Former CNMI junior tennis player Mikayla Lopez is leaving Saipan next month to begin a new chapter in her student-athlete life.
Lopez received a full athletic scholarship from New Mexico Military Institute—the same school that recruited NCAA Division II-bound and former CNMI top junior player Thea Minor.
“I am thankful and honored to receive a full scholarship from NMMI. I will not only be representing NMMI in tennis, but also in cross country,” the Marianas High School graduate said.
“I would like to thank coach Dan O’Connell for giving me this wonderful opportunity to play at a collegiate level to further improve my skills,” Lopez added.
O’Connell was the former and first ITF Pacific Oceania developmental officer before he was named head coach of the Bronco women’s tennis team in 2013. He made repeated visits to Saipan as he had been helping NMMI find talents from the Pacific even before he accepted the coaching post from the school three years ago. Minor was his first recruit from the Commonwealth and after the former completed her two-year stint with the Bronco, O’Connell also helped the CNMI player move to Henderson State University—a NCAA Division II school in Arkansas.
Lopez’s new squad, on the other hand, competes in Division I of the National Junior College Athletics Association.
“At NMMI, I am looking forward to taking classes in pre-dental hygiene. After two years, I hope to gain another full scholarship to either a Division I or II university. At NMMI I will also be able to interact with different people from other places and eventually make new friends,” said Lopez, who is excited and at the same time a bit nervous of her move from Saipan to the mainland.
“Moving from a small island to New Mexico is a big change for me. However, I have talked to Thea countless times so that I would be prepared physically and mentally. She provided me with a lot of words of encouragement, telling me I should not worry because her friends and former teammates will help guide me at NMMI,” the 19-year-old player said. “She also said that I will love how friendly the environment is. The teachers and students are like families. One major struggle I might face though is waking up at 5:30am everyday for training, but Thea said I will get used to it.”
Lopez will be teaming up with Papua New Guinea’s Lorish Puluspene and the Federate States of Micronesia’s Amanda Hawkins, who are both familiar faces to the former having seen them play in the Pacific Oceania Junior Championships in Fiji, and two others.
“Lorish will still be there for a year and there’s a girl from Ghana (Francesca Nyarko) that I will be meeting her soon. They are very good players and I know we will make a good team this year,” the newest Bronco member added.
The former CNMI junior player won’t be leaving Saipan until Aug. 2, but at this early, she is missing the members of the tennis community.
“I will forever miss playing for the CNMI junior tennis team. I will miss my friends and coaches’ constant support. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” the 2012 NMSA Female Student Athlete of the Year said.