Northland's latest table tennis superstar, Takaimaania Ngata-Henare, is set on representing New Zealand on the world stage and with her recent results. Who would bet against her?
Ngata-Henare, 12, just returned from last weekend's North Island Individuals competition in Whanganui where she entered in the under-13, under-15 and senior women's divisions.
True to her number one seeding in both divisions, Ngata-Henare won the under-13 and under-15 categories while she claimed a win in the senior division, playing against women with much more years of experience and training.
The weekend's results have been a continuance of her form and accolades received in 2019. At the Northland Sports Awards in March, Ngata-Henare received the female sport code award for table tennis before she went on to win the Northland secondary school table tennis girls' competition last month.
Thanks to her efforts in a trial tournament earlier in the year, Ngata-Henare is set to leave New Zealand for her first formal table tennis competition abroad in August where she will play in the Oceania Junior Championships in Tonga.
Should Ngata-Henare's results in Tonga go well, she could find herself on a plane to Poland in October to play the world's best at the World Cadet Challenge tournament.
The current Huanui College student started the sport at age 10 through a programme offered by her then school, St Francis Xavier Primary School. Now playing against much older and stronger players, the young prodigy said the experience was worth the challenge.
"[The older players] are pretty intimidating but it's a lot of fun," Ngata-Henare said.
"Sometimes you get that feeling that they don't want to lose to a younger person and so they will try really hard, which is why you need to try really hard if you want to get to the next round."
As a goal-orientated player, Ngata-Henare confessed she was somewhat of a perfectionist when it came to achieving her goals and understood the importance of performing well at the Oceania competition.
"I've found that I'm very picky," she said with a laugh.
"I really want to focus on getting better at this one thing and then when I think it's good, that's when I'll move on to the next thing.
"One of the bigger [goals] is doing my best in Tonga, playing with everything I have, all the skills I've learned, I want to take over there and I want to use them."
Coached by Northland table tennis stalwart Kevin Shick, Ngata-Henare's training schedule was as busy as any fulltime professional. The 12-year-old trains every Monday, Thursday and some Fridays, and has club nights on Tuesday and Wednesday.
With tournaments often filling up her weekend, Ngata-Henare said she still found time to focus on things outside of table tennis.
"I guess I just try and focus on what I'm doing at that moment, I only start thinking about [table tennis] when there's a tournament on the weekend."
A big part of Ngata-Henare's success was the influence of her school and her family, notably her grandparents, including grandmother Liane Henry and grandfather Aly Johnson.
Ngata-Henare said her grandfather was an enormous help when competing at a high level and not just in his bag-loading and driving ability.
"Sometimes when I get over-nervous, [Johnson] is always there and he doesn't say much, he's just there and it just makes me calmer."
To follow Ngata-Henare's progress in upcoming tournaments, visit www.ittf.com