Three Māori US college rugby champions

By James Perry

Māori ladies are making waves at Lindenwood University, known across the USA for its rugby program.

Kodi Barlow, Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru and Malia Hemehema have had a golden six months together playing both 15s and 7s rugby for Lindenwood University, in St Charles, Missouri, USA.

The Lions play in the Elite Division 1 competition in America, and this year they won the 15s National Championship, beating Life University 36-8 in the final in California. 

They followed that up a few weeks later in Colorado, winning the USA Sevens National Championships.

The winning didn't stop there, the Lions won the Collegiate Rugby Championships 7s title.  In both 7s tournaments, they beat Pennsylvania State University in the final.

Barlow, of Ngāti Tuwharetoa descent, says, "To be able to come home with what's called a 'triple crown' was an amazing achievement in my first semester." 

Barlow and Hemehema have both been at Lindenwood for just over 6 months, while Tarau-Peehikuru has been there for a year now. 

Hemehama and Tarau-Peehikuru both grew up in Helensville, north-west of Auckland. Barlow attended Pakuranga College in Auckland's south-east.

Although they never quite knew each other before arriving at Lindenwood University, Barlow soon discovered their paths had crossed before in New Zealand. They all had been a part of the 'Go for Gold' programs that sought to develop the next generation of Black Ferns players.

However, it wasn't until they were discussing their previous camps "we found out we were at the same camp together."

Barlow and Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru who both play in the centres or on the wing were both named in the Collegiate Sevens Dream Team this year.

While being in America may appear to hold up their hopes of earning national honours in NZ, gaining a scholarship to a US College is a fulfillment of a dream for Barlow, while for the others, it was an opportunity to play rugby overseas that appealed.

Barlow, who is studying criminal justice when not training or playing, says technology is helping her stay connected to New Zealand based coaches. 

"I know quite a few of the coaches follow me on social media so they all see many of my clips from my tournaments in America."

They each have a scholarship that pays the bills at Lindenwood.

Flanker Hemehema is studying Business and she lays out what seems to be strict conditions, not only on their scholarships but also their place in the team.

She says, as well as keeping up appearances in class, "You have to make sure you're keeping your grades up which is above a 2.5 [GPA - grade point average]."

The girls haven't yet solidified their future ambitions for rugby, but are doing their best to ensure they have a secure future regardless. 

They have been at home during the New Zealand winter, and will in the next few weeks prepare to head back to the cold Missouri winter, and the hopes of defending their triple crown.