For the first three or four years of its existence, Kanoa Football Club was a regular cellar dweller in Northern Mariana Islands Football Association-organized competitions. The group did not simply lose games—opponents blew them out that your fingers would not be enough to count the margin.
Despite the many years of struggle, Kanoa remained steadfast to its program, recruiting players from schools and training them for the tough battles ahead and the painful experience of more losses, too.
Slowly, Kanoa turned the defeats into victories and the club grew to build teams that are competitive enough to win championships. In the 2019 NMIFA Spring Youth League, Kanoa ruled all, but one of the age group titles, taking the co-ed U12, boys U15, girls U16, and girls U19 division crowns (it missed the boys U18 championship that went to MP United FC). The club, which was founded in 2012, also topped the 2019 Dove Spring Women’s 11 vs 11 League, making Kanoa the group with the most titles in a single season.
“The five division titles we won in the spring season were products of our grassroots program and the commitment and support that we are getting from our players, their parents, the coaches, and the club officials,” Kanoa FC president Merlie Tolentino said.
Kanoa technical director Raymond Zapanta echoed Tolentino’s sentiments.
“Many of our players grew up playing together for many years, and kids with potential or kids that want extra training would play-up with the older kids. We went through many losses before we started winning,” Zapanta said.
For added game experience, Kanoa encouraged its promising U12 players to play-up to both U15 and U18 divisions, while majority of the players attended multiple training days at the William S. Reyes Elementary School grounds.
“We also constantly remind them that their hard work will payoff soon if they first enjoy playing together,” said Zapanta, adding that the toughest title they won this season was the boys U15.
Kanoa’s boys U15 crew played their final matches with no substitutes. A few players got injured during the season. The loss to MPU (last game in the regular season) probably was their lowest point, but that also served as a motivation to Kanoa players, as they came back strong in the tiebreak match, 3-2.
The club shared their success to the players’ parents.
“We have very supportive parents that watch every game as much as possible, and allow kids to carpool together to get to their games,” Zapanta said.
From being the perennial last placers in various competitions, Kanoa players, with the help of NMIFA, turned out to become members of the CNMI national teams and unselfishly reached out to upcoming players on their club to share what they have learned from high-level tournaments and opponents. Players in higher age group also officiate matches.
“Our club players that make it to the national team come back to the club and coach the younger kids. They share their experiences and knowledge of what happens in national training and bring it to the grassroots level. It is only recently when we started getting these coaches licensed,” Zapanta said.
After their outstanding spring season, Kanoa is taking a break for a while, as several of its players will be attending national team duties. However, they will surely buckle down to work early into the fall season and keep their eye on the prize.
“It took a lot of hard work to get to where we are now. We know everyone will be out to get us, so we will train harder and enjoy every game,” Zapanta said. “Now that we are on top, we need to work on our shortcomings to stay on top. Our next goal is to place in the U18 boys division.”