Ten years ago, Saipan International School ended Grace Christian Academy’s six-year reign in the Coalition of Private Schools Sports Association Volleyball League and that gave birth to the celebrated rivalry between the two teams.
“In our several championships with the middle and high school teams between 2010 and 2015, the best games are always against GCA. Both teams always bring the best of their abilities when we play each other,” long-time SIS coach Mili Saiki said.
In the 2010-2011 season (co-ed high school), SIS lost the first set of the finale, 19-25, but then defending champion GCA missed closing out the title game, as the Geckos eked out a 25-23 victory in the second set. SIS went on to complete the come-from-behind championship win after taking the deciding third set, 15-11.
After their title showdown in the 2010-2011 competition, the Geckos and Eagles crossed paths in the finals in the next three seasons even after the league had separate tournaments for boys and girls and also in middle school.
The following year after seeing its winning streak snapped by SIS, GCA got its sweet revenge, as the Eagles this time prevailed in another three-set finale, 26-24, 24-26, 15-8. Then in the 2012-2013 season, the Geckos and Eagles figured in another extended title duel with SIS reclaiming the high school crown after posting a 19-25, 25-22, 15-10 victory.
In the 2013-2014 seasons where the league held separate tournaments for boys and girls high school teams, SIS had a sweep. The Lady Geckos first clinched the division crown after beating Mt. Carmel School, 25-23, 25-22. SIS’ boys team, on the other hand, met a familiar foe in GCA, and also took only two sets to win the finals, 25-16, 25-21.
In the 2014-2015 season, SIS made it to the finals anew in the boys and girls divisions and had a split. The Geckos took the men’s crown against MCS, 25-22, 25-13. The Lady Knights then foiled SIS’s bid for another sweep after prevailing in the women’s finals, 25-15, 26-24.
The Geckos also reached the finals of the middle school division in the same 2014-2015 season, but lost to MCS, while the SIS-GCA rivalry returned the following season. Saiki’s wards went on to take the middle school crown after outlasting GCA in three sets, 25-18, 13-25, 15-6.
“I really enjoyed watching my athletes play against GCA,” said Saiki, the Northern Marianas Sports Association 2013 Coach of the Year.
It was also against GCA that SIS got its back-to-back title in the 2012 Marianas Interscholastic Sports Organization Girls Volleyball League.
Seniors Zoe Jewell, Jian Joyner, Amber Roberts, and Lani Russel, juniors Celine Camacho, Saeri Oh, and Amy Xie, sophomore Kristle Obgac, and freshmen Jeane Bracken and Phalai Frink played for the repeat champions, who pulled off a 25-19, 25-27, 15-9 triumph in the 2012 finale. Emma McCullough-Stearns, Jessica Soll, Abby Hudkins, Shane Jones, and Svhan Tured, on the other hand, were part of the first SIS champion team.
In the boys division, Saiki said SIS was nearly unstoppable when the Geckos had Andrew Johnson, Chris Cepeda, Chris Lam, Chris Park, and Clay McCullough-Stearns.
“Every year is special because you have a new group of students that are excited to learn or continue with the improvement of their skills. However, the best quality of volleyball was before Typhoon Soudelor came (2015),” the veteran coach said.