The CNMI Junior Tennis Team may have missed making milestones in the canceled 2020 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships, but it could always look back at its impressive records in the last decade of the competition.
The Commonwealth’s junior players have consistently put on a strong performance in the annual tournament in Fiji, starting off with the CNMI-led North Team’s upset against perennial winner West Team in overall championship, 131-128. Team rankings were based on how players from each country finished in the U12, U14, and U18 singles events in 2010.
The following year, the Jeff Race-coached CNMI Team prevailed against more than 10 countries in the battle for the most Top 4 finishes in three age groups. The Commonwealth had six players barging into the semifinals with Tammy Ackerman making it all the way to the Promised Land after ruling the girls U12 singles. Tournament favorite, Tahiti, had only three players earning Top 4 finishes.
Since 2011 up to 2018, the CNMI never failed to bring home a championship from the POJC, which was canceled for the first time since its inception in 1990, and highlighted its excellent showing in the competition with back-to-back Nations Cup titles. The coveted Nations Cup is awarded to the country with the best standings among the 17 participating nations and Race’s wards hoisted the trophy in 2016 and 2017.
In 2012, Mikayla Lopez won a pair, getting the U15 singles and doubles (with Neghar Rastguiy) tiaras, while Carol Lee and Isabel Heras notched the U12 doubles title and Chris Cajigan did the same in the boys U12 doubles with the Federated States of Micronesia’s T. J. Rush.
Lee also triumph in 2013 when she bagged the girls U12 singles crown, while Cajigan and Michael Ren made it to the finals of the U15 and U12 singles, respectively, and Thea Minor (U18) and Ackerman (U15) finished in the Top 3.
The CNMI’s eight Final Four berths in the 2013 was a record in the POJC, as the CNMI again edged powerhouse Tahiti (seven semis berths), while Fiji had only three, and Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, American Samoa, Kiribati, Palau, and Papua New Guinea got one apiece.
Lee, since winning her first singles championship, has assured the CNMI gold medals in the next four years. She took the title in the girls U14 in 2014, while Tania Tan and Malika Miyawaki (U14) and Robbie Schorr (with Guam’s Camden Camacho in the U14 division) handed the CNMI two doubles crowns.
The following year, the then 14-year-old Lee jumped to the U16 age group competition and ruled the singles event, while the rest of the CNMI Junior Team produced six semis appearances and two finals stints (Tan reached the title game in the girls U14).
In 2016, Lee successfully defended her U16 singles title, plus the CNMI drew two gold medals—thanks to Lee and Isabel Heras (U16) and Robbie Schorr and Ken Song (boys U14). Schorr also earned the U14 singles championship, giving the CNMI its most titles (four) in the POJC and the Nations Cup for the first time.
Lee made it three in a row in the U16 singles, while she and Miyawaki also topped the doubles event in 2017. Schorr and Song also got the doubles title (U16) and counting the runner-up finish by siblings Coume and Conatsu Kaga (U14 doubles) and semis appearances of Jimin Woo and Sean Lee in the U14 singles, the CNMI got its second straight Nations Cup.
Schorr, after falling short in his U16 debut, won the age group in 2018, while Woo had runner-up finishes in the U14 singles and doubles (with Seung Jin Paik). Woo moved up to the U16 last year and had finals stints in both singles and doubles (with Sean Lee).
“Jimin has been training hard after missing the title last year, so he’s disappointed that this year’s POJC has been canceled. The entire team was really looking forward to the 2020 competition. They have more than doubled the sets they played in 2019, going over 1,000 then COVID-19 hit. Moving on, our team will definitely come out stronger next season,” Race said.
Reflecting on the consistent strong showing of the CNMI Junior Tennis Team in the last decade, Race said it took them awhile to reach that point and have a very strong program and credits the players’ determination to get better every year and the challenges that their opponents always present to them.
“Every year when our team is winning, you know that other countries are chasing us. So every year, you go out there, prepare hard, and do your best,” Race said.
“I am so proud of our players, how they turned out to be good players. When I look at these memories on Facebook and see how we were able to develop their talents and help our players move up to college, it gives me and the program such great pride,” the many-time national team coach added.