Keanna Abraham prepares to start her beam routine.

From Cheer to Gymnastics, Keanna Abraham’s Power Shines at UC Davis

Before UC Davis junior Keanna Abraham began her record-setting floor routine last season, she felt a sense of calm. Just a few deep breaths is all it took to record the highest score in MPSF history.

When the score showed, Abraham didn’t even know she had broken a record. She only realized when her teammates started screaming and embracing her.

“Floor is more fun than any of the other events, so I feel like I’m more able to relax on that event,” said Abraham. “I kind of just do it and know that I know how to do it. I rely on my confidence from practice.”

That performance earned her a 9.975 on floor, which currently stands as the best regular season score in MPSF history. She also scored a 9.925 on her Yurchenko one and a half that same day, notching another UC Davis record, which tied for the second-highest score in MPSF history.

Since arriving at UC Davis in 2021, Abraham has made an immediate impact on the Aggies gymnastics program. In her freshman season, the native of Bakersfield, California, competed on floor and vault in every meet, earning season highs of 9.900 on each event. She also made appearances in the beam lineup, where she notched a career-high 9.925 in her third-ever performance. 

“She just makes it look so easy,” UC Davis head coach Tanya Ho said. “We’ve seen her practice like that often, it’s just about doing it at the right time.” 

Despite her historic success in NCAA gymnastics thus far, Abraham didn’t have the traditional gymnastics background that most of her competitors have. She didn’t officially start gymnastics until the age of 11, when someone at her cheer gym told her she should try it out.

Abraham quickly progressed through the levels, starting off as a Level 5. In the next year, she competed Level 8 and transitioned to Level 9 in the same season. By her freshman year of high school, she had already moved on to Level 10, the highest level in the Developmental Program (formerly JO).

Abraham originally started off balancing both cheer and gymnastics and was able to maintain the schedule pretty well. However, when she entered level 9 and saw how much commitment was needed to progress, she realized that she had to decide between the two. 

“I had to choose because I couldn’t keep missing practice all the time and I couldn’t just [miss] meets,” she recalled.

Eventually, she chose gymnastics because it fit her more as a person. She felt more connected to the people at her gym and she began to notice she was thriving in a gymnastics setting. Despite the connection to the sport, the transition wasn’t always easy for Abraham. She remembers when she started learning a kip during her first week of bars. The next day she woke up with sore abs, something all gymnasts can relate to. But it was a learning experience for Abraham.

“Not going to lie, it was really hard to get used to,” said Abraham. “At some point, I was like ‘Wow, I don’t know if I can do this.’”

Old habits from cheerleading were hard to break; Abraham said that she had trouble with her artistry on floor. She was used to the tight, sharp movements from cheer, whereas gymnastics requires “fancy, flowy, pretty arms, pretty fingers” as Abraham described it. Thanks to her packed gymnastics schedule, she was able to adjust quickly. When times were hard, Abraham persevered and relied on the support of coaches from her cheer program. “They were very supportive and motivated me to keep going,” she recalled.

Today, Abraham is a junior on the UC Davis gymnastics team. This season, Abraham has already broken the 9.800 barrier ten times on the three events she competes. In her first floor performance of the year against Sacramento State, she notched a 9.900, contributing to the Aggies’ first-place ranking on floor in the MPSF, something that her head coach is thrilled to see.

“Keanna has always been strong on floor,” Ho said. “We changed her routine up a bit this year, which makes it a little bit cleaner, which contributes to her big score on our opening night.” Along with her gymnastics skills, Ho appreciates the leadership Abraham brings to the team. “Her attitude in practice is a great example [of how she leads]. She does have hard days, but she doesn’t let those bring her down. If it is a hard day, it’s only ever a day. It’s not going to be a hard week.”

In her first two years as an Aggie, Abraham qualified to the NCAA postseason as an individual, but this year, she hopes to bring the team with her.

“My main goal is to make it to regionals as a team,” Abraham said. “I can only imagine how fun it’s going to be making it as a team and how much more proud I’ll be.”

Ho echoed Abraham’s sentiments, saying that while it is nice for her athletes to see that there are multiple paths to qualify to regionals, qualifying as a team would show others the caliber of athletes she has brought to UC Davis.

“I think we’re just going to get stronger and stronger. It does take a special kind of gymnast [to be a] student-athlete, but we have something great to offer and we’re just getting better.”

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Article by Aaron Doyle, additional reporting by Savanna Wellman

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