Lady Eagles rule middle school hoops


Grace Christian Academy players pose with their medals and trophy with coach Leah Fabila and Northern Marianas Islands Basketball Association officials, led by president James Lee, after winning the championships of the IT&E Interscholastic Girls Middle School Basketball League last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium. (Mark Rabago)

The Grace Christian Academy Lady Eagles completed an undefeated season after crushing surprised finalist Francisco M. Sablan Middle School, 30-12, in the championships game of the IT&E Interscholastic Girls Middle School Basketball League last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.

Behind the all-around game of center Azriel Fatialofa, the Lady Eagles were never really threatened and dominated the first half, 17-7, thanks to the 13 mammoth points of the 5’11” Fatialofa.

She would score 9 more points in yet another lopsided second half for GCA as the Lady Eagles coasted to the 18-point victory. Fatialofa led the 2021 private and public middle school hoops champions with 22 points, while Fiona Regan and Vanica Torres chipped in 4 markers apiece. The Lady Natibu Riders’ futile stand in the face of Fatialofa and company were led by the 10 points of promising Rosie Saralu, who connected on two triples. Mickaenna Nishimura was responsible for the other 2 points for FMS.

Earlier in the playoffs, GCA 1 secured a finals spot and twice-to-beat advantage in the championship game after defeating Hopwood Middle School 2, 16-11. Fatialofa scored 8 points in that win, while Kialeen Leemarvin matched her with 8 points of her own.

The Lady Natibu Riders punched a semifinals tickets after defeating Dandan Middle School, 13-8, in the next game. Saralu made 11 points in this one, while the Lady Hilitais got 4 points apiece from Priscilla Tomokane and Dolores Sander.

In the semifinals clash between FMS and Hopwood 2, the former managed to pull the rug from under the Lady Hilitais in a 13-12 shocker. Hopwood 2 led in the first half, 10-6, as Leemarvin erupted for 7 markers. The Lady Natibu Riders, however, limited Hopwood 2 to a measly 2 points in the second half, while scoring 6 points themselves to advance to the finals. Saralu led the way for FMS with 10 points, while Hopwood was paced by the 7 points of Leemarvin.

FMS them lost steam against GCA in the finals after playing its third straight game.

GCA coach Leah Fabila congratulated her players for a well-played season which saw them rule the roost with a perfect 9-0 win-loss record.

“We feel really happy. These girls really worked so hard. They did their very best and worked as a team. They played good defense from the beginning so I believe that’s what got us here today.”

What made it more special is that GCA was able to take home the championship to their Navy Hill campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really amazing that despite the year we were able to come back and play and the girls really appreciated it because the girls didn’t have this for a very long time. I want to thank my players and our school, GCA, for continuing to support our sports programs,” said Fabila.

Meanwhile, GCA’s championship was bittersweet for Fatialofa and her younger sister, Alyana, as before the playoffs began their parents learned that their uncle, Charley, lost his battle to COVID-19. Their parents waited until the championship game concluded before telling them the bad news.

That’s the reason why moments after receiving their medals and the championship trophy, the Fatialofa sisters were seen weeping in the middle of the basketball court. The sister said they’re dedicating the championship to their uncle Charley and his wife, Kara, and to their three cousins—Rocky, Ocean, and Vinnie.

“We found out earlier that their uncle Charley (my wife’s younger brother) who was fighting for his life with COVID in Nashville, Tennessee had passed. We didn’t want to tell them until after the game,” said their father Fred.

Azriel Fatialofa also thanked her coaches at Ol’Aces for helping her in her basketball development.

GCA 30 – Fatialofa 30, Regan 4, Torres 4.

FMS – Saralu 12, Nishimura 2.

Scoring by halves: 17-7, 30-12.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at

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