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UCLA Ninja Warrior team felt the pressure of challenging USC on College Madness

When they found out about the match-up, things got serious.

On episode three of Team Ninja Warrior: College Madness, we witnessed long time college rivals UCLA and USC square off. It was one heck of a battle.

UCLA swept USC in the first round, sending them into the knockout round against Stanford. But USC fought back, defeated Stanford, and set themselves up for another rematch with UCLA in the relay round. It was a tight race, and the lead changed a few times. In the end, USC made an error on the trampoline that ended their bid for glory.

Amanda Adams, James Vaughan and Carter Allen make up the hard-working UCLA team. All are third year students with rigorous course loads as well as active athletes. In fact, their qualifying episode aired right in the middle of their finals week, adding just a smidgen of stress to their first television appearances.

We found a 20 minute window where Amanda, James and Carter could all be in the same place at the same time and got the scoop on their Ninja Warrior experience and defending UCLA’s honor against USC.

How did you first hear about College Madness?

AA: Someone actually reached out to me. One of the execs in my sorority went to a meeting and Ninja Warrior had reached out because the Greek system has one of the largest populations of students.

So she’s like, “Oh this is totally meant for you. They’re looking for college students to compete. You have to do it!” So I applied and I let people know. I wanted James to come out with me, and through other friends, Carter found out.

How did the team all come together?

CA: Well I actually knew James and Amanda. Less than I do now. We’ve gotten really close. If you spend pretty much 24 hours together for three days, you get pretty close.

But before that I actually heard about it through a friend of mine who’s really into gymnastics and all that stuff. He was like, “Let’s be on a team together!” And I said okay. Then he said, “I’m actually just going to go to Kilimanjaro during that weekend.” And I was like, “Okay. Great, Cool.”

I thought they were going to put me with some randos. And then they put me with these awesome guys.

But we’ve known each other prior. I’ve worked out with Amanda. Almost every week we’d go to open gym together. So I knew them well.

Were you fans of the show before this?

AA: I was a big fan of regular Ninja Warrior. So personally for me, I’m such a big fan, I was really excited to even dip my toes in the same world as those athletes.

CA: I actually remember watching G4 way back when. Not even the American Ninja Warrior. I watched that every single week when I was younger. Right around when American Ninja Warrior started coming out, I started throwing myself into studies so I wasn’t really watching as much TV.

It’s actually funny. Ninja Warrior has always been on my mind, but it wasn’t actually American Ninja Warrior, or actually even going out for it. I’ve always just loved watching it. But yeah, it was awesome to be able to compete.

JV: I’ve always enjoyed watching it. I have lots of friends and family that are super into it. Some of my cousins are obsessed with it. They’re often watching it at family events and stuff.

What was the application process like?

AA: When I first expressed interest, I just had email communication back and forth with a bunch of people. They basically said we had to compile a video. Half of the video showing your personality, your school spirit. They really wanted to see why you wanted to be on the show, they wanted to see your bubbly personality.

Then the other half was showing off your training and your strength. So all of us got to compile some pretty fun videos about why we deserved to be on the show.

Did you have to do a team video? Or did everyone have to do an individual one?

CA: That [a group video] would not have actually been possible because we were on different sides of the country. I was living in Richmond, Virginia this summer. So we didn’t get to train together at all until we got to Ninja Warrior.

You’re all athletes already, but how did you adjust your training when you knew you had to go head to head on the Ninja Warrior course?

JV: I’ve always enjoyed rock climbing. These past few years I’ve been getting back into it. But this summer when I found out I’d made it onto the show, I started going a lot more. I was riding my bike to work everyday and I decided to start riding to the climbing gym almost every day after work, and working out intentionally in addition to just climbing.

Every day I’d come home with my arms super pumped on the bike. Barely able to squeeze the brakes. But that was my main increase in training.

AA: A lot of our training is for fun. So once we found out about the show, a lot of it became intentional working out. Before, most of what we did was just purely for joy.

CA: I only pretty much climb to work out and I was like, “Wait, I only go vertical and have almost no cardiovascular whatsoever because I don’t really breathe hard when I climb.” I like the slow, steady kind of stuff. That and yoga.

