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Najee Richardson built a team that picks up where his skills leave off

Phoenix Force consists of three Ninjas whose strengths come together.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

Najee Richardson is a force on American Ninja Warrior. In season nine, he made it all the way to Stage Three of the National Finals. He dominated Stage Two for a second time on USA vs the World. He’s also been a strong leader on Team Ninja Warrior and now, Ninja vs Ninja as the captain of Phoenix Force.

Najee’s team is made up of Cassie Craig and Michael Torres. Both Cassie and Michael have American Ninja Warrior experience. Together, they formed a formidable team that ultimately moved on to the playoffs. However, the journey wasn’t without its bumps. The team suffered setbacks a few times in the relay races. Their efforts to come back together and devise a game place for success were nothing short of herculean, with Najee battling physical symptoms of exhaustion to the bitter end.

You can read a full recap of the action here.

We talked to Najee just a few minutes after his team’s win in the playoffs to get his perspective on what happened.

Dream Team #PhoenixForce #NinjaVsNinja #TeamNinjaWarrior

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How did you put together Phoenix Force this year?

NR: For me, particularly, American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja is not my forte. I don’t like to go fast. I like to really think about my movements and think about each foot placement, each hand hold. I really like to think over what I’m doing. So I wanted to put someone on my team who’s faster than me. Someone who I know can rival me on the course and even push me to my limit. That’s what I tried to do. So I’m very glad I picked Michael Torres.

For Cassie Craig, she is a veteran in the sport. She’s been here three times so she really understands how this runs and she has a great knowledge of how to stay calm. How to keep the morale high on the team even if things might not be going our way. Great morale and high energy is what we need to keep our head in the game when we’re not doing as well as we want to. So Cassie was an easy choice for overall morale on the team.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

How did you guys rally after the few incidences on the Tick Tock? What were you talking about on the sidelines?

NR: We were just talking about, “You know what? Shake it off.” I like to think my team is full of incredible athletes and we have such unique abilities that make us a real threat in this competition. When we fall we just have to shake it off, not let it get in our heads, because we still have an opportunity to come back. When my team realized, “You know what? Yeah, we do have an opportunity to come back. This isn’t the end.” That’s when we kicked it into high gear and really pushed ourselves to make up for this little speed bump.

What were your thoughts when you had to face team Think Tank at the start?

NR: I was really nervous to be completely honest with you. Think Tank, all these teams. None of these teams can be taken for granted. But Think Tank in particular, you’ve got Noah Kaufman, who is a legend. You’ve got Matt Wilder, who, out of all of his races last season, didn’t lose a single one. Or if he did lose one, it was only one out of the crazy amount that he did. He’s so fast, he’s so efficient, smooth. This is a team we have to go up against. A veteran team. Two guys who are legends, who are very confident in their abilities and then, you have a team made up of rookies and underdogs.

I was really nervous, but I knew that we could pull it off. It was great to go up against the guys. They really pushed me to my limit. I know they pushed Cassie. I know they pushed Torres to his limit as well. It was an honor to go up against those guys.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

Then you watched Frostbite bring it on the course against Team TNT. What were your thoughts when you realized you’d be facing them in the final race?

NR: Like I said, in this competition you can’t take a single team for granted. They proved that. Frostbite got up to the start line against TNT and I think a lot of the crowd expected TNT to have a clean sweep. You have Brett Sims who’s an amazing athlete. You’ve got Travis Rosen who is a freak of nature. SO quick. Then you’ve got Frostbite and they’re kind of unknown. You haven’t really seen them go that fast. Now they swept TNT and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we have to go up against that now. Maybe we’re the underdogs!”

So we get up against them and it’s just remembering to run our own race. Don’t worry about who’s next to us. Push ourselves to our limit and really just focus on what we’re doing, not what the other person next to us is doing. Even though that’s extremely hard. Just to really run our race and push ourselves past our limits.

So, do you want to talk about your slip on the Zig Zag Climb?

NR: Oh my gosh. Not really. Like I said, this competition is really not my forte. It’s something that I’m still admittedly working through. I’m still working to work off instincts. A course like this, you have to go off instincts. You can be one of the fastest runners. One of the fastest obstacle racers in the world, but if you don’t trust your instincts, someone else who’s slower than you, they will take it.

For me, I’m still learning how to trust my instincts. I have an amazing ability. I’m not going to downplay that at all. I believe I am an amazing athlete. But I have trouble trusting myself sometimes. That’s what happened.

We’re going to the finals. So I’m going to really try and evolve in that sense of trusting my instincts and maybe pushing myself faster than I ever have gone before.

Are you going to change your team strategy at all for the playoffs?

NR: I think it’s going to depend on who we are going up against. It’s going to depend on which team we’re going up against and what their run order will be. Then we’re going to decide from there. I’m more of a power guy, so the back half of the course is more my specialty. Michael Torres is all speed and instinct, so it’s going to depend on who our opponents are.

Phoenix Force will return to Ninja vs Ninja after the wildcard rounds in a few weeks.