Keenyn Won never had the intention of becoming a student-athlete, let alone a coach.
But after learning about acrobatics & tumbling at the end of her freshman year at Oregon, she fell in love with the sport and couldn’t help but pursue it.
“It’s really crazy,” Won said. “I feel like the story of how I got this far is just picture-perfect. It was coming full circle to where it all started.”
Eight years after helping to launch the Ducks’ program, Won returned to Eugene to become the team’s third head coach since its official start in 2010.
“It’s exciting being able to have someone that was on the mat and have this exact experience, relate to us and coach us,” junior Payton Coon said. “She knows what she’s talking about because she’s been in our shoes.”
After visiting Oregon’s campus her senior year of high school, Won knew Oregon was the place for her. Coming off a competitive cheerleading season in which she was named the Hawaii High School Athletics Association Cheerleader of the Year, she particularly liked the university’s athletics — even though, at the time, she had no intentions of continuing her athletic career.
However, once school started, Won realized she missed competing.
She heard Oregon would be starting a new team which would consist of all women and was “going to be cheer, but not called cheer.” The idea of potentially being back on the mat intrigued her. She reached out to the program’s coach, Felecia Mulkey, and was invited to attend a walk-on tryout in the following fall.
Not having any previous knowledge of acrobatics & tumbling, Won was instantly amazed as she saw her first glimpse into the sport.
“It took away the bows and the makeup and the skirts, and took all the athletic components and the scoring of gymnastics into this sport, which were all the things that I fell in love with in the competitive side,” Won said. “So, I walked into that practice and I knew it was for me.”
The 30 women on the roster became the first Oregon acrobatics & tumbling varsity team. Not only was Won back doing what she loved, but she was helping build a movement.
“It was just so cool to be that pioneer,” she said. “A new sport hadn’t been created in decades, so to just be a part of that history and the making, that’s the theme that we had in those first years of the sport.”
Won competed in three seasons for the Ducks, winning five individual NCATA national titles and helping the team earn the 2011 and 2012 NCATA Championship titles.
After graduating in 2012, Won didn’t have any desire to become a coach. Yet after a year, she realized she missed the sport too much.
Around this time, she got a call from Mulkey asking her if she was interested in helping to start the program at Hawaii Pacific University. Won accepted the offer and moved back to her home state.
“It was surreal,” she said. “Every single athlete on that first team bought in. I told them on the very first day in our first team meeting, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but just trust me for one year. Give me 110 percent for one year. If after one year, you hate the sport we can part ways, that’s cool, but give me one year.’”
Won spent four seasons with the Sharks, leading them to a 17-14 overall record and was honored as the 2014 NCATA Coach the Year.
The 2019 season marks Won’s second year with Oregon after going 5-4 during her first season back in Eugene last year. Her athletes said they admire the sense of loyalty Won has to not only the Oregon program but to the sport itself.
“I think it’s really cool having a coach that’s been here since the beginning,” senior Hannah Blair said. “She was here when they started the sport, so who would know more about it?”
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni