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Tysha Ikenasio – the talent behind the name


As you make your way through the Auditorium of Sancta Maria College, it won’t be long until you find yourself gazing at the many names etched onto the Sancta Maria College Honours boards. Names of students who have inspired, created and left a legacy for those after them to follow. And as your eyes begin to scan, you’ll notice a name that is up there in four different years. That name being Tysha Ikenasio.

Tysha is a two-time winner of the Senior School Sportswoman of the Year and two-time co-winner of the Middle School Sportswoman of the Year. She’s a remarkable athlete who could excel at any sport she was put into and since leaving the College at the end of 2015, has gone onto play club rugby in Japan and was recently named in the Black Ferns Sevens Development Team.

Behind the name, is a journey of drive, resilience and passion that has ultimately led Tysha to where she is today. For her, that journey began in East Auckland where she grew up and, along with her older brother Cody, was brought up by her mother. Of Samoan and European descent, Tysha attended Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Primary before moving on to Sancta Maria College.

It was visible from an early age that she had an aptitude for sports. She played netball, tag and touch representatively and was the youngest member of the New Zealand Touch Open Women’s team, at the 2015 Touch World Cup in Australia.

But it wasn’t until Year 12 when the now 21-year-old played the fast-paced format of rugby sevens for the first time. “We had a ‘give it a go day’ and Mr. Marnewick (NZ Rugby Secondary Schools Development Manager) put together a Sancta Maria College girls 7s team. It was a new sport just coming out and a lot of Touch players were changing as it had become an Olympic Sport. So, I decided to try. I then got picked up for Auckland 7s,” says Tysha.

From here, Tysha got the opportunity to play in Japan straight out of high school and knowing about the incredible places that rugby could take her, she jumped at the chance to not only play the sport she loved in a new country, but to further challenge herself, especially being away from family, which, she says, assisted her in her personal growth. Tysha played for the Tokyo Phoenix for two

years and is currently in her second year with the Nagato Blue Angels who are based in the south of Japan’s Honshu Island.

Along with 11 other players she recently attended the Black Ferns development camp where she got to lace up against the Japanese women’s side. Tysha spoke about the important lessons she took away from the experience saying: “It is all about development in yourself, your mind and your game. I learnt a lot off the field about team and mindset. That having a strong mind is just as important as being physically capable.”

Family to Tysha means everything and, throughout her life, it has been their encouragement that has propelled her to achieve her goals and get up every morning. “I play especially to make them proud…from a young age I have always loved sport and been hard on myself through any sport I play. What motivates me is how much support I get from my family and friends, especially my Mum who would take me to every training and watch every tournament of mine…my Dad is (also) my biggest reminder to take every opportunity.”

Faith is something that plays a big part in her life and before anything big or important, she always prays, knowing that God will take care of everything. As well as her family and friends, there have been other people throughout Tysha’s journey who have played a significant role. “I have had many influential people in my life. I would say through rugby and life, two of my close mates who are also in the women’s NZ 7s team are Niall Williams and Theresa Fitzpatrick (who) I have played alongside…both (in) touch and rugby.”

Williams who is an Olympic silver medalist and a Rugby Sevens World Cup Champion shared her thoughts on Tysha and her progress as well as the first time the pair met. “I met Tysha about 5 years ago at Auckland rugby when we both were starting our 7s journeys, she was quiet but cheeky and an amazing athlete with great skill and speed to burn. (She is a) humble young girl who I knew was going places. Tysha has developed into a beautiful young lady who has achieved many great things and I’m proud to be her friend and watch her reach her potential in 7s. When she decided to head to Japan to better her game at 7s, I knew it was outside her comfort zone but was proud of her for taking up that opportunity. A few years later and she’s currently wearing my number as she plays for the Black Ferns 7s development team, I couldn’t be any prouder of her.”

The route that Tysha has taken after finishing school is different to the direction which many students take. And specially at a time where Year 13s are currently deciding what universities to apply for, there are many students who have the potential to turn their sporting prowess into a career but think that University might be the only realistic outcome. Tysha believes that University isn’t for everyone. She says, “I definitely would say to go (to University) if you know what you want to do. But if you were like me and had no idea then there is no rush. I knew from a younger age I didn’t want to go to university, and I knew my strength was in sports. Like my mum always says, ‘once one door closes another one opens’, and I fully believe that. You don’t have to cut your chances short and you should do what you love.”

Tysha is the embodiment of what is possible when focus and hard work meet. For her, it has been a journey where she has had to fight through adversity and be fearless in her pursuits. “I think from a

young age I had been through stuff not everyone goes through and it challenged me. From experiences I have faced I feel that you can use it for the good and the bad and it depends on yourself (and) how you use your past.”

Wise beyond her years, Tysha admits that she loves any music that is old school and if she’s listening to music prior to a game or during training, you could expect her to be listening to ‘The second time around’ by American R&B group Shalamar. Off the field, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and being on the beach. She says that the closest place to her heart in the world is Hahei, which is a beautiful beach and village on the Coromandel, Peninsula.

Other hobbies that Tysha enjoys include “binge watching Netflix (and) movies…as well as doing scrapbooking, arts and crafts.” She doesn’t have any rituals or a specific routine she follows but after matches she enjoys having chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk or just chocolate.

And when Tysha isn’t playing the game and is watching, she loves seeing Portia Woodman race down the park. “Her speed and one on one is amazing, (she’s) one of the best there ever will be in the game.”

This year, Tysha’s major goal is to make the Black Ferns Women’s 7s team and when asked about what her reaction would be to being selected, she says, “I would be in shock and probably be speechless and would have to tell my Mum first! She is my biggest supporter.”

There aren’t many people out there who can say that they have played at almost the highest level in four different codes. Who have represented their country at the age of 17 and who have played with some of the very best. But for Tysha, this is only just scratching the surface. And I think we can all be inspired by her story and her persistence and devotion to bringing her dreams to fruition even if we play sports or not.

So the next time you glance up at the Honours Boards and see that name, you may just look at it a little differently. Sometimes we don’t realize that behind every name and accolade, is a journey worth telling and in this case a story of New Zealand’s next big sevens star.

Shontelle Matano