TOP 10 STORIES OF 2019
For nearly two weeks, the CNMI National Tennis Team played multiple games in a day and battled its way through fatigue, mounting pressure, and highly competitive squads to earn a historic feat in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
Coach Jeff Race, assistant coach Lydia Tan, and players Colin Sinclair, Ken Song, Robbie Schorr, Carol Lee, Tania Tan, Isabel Heras, and Malika Miyawaki brought home three gold medals and a silver. It was the most golds the Commonwealth got from the Pacific Games since it first joined the quadrennial event four decades ago (1979). The group topped the men’s team event, men’s singles, and mixed doubles competition and finished second in the men’s doubles, putting the CNMI in good standing in the medal tally after coming home empty handed from the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea four years ago.
This year in Samoa, the men’s squad was one man down after Bobby Cruz was forced to miss the off-island trip when his passport got stolen a day before the team left for the Pacific Games. Sinclair, who took a break from his ITF World Tour campaign, held the fort for the CNMI with his near-perfect games, while the youthful Schorr and Song showed stability and maturity that can be compared to seasoned veterans to complement the performance of their No. 1 player.
As for the women’s team, Lee also had a breather from competing in the ITF Juniors World Tour, while Heras came home from a successful rookie season in the NCAA to don the colors of the CNMI. Tan and Miyawaki diligently trained on island with Race while also doing other sports.
The quartet got into a tough draw in the team event, facing PNG, which was led by the Pacific’s No. 1 player and Women’s Tennis Association veteran Abigail Tere-Apisah, and home bet Samoa. Lee and company lost, but not without giving their foes a good fight. The CNMI’s female players also did well in the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles events the following week, winning over players that a couple of years ago would have given them a beating, according to Race.
Lee made it to the quarterfinals in the singles event only to be paired with Tere-Apisah in the Last 8, while Heras also reached the same round. In the doubles, Heras and Lee also barged into the Round of 8.
Despite the heartbreaker in the singles and women’s doubles and playing multiple games in one day, Lee kept her focus as she was determined to bring something home. The Pacific’s No. 1 junior player was with Sinclair in the mixed doubles and she moved a win away from getting a medal when the CNMI duo won over Cook Islands’ Brett Baudinet and Tamara Anderson in their semis match in the morning (last July 20).
In the afternoon of the same day, Lee and Sinclair returned to the court for the gold medal match against Tere-Apisah and Matthew Stubbings and the former seemed headed for another heartache when the PNG pair raced to a 3-0 lead and nearly finished off the CNMI duo after taking a 6-5 advantage in the super-tiebreaker third set. However, Lee and Sinclair persevered and capped the Commonwealth’s outstanding showing in Samoa with a come-from-behind 10-8 victory.
2. Back-to-back in Marianas Cup
The CNMI Women’s National Team proved that its 2018 win over rival Guam in the revived Marianas Cup was no fluke after cruising to a 3-0 victory in this year’s edition of the tournament.
After a close 3-2 triumph in the 2018 competition hosted at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville, the Commonwealth bets this time humiliated Guam at its home soil with the shutout win. Gianna Griffin scored a pair of goals for CNMI’s back-to-back victory and was named MVP, while Guine Borja delivered the other goal.
Guam, after the sorry loss in the women’s game, redeemed itself in the men’s match after outclassing the CNMI, 6-2.
3. Carol goes out with a bang
Carol Lee had her final year in the ITF Juniors World Tour and she made sure it will be a memorable one.
She won two singles championship and made historic appearances for the CNMI in two prestigious competitions.
The 18-year-old topped the ITF/CAT North African Circuit in Casablanca, Morocco in March after stunning No. 1 seed Aubane Droguet of France in the finals. Lee’s other singles crown came from the South Pacific Open Junior Championships held in Fiji in June.
With her pair of singles championships, the Commonwealth player reached her highest world ranking (No. 114).
Lee also became the first player from the CNMI to compete in the main draw of the Australian Open Juniors in January and the US Open in September.
After her impressive junior tennis career that saw her won a gold medal for the CNMI in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, Lee is bound for college and will be suiting up for an NCAA Division I team.
4. Pacific Mini Games: To host or not
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, in March, pulled the plugged on the CNMI’s hosting of the 2021 Pacific Mini Games to focus on the continued recovery and rebuilding efforts from Super Typhoon Yutu that hit the islands late last year.
