Daily Egyptian

Zhang hopes to repeat record-setting performance

By Sean Phee, @SeanPheeDE

Last year, when Sherry Zhang completed her conference dives she had the largest cheers but the smallest splashes. 

Junior diver Kaixuan “Sherry” Zhang said skills, athleticism and gravity had to come together during the dive to make her the record breaking diver she is now.  

Zhang, who is originally from Hu Bei, China, is preparing for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Wednesday through Saturday at Edward Shea Natatorium, a meet she dominated last year.

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She set the MVC, MVC tournament, pool and SIU record for both the one-meter and three-meter dives during last year’s tournament. Zhang was recognized as the MVC Diver of the Year.

SIU swimming coach Rick Walker said the boost Zhang gives to the women’s swimming and diving team is tremendous.

“Having her on the team is like having Brett Favre as your quarterback on a football team,” he said.

Standing at 5 feet tall and weighing about 90 pounds, Zhang’s height is a real asset to her diving, Walker said. Her small stature makes it harder for her to mess up.

Success did not always come easy for Zhang. Walker said Zhang’s improvement between her freshman and sophomore year was impressive.

“She’s someone that we’ve come to rely on for a win,” Walker said. “I don’t know if I would have said that her freshman year, when she first got here, but I can definitely say that now.

Walker said Zhang’s hard work and mentorship from diving coach Joy Zhao has turned her into the best diver in the conference.

“Joy has taken a diver who has beaucoup talent, just a ton of talent but not the confidence to use it, and she has given her that confidence to show her talent,” he said.

Zhao both said Zhang is even better than she was last season. Zhang went on to finish third in the three-meter dive and 11th in the one-meter dive in the NCAA championships. 

Zhao has been coaching SIU diving for the past 12 years, where she has been named MVC Diving Coach of the Year three times. Zhao said Zhang’s teammates give her the confidence and encouragement to dive at the best of her abilities.

“My coach and my teammates encourage me before every dive, they calm my nerves,” Zhang said.

Zhang said one of the most important things she has learned in her diving career is to focus on the task at hand and forget past mistakes.

“Sometimes you might fail a dive, so you have to overcome yourself and tell yourself to forget about a bad dive,” Zhang said.  “You need to focus on the present.”

Zhang has been diving since she was seven years old in China, where competitive diving is different from the United States.  

Zhang said the coaches in China are more strict, and she cannot negotiate with them. She said the coaches are nicer in America.

Walker said Zhang has been doing a strict training regiment all season, but now is just focusing on the final touches and fine tuning of her dives.

Sean Phee can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269

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