I started trail running almost every day, or running in the morning.

You guys didn’t get to train together until you got to the shoot. Did you take time to assess each other’s skills and figure out how to place people?

JV: I think that was more talking about it. Plans and strategies. Plans and methods to optimize the use of our skills on the course.

AA: We have trained together in the past, just without the intention for the show. So we all knew what each other’s strengths were. Once we finally did meet up, it was more talking strategy.

How did it feel when you found out you were going to go up against USC?

JV: That totally changed how I felt about it. Before I was like, “Oh this will be cool, being on Ninja Warrior. This will be fun.” I wasn’t too nervous about it or anything. And then when they said that, I was like, “Oh shoot, we’re representing UCLA in this rivalry. We have to do well now.”

CA: Added pressure.

AA: Yeah, added a layer of pressure.

JV: But also made it more exciting. We’re representing UCLA against USC.

What was it like experiencing the shoot?

AA: Personally for me, since we went later in the day, I just had a bad case of nerves. I like to let my stress out by making a lot of noises and Carter found that really funny. Unique. Like how in yoga, you breathe out, but mine are really high pitched squeaks. Just expressing my emotions through noise.

It felt like hours that I was just waiting there, full of nerves. I think waiting on the start platform was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.

But I was really trying to focus and hone in on “I know that I’m a strong athlete.” I just have to trust my body. It was a really long day.

CA: It was a very, very long day, especially since we went towards the end of the shoot. But those noises were weird. I’d be training or stretching and behind me I’d hear something that seemed to be a mix between a lemming and a pterodactyl. It was a very interesting experience.

So that definitely broke me out of being in my head, which was good. And I laughed a lot, and made a lot of fun of you [Amanda].

AA: We all have a pretty good relationship. So I think we all just used humor and our friendship to dispel the nerves for most of the day.

JV: For me, I’m not one to get super nervous a lot of times. But like I said, when it came down to representing our school against USC, that’s the part that made me nervous about it. But other than that, I felt pretty good. I was mostly just excited to play on the course. It was really fun.

There were some American Ninja Warrior stars hanging around the set. Who’d you get to meet?

CA: Natalie Duran. We hung out with her a fair amount. She’s very supportive of us because she’s also a Bruin. That was really exciting, getting to meet her and her giving us advice. It was really valuable.

AA: She was like our mentor in a sense. Between runs she’d give us tips. She, obviously, is very full of energy, so I think she gave us that extra enthusiasm we were looking for.

CA: We got to meet Jessie Graff briefly. She pumped us up too.

AA: She gave us tips on obstacles I was wanting to get through quicker. She gave me some really awesome tips for that.

Kacy [Catanzaro] was also present on the day. Brent [Steffensen] was up in the holding booth with us, and I saw him giving a lot of other schools advice. It was cool seeing all the faces you’ve seen on TV be in the same realm as you.

Are you doing any Ninja training together now to grow as a team in case there’s a second season of College Madness?

JV: At least for me, I’ve done more Ninja specific style training since then. Being in Santa Monica at the original muscle beach, there’s some people there who set up some equipment, obstacles similar to what you’d find on the course. So we’ve been doing that. It’s really fun.

CA: I’ve been slack-lining a lot more because balance has always been a challenge for me. It’s definitely part of the training. Also, whenever Amanda and I workout, she puts up silks. That’s definitely getting a different type of grip strength.

AA: On the show I actually had a sprained ankle and had it taped. There were some obstacles that I really wanted to go after. So for me, now that my ankle is nearly healed, I’ve found all the gyms that have Warped Walls and I’m super excited to annihilate that obstacle.

What’s the reaction been like from the rest of the campus?

AA: I think the hardest thing about it is they always want to know how we’ve done. We’ve had such positive support. All our friends are so behind us, but then they all want to know how we did.

So we’ve been trying to say “Trust me. It will be cooler if you don’t know.”

Hopefully the UCLA team had a moment with their friends to celebrate their victory over USC between finals. In just a few weeks’ time, we’ll see them try to keep that winning momentum going in the Team Ninja Warrior: College Madness championships.

You can read a full recap of this episode here.