Left, referee raises Tilisa Matakaiongo arm after the Utah teen won her division in the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska last March. Right, Tilisa Matakaiongo performs an athletic dance move. She is a member of the state champion Canyon View High School drill team.
Meet Tilisa Matakaiongo: USA wrestling champ, Utah state drill team titlist — and newly baptized Latter-day Saint
Cedar City teenager enjoying a remarkable 2023 that includes winning multiple national and Utah titles and making a life-changing decision to join the Church.
By Jason Swensen
16 May 2023
Turning 16 can be a momentous year for any Latter-day Saint youth — often highlighted by a driver’s license, maybe a first date and plenty of other “soon-to-be-an-adult” privileges.
But Tilisa Matakaiongo is enjoying a “Year 16” like few others. Over the past few months, the Cedar City, Utah, teen has claimed two national wrestling titles, a pair of high school state championships (one in wrestling, another in drill team) — and, on the day before Easter, she was baptized.
And, it must be added, she has accomplished all of that while maintaining a stellar grade point average.
“It has been really eventful, really busy,” said Tilisa, reflecting on the past few months. “But I like to stay busy… I try to just focus on what I’m doing at the moment and not worry too much about what’s coming next.”
So what’s a typical school day been like for the high-energy sophomore?
Tilia arrives early at Canyon View High School to train with the drill team. Then, after academic classes end, she puts on her wrestling gear and practices with the Falcons' wrestling team. Twice a week, she ends her day at the school with another drill team practice.
“So sometimes I’m at the school from 5:30 in the morning to 8 at night,” she said, laughing.
Filling the trophy case
Despite her young age, Tilia’s ability to focus on and enjoy each moment has helped her become one of the country’s top young wrestlers.
A few weeks after helping the Canyon View Talons win Utah’s 3A state drill championship in February, Tilisa claimed her second consecutive state high wrestling title. She added more hardware to her trophy case last March by winning her weight division (200 pounds) in the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska.
Tilisa Matakaiongo stands atop the medal podium after winning her weight division in the 2023 USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, last March. The Latter-day Saint athlete would win a second national tournament weeks later. (Photos courtesy of the Matakaiongo family)
She wasn’t done. On April 29, Tilisa was crowned champion (200 pounds) at the elite National High School Recruiting Showcase in Las Vegas after pinning the country’s #1-ranked high school wrestler.
Tilisa’s mother, Kol Matakaiongo, said she doesn’t think her daughter fully realizes the significance of her athletic accomplishments.
The recent Showcase in Las Vegas “was the first time I’ve really seen Tilisa own her moment. It’s the only time I’ve ever really seen her celebrate… When her arms shot up after the match I just started bawling.
“It has been amazing to watch my daughter accomplish all of these things. But, as I said, I don’t think she realizes everything that she is doing.”
Tilisa has been a “doer” since she was a toddler. She started dancing lessons at age two. Four years later, she began wrestling. The sport was just beginning to welcome female athletes, so young Tilisa was typically matched-up against male competitors with more experience.
“During my first year of wrestling, I didn’t win at all,” she said. “I hated it and wanted to quit… I was just awful when I started. But I got better.”
Tilisa jumped at any opportunity to improve. Her family was eager to help, putting thousands of miles on their vehicles while shuttling their young grappler from one practice session to the next.
“We went anywhere where we could get some training,” she said. “After working so long and hard, I feel like it’s finally starting to pay off now.”
Tilisa is enjoying title-winning success in both dancing (including drill and ballet) and wrestling.
So what’s her favorite — dancing or wrestling?
“I love them both so much because I've been doing them so long,” she said. “I could never pick one over the other — but I feel like wrestling will definitely take me farther.
“So if I had to choose, I'd have to go with wrestling because that's what I plan to do in college and go far with.”
A new, happy Latter-day Saint
After turning 16, Tilisa began meeting with the missionaries. Over time, she prayerfully decided the time was right to become a Church member.
Tilisa Matakaiongo, center, was joined by several loved ones at her baptism on April 8, 2023, in Cedar City, Utah. (Photo courtesy of the Matakaiongo family.)
Scheduling a baptismal date was challenging because of her busy wrestling schedule. “But when we finally found an open weekend, it happened to be Easter weekend, so that was really nice,” she said.
In a year marked by unforgettable moments, stepping down into the font and being baptized ranks at the top of Tilisa’s personal highlight list.
“I am so happy to be a member,” she said. “I recently got my first temple recommend. Now I can go to the temple and be baptized for my other family members who were not able to.”