted by Taketomo Suzuki and Hon Kit Cheng.
Swaim scored off a corner kick in the first half to equalize, while Schuler made the dagger in the 65th minute, converting a running header that caught Macau’s defense off guard. The Blue Ayuyus then played the longest 27 minutes of their lives and hung in there with Noetzel making several saves and his teammates also stepping up on defense to seal the team’s place in CNMI soccer history.
The Blue Ayuyus’ morale-boosting win rubbed off to their female counterparts, as the CNMI Women’s National Team routed Macau, 7-0, the following day.
Alexa Vergara, Emily Maxberry, Gabrielle Race, Megan Silberberger, Jeraldine Castillo, and Carrie Schuler scored in the lopsided win, also a first for the CNMI women’s crew in an EAFF-sanctioned tournament. Other members of the squad were Jhaneeka Atalig, Elaine Enriquez, Michelle Masga, Mikky Vargas, Marielle Gariguez, Jeralyn Castillo, Melody Johnson, Diane Pablo, Thea Minor, Elizabeth Phan, Krizelle Mae Tuazon, and Chevy Kate Alipio. Luam Khen Koo was the head coach with Wai Wo Lee and Chi Ming Tang assisting him.
These victories highlighted a very good year for Northern Mariana Islands Football Association, which continued to strengthen its grassroots and youth program for players, train local coaches and officials, and hold regular tournaments in 2014.
Senior All-Stars return to World Series
The CNMI Senior League All-Stars ended a three-year drought after ruling the 2014 Little League Asia Pacific-Middle East Regional Tournament.
The win earned the squad a ticket to the World Series. The last time a CNMI Senior League team made it to the World Series in Bangor, Maine was in 2010.
Team CNMI scored a come-from-behind 8-6 triumph over Guam in the finals of the regional tournament held at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, Philippines.
However, the CNMI All-Stars’ luck ran out as they went up against stronger opponents in pool play, dropping all of their four matches in the World Series.
They suffered a 13-3 blowout defeat against host team Bangor East-West Little League in their opening game and followed it up with a 10-0 shutout loss opposite US West champions Central East Maui Little League.
Team CNMI almost scored a win but dropped a heartbreaking 6-5 decision against Canada regional titlists Kiwanis National/North Regina/Broncos Little League before closing out with a 9-1 setback against Dumfries District Little League of Virginia.
Team Marianas brings home 34 medals
The CNMI sent 100 athletes and officials to the 8th Micronesian Games held in July in Pohnpei and brought home 34 medals.
Team Marianas hauled 14 gold medals, 15 silvers, and five bronzes with the most medals coming from athletics. The CNMI Athletics Team, composed of Rachel Abrams, Lia Rangamar, Denise Samson, Friendly Joy Pena, Zarinae Sapong, Beo Ngirchongor, Brandon Phillip, Dylan Ackerman, Seiya Eda, Michael Mancao, Jason Lampkin, Doris Rangamar, Sylvan Rangamar, Ronald Olopai, Antonio Ichiou, Jesse James, Dan Joab and Jaynard White, delivered 15 medals.
The CNMI got 14 medals from weightlifters Raymond Santos, David Barnhouse Jr., Leo Apelo, and Salvi Villanueva, four from swimmer Victoria Chentsova, and one from paddlers Ketson “Jack” Kabiriel, James Pedro Aldan Jr., Carter Calma, Benusto Olopai, and Joshua Andrew. The Commonwealth’s last two medals (silver and bronze) were courtesy of its baseball team and women’s basketball squad.
Guam ruled the 8th Micronesian Games after bringing home 42 gold medals, 27 silvers, and 12 bronze, while Pohnpei (36-41-37) and Palau (36-31-38) rounded out the Top 3.
Junior tennis players stand out
For the nth time, the CNMI Junior Tennis Team had another outstanding performance in the North Pacific Regional Championships.
