Starting in July, D’ahni Branch and Leah Fredericks will be a thousand miles from their Carmel homes as they prepare for their collegiate sport.
The 2023 Carmel High School graduates will be part of Baylor University’s acrobatics and tumbling team. Baylor, based in Waco, Texas, captured its eighth consecutive National Collegiate Acrobatic and Tumbling Association National Championship title in late April.
“At least we have each other to figure things out,” Fredericks said of being so far from home. “We’ll be rooming together with two other girls from the team.”
Fredericks had known Branch’s younger sister, Nylah, first through gymnastics.
“Once I joined the cheer program (as a senior), we clicked right away,” Fredericks said. “We’ve become good friends.”
Fredericks and Branch were recruited as bases for the acrobatics and tumbling team. Branch said strength is key to being a base.
“We’ve always stayed on the bottom, so we had to gain strength to be able to do that,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks competed in gymnastics until her junior year at the Jaycie Phelps Athletic Center in Greenfield and was coached by Phelps, a 1996 U.S. Olympian.
“Because of (an) injury, I decided to switch into a different sport,” Fredricks said.
Fredericks started competitive cheer as a senior and was named to the 2022 All-State Cheer team. Fredericks never lifted weights until her senior year but became Branch’s partner during weight-lifting class.
Branch and Fredericks were on the football cheerleading unit, which also does competitive cheer competitions.
“I enjoyed the competitive part of it. It wasn’t just games on Friday nights,” Fredericks said. “We also had routines we did at the state level and the national level, too.”
Fredericks said her gymnastics coaches told her about the sport of acrobatics and tumbling and helped her reach out to colleges.
“They helped me into my transition of doing cheer and working on tumbling skills at gymnastics,” Fredericks said.
Branch, whose father is a former NFL receiver Deion Branch, first attended a tumbling camp at Baylor. Fredericks and Branch then attended an overnight camp together in the summer of 2022.
“They don’t give out full scholarships yet because it’s an emerging sport,” Branch said. “So, you get a partial (scholarship) and you can stack other (scholarships) on top of it as well.”
Branch said practices start in September, but the competition starts the first week of January and runs to late April.
Branch also competed in gymnastics when she was growing up. She stopped in eighth grade and started cheerleading in school.
“I was taking tumbling classes, and that’s where I got really interested in it,” Branch said. “The tumbling coach thought I would be a good fit for acrobatics and tumbling because I had a gymnastics and cheer background.”
Branch said she knew she wanted to be a student-athlete in college, so that’s when she first went to a camp at Baylor. Branch also was a sprinter on the Greyhounds track and field team. She was a member of the 400-meter relay team that placed fourth June 3 in the IHSAA girls track and field state finals in Bloomington.
“I feel like gymnastics has set me up for all the sports I’ve done growing up because there is a level of discipline to it that coincides with any sport I’ve ever done,” Branch said. “Coming into track, I had the muscle strength and muscle endurance to overexert my body many different times.”
Her father spent the 2021 season as the CHS receivers coach. He is now working at his alma mater University of Louisville as director of player development for the football team.