The Lightning, who will face the Thunder at 1pm, swept the double-round robin play last year to earn the top seeding in the inaugural youth league and completed their title run with a 37-0 thumping of the Northern Saints in their title duel on Jan. 11, 2014.
The Lightning’s core group remains intact, making the David Ada Jr.-coached Eastern side as favorites to again rule this season. The Eastern crew is composed of players from different villages on Saipan.
However, the Thunder are also no pushovers as chief mentor Jermaine Catching assembled a strong fighting unit that can pull off some surprises. The Southern squad’s players are from Chalan Kanoa, Koblerville, Dandan, and San Antonio.
The Northern Saints of bench tactician Joe Ocampo is the other team competing this season. A fourth team could have been formed, but plans did not materialize due to lack of coaching staff that will handle the squad.
A two round-robin system will be implemented this season with the Top 2 teams advancing to the title match tentatively set on Jan. 10.
The champion team will then represent the CNMI in a friendly match with Guam after the end of the season. However, the champion squad has the option to select players from other teams to fortify its roster against Guam. (Jon Perez)