‘Competition getting tougher every year’

Posted on Sep 22 2022

CNMI junior netters pose with other players from the region taking part in the 2022 Pacific Oceania Juniors Championship at the Regional Training Centre in Lautoka, Fiji. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

With only the boys 14 doubles team of Nasson Wessel and June Yu bringing home the bacon, CNMI national tennis coach Jeff Race is far from satisfied with how his wards fared in the recently concluded 2022 Pacific Oceania Juniors Championship held in Lautoka, Fiji.

“Did we do as well as I’d have liked? Definitely not. If we’re not No. 1 I’m not entirely happy,” he said. 

Aside from Wessel and Yu, Irin Chung also salvaged third place in the girls 14 singles in the POJC, which was canceled the past couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Race, the CNMI sports hall of famer and Northern Mariana Islands Tennis Federation president, said Commonwealth players need to level up if they stand any chance of competing against the best in the region.

“The competition in the Pacific is tough and getting tougher every year. Tahiti is always the main competition. With 11 tennis clubs, all with courts and coaches, they have an intense level of competition there just to be able to make it here,” he said. 

Race added that the CNMI was already at a disadvantage even before leaving for Fiji with inadequate training facilities on the island.

“The No. 1 priority of our tennis program has got to be the development of a national training center of at least four courts. Right now we don’t even know if or where we’ll be training next week or next month. We weren’t able to train properly for the time before we came as our group training at one time was too large and vying for court time with the public at [the American Memorial Park tennis courts].”

It can be remembered that original plans for the long-awaited facelift of the Oleai Sports Complex was the inclusion of a national tennis training center with four tennis courts.

However, when the final plans for transforming the Oleai Sports Complex into a modern state-of-the-art sports facility came out, the tennis courts were reduced to only two and in its place is a swimming pool.

Despite the frustration on the lack of adequate facilities, Race said he’s still thankful that 17 of the CNMI’s top netters get to experience high-level tennis at the Regional Tennis Centre in Lautoka. He also extended his gratitude to companies that bankrolled the CNMI’s delegation to the 2022 POJC. 

“I’d especially like to thank Tan Holdings for their support. We couldn’t have made this trip without them having our backs. Also the Tan family and Crowne Plaza, who gave us a place to train for the past year, even though their hotel was under renovation. Thanks to all those businesses who sponsored our fundraising tournaments; Bridge Capital, White Coconut Scanning, and Tan Holdings. Also the many supporters of our Beach Clean Up event, who are too numerous to mention. For sure the Rotary Club of Saipan and IT&E. Also the sacrifices of the parents, the hard work of dedicated coaches and most of all the drive and love of the game of our junior players,” he said.

Aside from Wessel, Yu, and Chung, other NMI junior netters that saw action in Fiji were boys 16-and-under’s Minsoo “David” Kwon, girls 16’s Serin Chung and Savita Sikkel, boys 14’s La Hunn Lam, Seung Woo Choi, and Siwoo Lee, girls 14’s Hoo Wang, Hannah Chae, and Anna Kwon, boys 12’s Yutaka Kadokura, Ian Chae, Ryan Choi, and Jihun Park, and girls 12’s Lina Tsukagoshi.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at Mark_Rabago@saipantribune.com
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