For seven members of the CNMI Men’s National Team, it’s time to leave the island to prepare for the resumption of their college classes, but they will return and will be ready to answer the call of duty, again.
Sunjoon Tenorio, Enrico Del Rosario, Ryan Relucio, Joshua Galarion, Joshua Abragan, Thaiphi Austria, and Chris Aninzo were given a send-off party by their teammates and coaches last Saturday after completing their training sessions with the national team. Tenorio, Del Rosario, Relucio, Abragan, and Austria will soon leave for the mainland for their studies, while Galarion and Aninzo are heading to Guam and United Kingdom, respectively. Austria will be playing his rookie season with the Trine University in Indiana, while the six other Blue Ayuyus will return to their respective teams (college and club-based squads).
All seven players, who are products of the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association’s grassroots program, took part in the squad’s online training sessions for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were very happy to also participate in the group’s actual practices that resumed last month.
“Although we didn’t get to train normally, it was a joy being back and training with them when we could. Players here have definitely improved and it makes me happy being able to see huge developments throughout the on-island players,” said Tenorio, who won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in his freshman year with Suffolk University in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (Division II) and will now play for Warner Pacific University.
Del Rosario, who suits up for Northern Kentucky University FC and plays in Gotham Soccer League in Cincinnati, acknowledged the challenges they faced while doing the online training and the actual practices at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblervile and is proud that everyone stuck with the program despite the obstacles.
“The first few weeks were challenging and very different from what we’re used to but we did our share; self-quarantine, social distancing, and followed all other restrictions. I’m just glad that we’re healthy and safe. NMIFA made various efforts to keep the team in shape. We’ve had virtual group workout a few times a week and check our daily nutritional intake,” said Del Rosario, who is on his senior year with the NKU.
“I don’t know Kentucky will handle back contact sports, such as soccer, but I will definitely continue to work out and train to remain fit and improve my skills,” the many-time CNMI national team player said.
For Relucio, rejoining the team after undergoing a knee surgery was a relief even though they had to train with restrictions.
“Resuming training at the field with social distancing protocols was an exciting step forward to finally see, play, and talk with the guys. Many of our drills focused on the basics such as passing, coordination, and improving our fitness. A normal tournament preparation would have us training everyday, however during these unprecedented times, the team had to be creative in our preparation so some of us would jog or workout together during our off days. Although the pandemic put a pause on many things, I am thankful that I was given an opportunity to focus on my recovery from knee surgery, as well,” Relucio said.
Relucio and company may be leaving the national team for a while, but they will always have the squad on their mind, encouraging the players who will remain on island to keep working hard and thanking everyone involved in the program for keeping it on track despite the challenges we are facing right now. Relucio added that returning to the island and staying committed to the national team is their way of repaying the program and the people who have been very good to them.
“NMIFA president Jerry Tan, coach Mita (Michiteru), coach Jersh (Angeles), and the entire NMIFA have invested so much on us while growing up under the national team and the youth program and I intend to give back in any possible way I can,” Relucio said.
Austria seconded Relucio’s thoughts, saying that soccer, his teammates and coaches, are one of the main reasons he will be able to start a new journey in his life.
“Their support is what keeps me going during difficult times and the reason why I enjoy playing soccer. It’s been an amazing time training and competing off-island with you guys. I am going to continue to work hard and learn many new things during my time playing college soccer. For sure I will come back stronger and I will apply what I will learn from the mainland to help our team,” he said.
Tenorio also vows to rejoin the team and hopes players who will stay on island will remain committed to the program.
“Keep working hard and take advantage of the opportunities. We are very fortunate here and we should be honored to play with the coaches and the facility we have. That being said, I’m excited to come back in the future to see even more improvements,” Tenorio said.