Since taking the helm at the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association in the early 2000, it has been Jerry Tan’s goal to build a facility that would sustain the growth of soccer in the Commonwealth.
That goal was hit mid this year when NMIFA, in front of hundreds of residents and honored guests, inaugurated the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville. The state-of-the-art facility has two pitches (main and secondary) offices, bleachers, restrooms, equipment rooms, floodlights, and ample parking spaces.
The first-of-a-kind training center in the CNMI was a collaboration of NMIFA and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and was also made possible by the help of the Department of Public Lands, East Asian Football Association, Asian Football Confederation, Japan Football Association, Guam Football Association, and other private and public companies.
Morning and nighttime games were held at the NMITC along with the training sessions of the CNMI national teams (youth and adults). The facility also played host to the historic 2018 Marianas Cup.
Unfortunately, just about four months since its opening, NMITC, just like majority of the structures on Saipan, sustained massive damage from Super Typhoon Yutu. The secondary pitch was crushed, while other parts of the facility were also not spared from the storm’s wrath.
NMIFA staff and volunteer-players and officials managed to clean up debris at the facility weeks after it was torn by Super Typhoon Yutu, while Asian Football Confederation guaranteed that help is coming to fix the NMITC early this year.
Meanwhile, the main pitch has been restored and will only need some minor repair, allowing members of the CNMI national teams to resume training sessions in preparation for big tournaments in 2019.
Yutu hits sports facilities, cancels events
The last three months of the year was spent not in competitions, but in clearing work at the sports facilities crushed by Super Typhoon Yutu
The Oleai Sports Complex and the NMI Soccer Training Center were hit the hardest, forcing the cancelation of the title series between the Chalan Kanoa Bears and Go See Mark in the 2018 Saipan Baseball League and the suspension of the 2018 NMIFA Fall Youth League. The Bears were eventually handed the title when SBL organizers decided to call off the rest of the season, as the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield will not be repaired anytime soon. As for the youth soccer league, the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association is still accessing the situation and availability of the matches venues.
Meanwhile,tennis courts in various hotels also sustained damage along with the basketball courts in the different villages, the newly opened Marianas High School Gymnasium, and the already closed Kan Pacific Swimming Pool.
With facilities down and the entire community busy in the recovery and relief efforts, major sports events were canceled. Northern Marianas Paddling Sports Federation pulled the plug on the Micronesian Cup just a few days before Yutu slammed Saipan, while Marianas Visitors Authority and the Northern Mariana Islands Cycling Federation also called off the Hell of Marianas Century Cycle Race originally scheduled early this month.
Other local competitions—the title match in the middle school division of the 2018-2019 Commonwealth Coalition of Private Schools Association Volleyball League and the Public School System Interscholastic Volleyball League (men’s high school)—were suspended along with two basketball leagues.
Kan Pacific Pool closes
After a little over three decades of witnessing CNMI swimming history unfold, the Kan Pacific Swimming Pool in Marpi shut down.
Not even an online petition that gathered more than 6,000 signatures and clamored for the retention of the facility could prevent the 50-meter pool from closing its doors to the community. The facility ceased operation last Sept. 30 when Kan Pacific’s extension of its lease agreement with the Department of Public Lands expired.
Saipan Swim Club founder and Father of Swimming in the Pacific, Bill Sakovich, called the closure a “tragic loss” while other affected individuals and groups were lost for words to describe their feelings when the pool shut down.
Swimming Center Tsunami Saipan, Dolphin Club Saipan, and SSC were forced to look for alternative venues just to continue training their members. Tsunami Saipan went to hotel pools, while SSC opted to practice in open water and both groups were trying to be resilient though they admitted that the alternatives were not ideal, especially for swimmers getting ready for competitions.
The swimming community will need more patience, as reopening of the facility is not expected anytime soon with DPL announcing that a request for proposal is needed for companies interested at taking over the operation of the Marpi property.
Tennis players still deliver
Tennis players continue to bring honors to the CNMI.
Four-time NMSA/Tan Siu Lin Foundation Female Student Athlete of the Year awardee Carol Lee and pro Colin Sinclair had successful campaigns in International Tennis Federation-sanctioned events, while members of the CNMI Junior Tennis Team also did well in regional competitions.
Lee kept her spot in the Top 200 of the ITF Juniors Circuit after winning three singles crown and two doubles, including a sweep in the Northern Marianas Junior Championships. She also helped the Pacific Oceania Team move up in the elite Group I of the 2018 Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Zone.
The 17-year-old also played in the inaugural Nations Cup Pacific in Fiji and teamed up with Isabel Heras and Conatsu Kaga in giving the CNMI the women’s title as they prevailed against Samoa in the finals.
Sinclair, on the other hand, rose from No. 1,267 to as high as No. 494 in the ITF Pro Circuit after several finals stints in Belgium and Australian tournaments.
Also delivering for the Commonwealth was Robbie Schorr, who ruled the boys U16 finals of the 2016 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships in Fiji after stunning his favored foe. Schorr along with Coume and Conatsu Kaga, Jimin Woo, Sean Lee, and Seung Jin Paik donned the CNMI colors in other regional competitions.
Not to be outdone was Jeff Race, the coach who is instrumental in CNMI tennis ’repeated success. Race joined his first ITF Seniors Circuit event and came out victorious after clinching the 55-and-over title in the Hong Kong ITF Seniors National Tournament.
Weightlifting, athletics teams shine in Micro Games
The weightlifting and athletics squads combined for more than half of the CNMI’s medal haul in the 2018 Micronesian Games held in Yap.