The Commonwealth bets won three singles crown and three doubles championships in the 2014 edition of the regional competition that also featured players from Guam, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Robbie Schorr and Malika Miyawaki clinched the U12 singles titles, while Tania Tan notched the U14 crown. The three singles champions also prevailed in the doubles event, teaming up with Ken Song, Conatsu Kaga, and Julia Ishikawa, respectively.
With the CNMI’s notable performance in the regional meet, 10 Commonwealth bets also earned spots on the North Pacific Team that competed in the 2014 Pacific Oceania Junior Championship in Fiji. Joining the six players above in the elite squad were Asia Raulerson, Ami Tsukagoshi, Luther Lizama, and Colin Ramsey.
Swimmers do well in off-island tourneys
The CNMI swimmers made good account of themselves in various off-island tournaments in 2014.
In March, Miku Tammy and Kaito Yanai competed in the the 2014 Tokyo Junior Sprints and brought home medals win them. Tammy bagged the gold medal in the girls 11’s 50m butterfly race, while Yanai won a gold medal in the 100m IM and silver in the 50m breaststroke events of the boys U14 age group.
In May, Kensuke Kimura represented the CNMI in the 2014 Oceania Swimming Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, set three national records (50m, 100m, and 200 backstroke events), and clinched a bronze medal in the 200m backstroke race.
In December, three CNMI swimmers—Victoria Chentsova, Takumi Sugie, and Christian Villacrusis—joined the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25M) in Doha, Qatar, and all gained personal best times.
More PBTs and age group marks were also registered in 2014.
CNMI to host 2021 Mini Games
The CNMI was awarded the hosting rights for the 2021 Pacific Mini Games in 2014.
The Commonwealth is offering 12 sports when it brings the quadrennial tournament to Saipan for the first time. The list includes athletics, badminton, golf, tennis, canoe racing, volleyball (indoor and beach), baseball, sailing, swimming, triathlon, weightlifting, and wrestling.
Northern Marianas Sports Association, which represented the CNMI in submitting the bid to the Pacific Games Council, estimated the cost of hosting the Games at $1,160,000. Of the over $1-million budget for the Games, $650,000 will come from participation fees from the 22 nations, $250,000 from the government, and the remaining $260,000 from the private sector through sponsorships.
The improved Oleai Sports Complex will be the main hub of the Games, while Marianas High School and Hopwood Junior High School are proposed to house visiting athletes and officials.
MHS, SIS stamp class
Marianas High School and Saipan International School continued to dominate the basketball and volleyball events in the Marianas Interscholastic Sports Organization.
The Lady Dolphins capped their undefeated season with a 78-67 trouncing of the Mt. Carmel School Lady Knights in the finals of the MISO Girls Basketball League last month.
MHS, which swept the elimination round to earn the top seeding, also breezed past its opponents in the final tournament to collect its fifth straight title. The Lady Dolphins scored a 27-4 win against Tinian then followed it up with a 53-32 thrashing of MCS to take the first championship berth.
SIS, meanwhile, had to dug deep from its bag of tricks to clinch a third straight crown in the boys volleyball league and in the process foiled Grace Christian Academy’s title bid.
The SIS Geckos, also swept the elimination round without losing a set and breezed through their bracket to clinch a twice-to-beat edge in the finals.
The Geckos dropped a 25-23, 25-19 decision against the Eagles in their first meeting putting their title defense bid in danger.
Andrew Johnson, behind the excellent set plays of Tommy Choi, led the Geckos’ attacks in the second game to clinch the title after a hard-fought 25-18, 25-18 decision against the Eagles.
Jericho moves up to pro ranks
Jericho Cruz won’t be able to reach his dream of playing for the Philippine Basketball Association if not for coach Joe Diaz, one of the FIBA-accredited coaches in the CNMI who slowly helped him develop his skills.
From Diaz’s Rollers program, the once skinny guard trained and further honed his talent under CNMI national men’s basketball team coaches Rufino Aguon and Elias Rangamar.
