The U.S. Women’s Rugby team dominated their opening match against China to walk away with a 28-14 win, then defeated Japan 17-7 Thursday to secure a spot in the Tokyo Olympic quarterfinals.
One standout and viral moment that shook the internet was Team USA’s Ilona Maher’s stiff-arm seen around social media.
In a game clip edited with slow motion replaying the moment, Maher gave Japan's Honoka Tsutsumi multiple stiff-arms as she clenched the football and powerhoused down the field and through her opponents.
Ilona Maher, the breakout TikTok star of the Tokyo Olympics
Maher is not only a breakout star in the Tokyo Olympics, but also on TikTok.
Maher has amassed more than half a million followers on the platform with her funny, transparent and relatable videos that gives her fans an inside glimpse into the Rugby star’s personal life and a behind-the-scenes look at the team’s time in Tokyo.
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In one recent post, Maher hilariously sought Hank Green’s advice “for a friend” (meaning herself) in a video that has been viewed more than 1.3 million times.
Maher has been sharing her TikTok success and spotlight with her teammates by highlighting them in videos after each game, including the latest that featured Kristi Kirshe after the team’s first win over China.
In another post with more than 3 million views, the Rubgy star that moonlights as a social media influencer showed her teammate Joanne “Nana” Faavesi braiding hair over audio of an overworked Cardi B with the caption “when you only have one braider on your team.”
“TikTok is a way I can escape and not stress about upcoming games,” Maher said in one of her viral TikTok videos.
Ilona Maher is from Burlington, Vermont
Maher is a native of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington.
The New Englander, who is an apparent natural-born athlete, attended Burlington High School, where she played field hockey, basketball and softball before beginning her Rugby journey at 17 years old in her senior year.
Maher says she tries to spend as much time as possible with her family in Vermont, according to her Team USA profile.
Maher’s father also played rugby
Being a rugby star runs through Maher’s bloodline. Her father, Meineke Maher, reportedly played the sport at Saint Michael's College.
She competed on Quinnipiac University’s rugby team for 3 years
The Team USA breakout star fully transitioned to playing rugby during her sophomore year at Quinnipiac University.
Maher earned All-American Honors and led her team to three titles in the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association. Maher also earned the MA Sorensen Award as the National Player of the Year in 2017.
The star athlete has #BeautyAndBrains, as she captions in her social media posts.
While studying nursing at Quinnipiac, Maher made the Dean’s List and was a member of the National Honors Society. She also volunteered as an environmental ambassador between Vermont and Japan, as well as donated her time to the Meridian Humane Society.
She plans to follow her mother’s path to one day becoming a nurse, while also playing and coaching rugby.