“Overwhelmed”, was the immediate reaction from coach Malcolm Kajer, who was amazed with all the hard work that the team put in to the competition. Five of them are under 12 and one is under 16.
“Going in, we didn’t really know what to expect,” Kajer said.
“We were going up against some fantastic competitors, so we didn’t really know what to expect, we were going in blind in some respects, and the fact that we did so well…I’m overwhelmed with pride and joy.
“Typically teams like Vanuatu and New Caledonia dominate the U12-14 age bracket, so there may have been a bit of doubt going into the tournament about whether we could compete at a higher level of competition.
In the boy’s division, Maka Maui and Jesse Toa were champions in the U12 team event, singles and doubles, while Moana Une and Te-Akaiti Toa showed great promise in coming second in the U12 girls’ team event.
Arikitoa Allsworth, who placed fourth, showed great potential in his matches and he was unlucky to lose a few, although he was happy that he gave it his all.
Elijah Amataiti, who represented the Cook Islands in the U16 division, was part of the Eastern Pacific Team, along with the other five U12 players and Kajer, that won the POJC Regional Teams Championship.
The unexpected results were something that Kajer and team manager Kura Une were immensely proud of the unexpected results and Kajer was aware that the people of the Cook Islands were too.
“Kura would share some of the comments through Facebook from back home to the team, and they were thrilled with the fact that their home (country) was so proud of them.”
However, Kajer is not satisfied to simply let the team rest on their achievements, as he expects them to continue to improve.
“We’ve identified some of the areas that we think we need to improve in. It’s mainly mental, but with a bit of time and practice and their continuing maturity, that should naturally happen.”
One of Kajer’s goals for next year’s competition is to have his U12 players compete in the U14 division.
“We think we’ll be able to perform at that level. Maka made an impact in Auckland (at the East Pacific Championship) at the U14 level, and I know the others can too.
“And the success we had at the tournament has opened doors to participate with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Pacific traveling team.
“So that could give us the opportunity to travel to the Australian and New Zealand nationals. We might even be taking part in a tournament in Australia next year, which would give us a chance to attend the Australian Open and see the best tennis players in the world perform.
“To get to that level, we need to keep doing well regionally. That will give us a chance to go international in the future, and maybe even be a part of the ITF World Development programme.”
But for now, the players get to enjoy a well-deserved break, while Kajer goes back to work to look for the next tennis star.
“Starting Saturday at 9am, there will be tennis lessons for those aged between 4-7. All are welcome, and the lessons will mainly be based on hand-eye coordination, footwork, racquet skills and general fitness.
“And any new enrolments are welcome for afternoon coaching, from ages 7-10.”
With these sessions, Kajer moves forward with the tennis junior development programme, helping to foster those who want to be active and play tennis, and those who want to reach the heights of those who competed in the POJC.
“We’ve identified some of the players we think will be able to step up and compete in the U12 division next year. We have a really good base of young players coming through.
“I’d also like to say a thank you to Bluesky Cook Islands, ANZ Bank, Tennis Cook Islands and Kura Une who did a wonderful job, and thanks for the support from the parents and public.”
For more information contact Malcolm on 75614