The CNMI U17 Girls National Team leaves Saipan early this morning to compete in the Jockey Club Girls International Youth Invitational Football Tournament 2019 in Hong Kong.
The squad is made of 22 players with 20 of them listed on the official roster and two as observers. Suiting up for the team are Emalyn Aniana, Christina Atalig, Nathanette Blas, Jenny Ann Capayas, Mia Carreon, Jannah Casarino, Jerlyn Castillo, Katrina Costales, Shairmane Francisco, Marinel Falalimpa, Julianne Hall, Khristelle Itaas, Stellalou McCallion, Lilian Podziewski, Gillian Villagomez, Britany Wally, Guinevere Borja, Katherine Magat, Abigail Decena, and Summer Manahane, while Rizza Relucio and Julie Ann Capayas are also part of the group.
Olympian Luam Khen Koo will coach the group, while goalkeeper coach Jimmy Tang, assistant coach Irish Pagarao, physiotherapist Hazel Mabasa, and team manager Angie Ito complete the CNMI delegation, which is backed by the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association.
“Majority of our players are in the U17 age group and we are allowed to bring in five U19 players. We also have players who are 12 years old and they are joining the team so they could watch and see how an international tournament is played,” said Ito in an interview before the send-off for the squad yesterday at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville.
In Hong Kong, the CNMI bets will be playing against the host (March 28), Guam (March 29), and Laos (March 31) at the Po Kong Village Road Park Football Pitch.
“It’s a great opportunity for the team since we did not have much tournament early this season. Also this will gauge where we are at as far as our preparations for the Marianas Cup and the U15 East Asian Football Federation tournament are concerned,” Ito said.
The group resumed its training for upcoming competitions in December last year after taking a long break due to Super Typhoon Yutu. Training sessions are held three times a week and each practice lasts for two to two and a half hours. The core of the squad also plays in Division B of the Men’s M-League.
Majority of the members of the team have donned the colors of the Commonwealth and very competitive, so Ito said expectations from the squad will be a bit high when they play in the Hong Kong tournament.
“We are no longer the underdog team, so our players need to step up and play their best game every time they go out there,” the team manager said.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his wife, Diann, NMIFA president Jerry Tan, NMIFA Executive Committee member Patricia Coleman, and other NMIFA officials were among the well wishers of the Hong Kong-bound squad.
Coleman, who also heads NMIFA’s Women’s Committee, said the tournament in Hong Kong is special, not only because it’s the association’s first off-island event for the season, but it also comes at a time when people around the world are celebrating International Women’s Month.
“Not everyone has an opportunity like this (to play and represent the CNMI). Women in other parts of the world are not even allowed to watch a game in the pitch, so you are all very fortunate to have this chance,” Coleman said.
“We are thankful to NMIFA, led by our president, Jerry Tan, for making sure that we get to have the same strong program that our men’s players have, that we continue to promote women’s football in the CNMI,” she added.
For her part, first lady Diann Torres said it’s great to see young ladies representing the CNMI and working hard every practice to make sure they are ready for the games.
“I am sure all your hard work will be worth it. We will be rooting for you, show them the Hafa Adai spirit and go out there to do your best,” Diann Torres said.
Meanwhile, although Tan acknowledged that the CNMI’s opponents in the Hong Kong tournament are all tough, he believes our players are no pushovers either.
“Governor, I have to tell you, I watched them play in the M-League a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know what the coaches did to them, but I am pleasantly surprise with how much they understand how to play women’s soccer as a team. That’s something I am very proud of,” Tan said.
The NMIFA head also thanked the Hong Kong organizers for making adjustments just to accommodate the CNMI team. The competition is only for U17 players, but since NMIFA could not come up with 20 players in such a short notice due to travel document problems, Jockey Club allowed the visiting team to be reinforced by five U19 players.
Tan acknowledged, too the players’ parents for letting their children be part of the program.
“Women’s football and our other programs would not be successful without the parents’ support. I am happy that every week, we get to see more and more parents coming to the pitch to watch their kids play,” he said.