The CNMI U16 Women’s National Team’s time to represent the Commonwealth has come, as it leaves Saipan today to compete in the AFC U16 Women’s Championship 2019 Qualifiers in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The squad is made up of Mary Joy Aniana, Christina Atalig, Nathanette Blas, Jenny Ann Capayas, Joannah Carreon, Jannah Casarino, Katrina Costales, Abegail Decena, Marinel Falalimpa, Sharmaine Francisco, Erin Frink, Julianne Hall, Sydney Hinds, Khristelle Itaas, Paulynn Joyce, Emiliana King, and Lilian Podziewski. They will be battling Iran, Thailand, Singapore, and the host country in the Group C qualifier with the Top 2 teams after the round-robin play advancing to next year’s finals.
A send-off ceremony for the national squad was held yesterday at Kanoa Resort with Northern Mariana Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan leading the well-wishers of the group. Tan hoped that the U16 players will take inspirations from the CNMI men’s and women’s national teams that competed in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1 in Mongolia last week.
“We made such a good impression in Mongolia and I hope you will be inspired by our women’s and women’s national teams’ performance in the EAFF tournament. Work hard and show respect and sportsmanship in Tajikistan,” said Tan, who was joined in the send-off ceremony by NMIFA Executive Committee officials Norman Del Rosario, Patricia Coleman, and Superior Court Associate Judge Wesley Bogdan, and NMIFA general secretary Ross Zapanta.
Coleman also addressed the team and urged them to leave a “real mark” in the tournament.
“Leave a ‘real mark’ in Tajikistan. You may not be the better team in the AFC tournament, but you can still leave a ‘real mark’ there by battling the better team until the end,” Coleman said.
“Play hard and work as a team. Show them that we can play. Every time you play in Asian Football Confederation tournaments, you’re getting us closer to that full-time AFC membership and FIFA. Prove to them that we deserve to be in the group,” the former CNMI women’s national team member added.
The U16 crew will be coached by Olympian Luem Khen Koo, the same person that helped the CNMI Women’s National Team draw Guam and Macau in the EAFF tournament last week. Koo went to Hong Kong after the trip to Mongolia and will meet the U16 players and other officials there. Chi Ming Tang and Angie Ito are the goalkeeper and assistant coaches, while Elizabeth Phan, Yu Hung Lee, and Hazel Mabasa are the team manager, assistant manager, and physiotherapist, respectively.
Tang, Ito, Mabasa, and Phan are scheduled to join the players for the 6am flight to Hong Kong this morning and from the former British colony, they will head to Bangkok, and then Dubai before reaching their final destination—Dushanbe.
“Coach Koo mentioned that this tournament will be a great opportunity for the younger girls to compete against players from different countries. This is a new team. More than half of our team members are new players and this will be their first NMI national team tournament. We also have four players who recently participated with the WNT in the EAFF tournament in Mongolia. We hope that the sessions that we, coaches, and players have put in and the players’ heart to play will be enough, if not more than enough, to compete with our opponents,” Ito said.
Francisco, King, Joyce, and Costales played in Mongolia and are back for another tour of duty for the CNMI. Costales also shares team captain duties with Itaas and Hall.
“We appreciate very much all the efforts that our coaches and the NMIFA officials put into to make sure that we will be able to compete in this tournament. Thank you also to our parents for your continued support. We will work hard and do our best in Tajikistan to make the CNMI proud,” Hall said.
The Commonwealth bets will have their debut in the AFC competition this Saturday as they take on Iran in the 4pm match (9pm Saipan time). Then on Sept. 17, the CNMI squad will be pitted against the host in the 7pm game, while for its third match on Sept. 21, the Koo-coached crew will challenge Thailand at 4pm. The CNMI’s game against Singapore is scheduled on the last day of the tournament on Sept. 22 at 4pm.