The Commonwealth’s weightlifters delivered 15 medals, six of which were gold and courtesy of Angel San Nicolas and Antoinette Labausa. Other members of the team handled by weightlifting president John Davis were Rodrigo Ada, Bonnie Cruz, and Joey Tudela.
In the medal-rich athletics competition, the CNMI earned 13 medals with Rachel Abrams (high jump) and Zarinae Sapong (200m run) contributing one gold each. The athletics team also got five silver medals and six bronzes.
The CNMI’s other medals came from baseball (silver), men’s canoe (silver), women’s canoe (bronze), and swimming (one gold and four silvers). Overall, the Commonwealth collected nine gold medals, 18 silvers, and nine bronze to rank fourth in the final standings behind Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Guam.
Historic win at Marianas Cup
A few months after the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville opened, the facility hosted the 2018 Marianas Cup and witnessed the historic win of the CNMI U19 Women’s National Team.
The Commonwealth bets, survived Guam, 3-2, to hoist the Cup for the first time since the inception of the signature event in 2007. Katrina Costales, Guinevere Borja, and Jerlyn Castillo scored for the hosts with the latter also taking home the MVP award in the competition.
Besides the Marianas Cup, the CNMI national teams participated in several off-island tournaments.
In the Philippines, the CNMI Boys U16 National Team joined the Inaugural Tuloy XO Cup and topped the event after beating Chelsea FC Soccer School Hong Kong in a shootout in the title game, 4-2.
In Mongolia, both the Commonwealth’s men’s and women’s national squads saw action in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1, while the CNMI’s youth team competed in the East Asian Football Federation U15 Boys Tournament in China. Another youth national squad represented the islands in the AFC U16 Women’s Championship 2019 Qualifiers in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Senior All-Stars rally way to World Series
The CNMI Senior All-Stars Team had a storied journey to the World Series.
The ride was rough at the start with the Commonwealth players winning only against Indonesia and losing to New Zealand and Guam in the preliminary games of the World Series qualifier—the 2018 Asia Pacific-Middle East Regional Tournament held in the Philippines.
After barely making it to the playoffs, the Doru Camacho-managed squad defeated Hong Kong, 6-3, to stay in contention. Then the CNMI Senior All-Stars squared off against Guam anew in the semifinals and this time prevailed, 9-2, to move one step away from playing in the World Series.
The persistent Commonwealth players eventually reached the Promised Land when they outclassed the Philippines in the finale, 4-2. The champion team was made up of Leveque Iguel, Vicente Camacho II, Josenio Alvarez, Kianna Aldan, Pedro Maratita, Jordan Babauta, Dennis Cabrera, Justin Peter Celis, Aven Evangelista, Joaquin Fleming, Trevon Lieto, Ignacio Mendiola, Donovan Deleon Guerrero, Joel Norita, Orren-Cody Cruz, and Arby Yaguel.
Over 40 medals gained in regional track meet
With the resurfaced Oleai Sports Complex track and field facility finally opened to the public early this year, Saipan was able to host the Oceania Micronesian Regional Championships 2018.
The competition had CNMI athletes battling representatives from Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, Kosrae, Guam, Palau, and the Marshall Islands and netted the host island more than 40 medals with both veterans and young guns delivering for the Commonwealth.
Team Marianas (made up of Saipan and Tinian athletes) collected 10 gold medals, 16 silvers, and 18 bronzes. Nick Gross, Zarinae Sapong, Tania Tan, Orrin Pharmin, Douglas Schmidt, Jamie Pangelinan, and Cassandra Camacho handed the CNMI gold medals. Other members of the squad (with majority of them also winning medals for the host) were Therize Millare, Jerlyn Castillo, Trevan Quitugua, Gabriel Sappa, Tony Ichiou, Ron Olopai, Neydreyton Skerei, Beo Ngirchongor, Anika Snyder, Ruschelle Valino, They Tyviean, Coby Santos, and Dean Blake.
Falcons soar for third time
The Talaabwogh Falcons bagged their third consecutive championship after beating the NSA Braves, 7-4, in the finals of the Senior League division of the 2018 Saipan Little League Baseball.
The title win came after the Falcons fell short in their bid to force a tie for the division pennant with the Braves, who finished the regular season with a 9-3 record. The Falcons had an 8-4 mark in the elimination, losing an 11-inning pennant decider against the Braves, 8-9.
The Falcons recorded the rare 3-peat against three different teams. In the 2016 finale, they soared past the Comets, 3-0, while in last year’s championship game, the Falcons edged out the Enforcers, 4-3.
PBs, finals stints for swimmers
Several months before the Kan Pacific Swimming Pool closed, CNMI swimmers managed to train and compete in the12th Oceania Swimming Championships held at the Taurama Aquatic and Indoor Centre in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Swimmers Christian Villacrusis, siblings Jinnosuke and Lennosuke Suzuki, Jinju Thompson, Sophia Gauran, Juhn Tenorio, and Nelson Batallones, coach Jacoby Winkfield, and manager Kento Akimaru made up the CNMI delegation to the long-course meet. The squad combined for numerous personal best times, while Tenorio, Villacrusis, Jinnosuke Suzuki, and Batallones qualified in the finals of their respective races.
Batallones, along with Thompson and Lennosuke Suzuki, donned the CNMI colors for the second time this year when hey represented the Commonwealth in the 14th FINA World Championships in China. Thompson and Batallones still marked two PBs each in the short-course competition, while Lennosuke had one despite the lack of enough training, as they raced in the world championships a little over two months after the Marpi pool shutdown.