MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Four Maplewood girls took part of the National Ninja League World Championships recently in Greensboro, NC. Corinne Kosienski, sisters Tessa and Hannah Grella, and Talia Gewirtz competed with 16 other young people as part of Team Center Court from sports facility Center Court in Chatham. Gewirtz did the best on the team, placing fourth all around in the Pre Teen Division. 

Center Court’s travel team Ninjas compete in obstacle courses such as those seen on the television show American Ninja Warriors; the girls were part of a team of 20 among some 2,000 athletes of all ages who competed Feb. 21-23. The team coaches are Brayden Provan and professional Ninjas Joe Capo and Abby Clark. 

Talia couldn’t have predicted a fourth place finish a year and a half ago. “I wanted to be a gymnast and I went to open gym” at Center Court. She was told she’d have to start as a beginner in gymnastics, but when one of the Ninja coaches saw what she could do, they suggested the Ninja travel team would fit well with her athleticism. Having seen the tv show, The 12 year old said, “I was really excited. I wanted to start that week — which I did.”

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The South Orange Middle School student was proud of her finish at “National,” as all the girls called the competition. “My goal was to be in the stage one last wave, and I was, with Hannah. I ended up getting fourth place over all,” which was out of 123 girls there; 201 boys also competed in the Pre Teen Division. The event was live streamed on YouTube.

Hannah Grella, 11, said “My favorite part of this weekend was finishing stage two… I didn’t think I could do it,” but she toughed it out. The last obstacle of stage two was hanging on a rope upside down, then using her feet to push a sheet of Plexiglas to get to the finish line. When she accomplished the obstacle, she said, “I was like ‘oh my God’ and I ran over and smacked. That. Buzzer!” The Winston School student got to stage three, came in first in stage two, and first in the Climb the Ladder Skill. 

This was Corinne’s first National although she had watched it before “through a live stream. It was bigger than I thought. It was very exciting.” She started in the sport at the Ninja summer camp at Center Court. She is 12, and attends Maplewood Middle School. She said her favorite obstacle is “laches, which is swinging from bar to bar.” She feels the hardest one is “the cliffhanger.” 

Tessa Grella, age 10, has been on the travel team for one and a half years; she is in the mature kids division of the competition. When she’s competing, she said, “I’m very nervous at first, but then it’s really fun.” She is a student at Oak Knoll. What advice would Tessa give other girls who want to try the sport? “You can do it if you practice.” 

And the practice is not a cake walk. Five hours a week, the girls warm up running, doing burpees, hanging for five minutes, and jumping rope. The main part of practice is doing the circuits of the obstacle course. “People can get really tired,” said Hannah.

Hannah said she loves the practices even if they are strenuous and sometimes she “can’t hardly move after.” The practices paid off: each competitor must qualify individually to get to compete at the national level. She said for her and her teammates, “It was the best experience of our lives.”