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Steele moving up to collegiate ranks

NMI player Richard Steele will be bringing his act in the collegiate ranks after committing to Walla Walla University in Washington.

Steele signed his letter of commitment to the Wolves last Saturday at the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association office in Koblerville in the presence of his family, NMIFA officials, and Walla Walla University men’s soccer head coach William Burns (virtual).

“I am excited for this opportunity and would like to thank everyone who has been part of my journey,” said Steele, who is on the NMI Boys U18 National Team pool and also plays for the MP United Football Club.

The 18-year-old, who has won a couple of Golden Boot awards in local leagues, said he is expected to take on left swing spot for the Wolves and help the team on offense. Steele will jump into the collegiate ranks after returning to Saipan from California and spending his last year in high school here. He added that after moving back from California, he knew right there that he will get back into the NMIFA program, which through the years has successfully developed players and helped them grow and get ready for competitions outside the NMI.

Meanwhile, Burns said that Wolves are excited to welcome Steele on the team this fall. The coach also said that they are open to a possible partnership with the NMIFA, as they hope that Steele will not be the first NMI player to suit up for the Wolves.

NMIFA technical director Michitetu Mita, who was with Steele at the signing ceremony, was pleased with Burns’ offer, saying that the NMI players, both men and women, have a lot of potential to play in high-level competitions, such as the various collegiate leagues in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Walla Walla University participates in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics under the Cascade Collegiate Conference. The Wolves play against 13 other teams in the CCC, including Warner Pacific, where Steele’s fellow NMI standout and MP United teammate, Sunjoon Tenorio, is suiting up.

Strong program, right direction In the last three years, the NMIFA has seen significant growth in the number of NMI players who got recruited to play in college.

Guine Borja, Katrina Costales, Lilian and Dai Podziewski, Stephanie Flores, Stela McCallion, Rintaro Miyawaki, Thaiphi Austria, Kohtaro Goto, Dev Bachani, and Sunjoon Tenorio are on the 2020-2022 list of NMI players that were either given a chance to play in the collegiate ranks or have committed to play in a U.S. university. Before 2020, one or two NMI players were able to join a collegiate squad.

The rise, according to Mita, is a testament to the NMI’s strong grassroots program and the combined efforts of everyone involved in growing the sport on the islands—from volunteer coaches to the players’ supportive parents.

“Everyone is working hard to help our players have these achievements. This (having more NMI players compete in college level) proves that we are heading to right direction, that we have very capable men and women players that can play in higher level competitions,” Mita said.

Steele echoed Mita’s thoughts, as he is confident that more NMI players will get the opportunity to play off-island.

“Stay dedicated to the sport. If you feel like it’s soccer that you really want to do, pursue it. Practice more and focused on getting better every day,” Steele said when asked for a message to his fellow players.

Published by Saipan Tribune - Feb 14 2022


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