Two months later and after talking with all the stakeholders, Torres had a change of heart and gave the Mini Games a go provided that the Pacific Games Council will take into consideration the Commonwealth’s ability to finance the hosting of the event.
It was then agreed upon that the budget for the Mini Games will be sliced to $3 million from $8 million and from 12 sports, only six will be contested.
Though the CNMI has reaffirmed its commitment to host the Mini Games, the addendum to the 2014 contract has yet to be signed.
5. Swimmers’ unsinkable spirit
Despite the absence of an appropriate facility, CNMI swimmers persevered, as they continued to train and even competed in off-island tournaments this year.
Nearly six months after the closure (October 2018) of the former Kan Pacific Swimming Pool in Marpi, members of the Saipan Swim Club and Swimming Center Tsunami Saipan competed in the Inaugural Micronesian Swimming Championships in Palau. Tsunami Saipan brought home 39 gold medals and a handful of silvers and bronze, while SSC gained one gold, 10 silvers, and six bronzes.
Members of both swim groups also represented the CNMI to the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa (ocean swim) and 18th FINA World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
6. Tenorio, Heras stand out in rookie season
Soccer’s Sunjoon Tenorio and tennis’ Isabel Heras did not simply earn slots on their respective collegiate teams, but were also impressive in their freshman year.
Heras got the All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors while playing for Dixie State University in NCAA Division II and also made it to the First Team All-RMAC Doubles.
Tenorio, on the other hand, played his first season with Suffolk University—an NCAA Division III school and was named Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Rams. He made history for Suffolk for winning three straight Rookie of the Week awards from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
7. Sapong, Gross bring honors to NMI
Northern Marianas Athletics’ Robin Sapong and Nick Gross brought honors to the CNMI.
Sapong, after receiving the prestigious International Association of Athletics Federations Veteran Pin during the 52nd IAAF Congress at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha in September, was voted president of the Oceania Athletics Association early this month. The NMA secretary general got the IAAF recognition for his service to the sport for more than two decades, while he is the first official from the CNMI to get elected as OAA president.
Gross, a many-time medalist in the Micronesian Games, competed in the 20th Oceania Masters Athletics Championships in Australia and struck gold in the javelin throw.
8. No govt funding for NMSA
Still reeling from the damage brought by two super typhoons to the facilities it manages, the Northern Marianas Sports Association took another hit when it did not receive allocation from the government for the fiscal year 2019.
NMSA uses the funding it gets from the government since 2014 for employees payroll and operations, while the money it collects from its lottery program are allotted for CNMI athletes and officials’ participation to off-island tournaments.
Despite the absence of government funding, NMSA still manages the Oleai Sports Complex and its facilities, but with limited manpower just not to disrupt ongoing competitions.
NMSA is also waiting for the long-delayed repair work at the complex, which will be the main hub of the 2021 Pacific Mini Games. A proposal for more improvement at the facility has been submitted, but nothing is definite yet.
9. Sports tourism stays afloat
After being shelved last year due to Super Typhoon Yutu, the Hell of Marianas Century Cycle Race returned on Saipan roads and drew 127 competitors from 11 countries.
Bikers from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Slovakia, and Taiwan joined the event co-organized by the NMI Cycling Federation and the Marianas Visitors Authority to promote the CNMI as sports haven for tourists.
Two other signature events on island—Saipan Marathon and Tagaman Triahtlon—had athletes from other countries competing here. Over 800 joined Saipan Marathon with more than half were off-island participants, while the 30th edition Tagaman drew over 100 triathletes, including its pioneers.
10. Busy season for interscholastic competition
After the cancelation of various tournaments due to Super Typhoon Yutu, the Public School System Student Support System Athletic Department headed by Nick Gross had its hands full at the start of the year.
Interscholastic sports competition was in full swing, as almost every month, starting in February, PSS was able to hold tournaments.
It started with the 4×4 grass volleyball tournament for middle school boys and girls and went on to hold co-ed 4×4 basketball for elementary; 3×3 basketball and canoe racing for high school; athletics championships for all levels; cross country; elementary and middle school soccer; elementary and middle school volleyball, and high school basketball. Public and private schools competed together.