Cruz then chose to bring his acts to the Philippines, the birthplace of his mother, and pursue his longtime dream of making it to the PBA. He first played for a lesser-known school, Rizal Technological University—a member of a lesser-known collegiate league, the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.
He was one of the leading scorers for the RTU Blue Thunder and helped his team to a couple of runner-up finishes. Cruz was then spotted by former-pro-turned-collegiate-coach Leo Austria in an interscholastic basketball tournament in Bacolod City and the former’s luck change.
Austria, who was then coaching Adamson University, a member of the UAAP—the Philippines most prestigious collegiate basketball league—recruited Cruz and the former CNMI national team member played for three seasons with the Falcons where he got noticed by scouts and pro coaches.
And in August this year, Cruz put the CNMI on the basketball map after being drafted ninth overall by Rain or Shine in the PBA. He’s been playing impressively in the latter part of season-opening Philippine Cup before his inaugural rookie stint was cut short after suffering a fracture foot in the Elasto Painters’ 100-90 win over Barangay Ginebra last Dec. 7.
He’s been cheering his teammates from the sidelines as the Painters trail the Alaska Aces, 2-3, in their best-of-seven semifinals series.
Collegiate athletes excel
Golfer Leina Kim, football defensive tackle Savali Talalemotu and baseball player Joshua Jones made their own mark in their respective NCAA schools in 2014.
Kim, playing for NCAA Division II school and reigning Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champions Colorado State University-Pueblo, has had a remarkable 2014-2015 fall season for the Lady Thunderwolves.
She earned her second straight RMAC Golfer of the Year honors before the season started and in the process topped four of the five tournaments in the fall season.
Talalemotu, meanwhile, is in his second year of playing for Portland State University, a Big Sky Conference member in the NCAA Division I.
The back-up defensive tackle, who suffered a minor injury in late October, had 8 tackles and 2.5 sacks while forcing a fumble in the Vikings’ 13-31 loss to the Idaho State Bengals.
He’s been doing light training, working out at the gym to keep in shape, and catching up with his studies during the offseason.
Jones, a many-time CNMI All-Star team member, has chosen to play for Division II school University of West Alabama among seven others which wanted to sign him up on their baseball roster.
The lefty pitcher chose to suit up for the Tigers, signing a letter of intent early this year, since he believed that Alabama would give him more opportunities of playing baseball at a higher level.
The Gary Rundles-coached West Alabama Tigers play in the Gulf South Conference and finished the 2014 regular season with a 27-18 record.
Before choosing West Alabama, Jones played for two years for Colby Community College in the National Junior College Athletics Association.
Sharks tear PH Punishers apart
The CNMI Sharks taught the Philippine Punishers a thing or two about football as the visiting squad were merciless in their second meeting last August.
The Sharks, beaten 13-6 by the Punishers the first time they met in November 2013, scored 9 touchdowns on their way to a 72-0 shutout win.
The Sharks-Punishers match was expected to be another close one after the Philippines’ seven-point win last year, but with the hosts’ missing most of their top players they received a mauling from the visitors.
With offensive coach Garth Backe and defensive coordinator June Failauga helping chief mentor John Blanco with the plays, the Sharks enjoyed an already insurmountable 48-0 halftime lead.
Backe and Failauga were instrumental in the Sharks’ revitalized offense and impenetrable defensive formations.
Dave Ada Jr., Alex Standish, and Derrick Rangamar caught TD passes, while the Sharks’ other TDs were made via running plays and defensive TDs. They also converted seven out of nine two-point conversion plays and scored 4 points on two safeties.
Jerome Norita, George Lieto Jr., Jermaine Catching, Syl Teregeyo, Butch Kaipat, Joe Ocampo, Jaime Martinez, Caesar Whitee, Glen Palacios, Zac Ruetz, Charleston Aiken, Vince Kaipat, Derick Aughenbaugh, Daniel Agulto, and Jay Tilipao completed the Sharks roster.