Daily Egyptian

Divers at rival schools pull for each other

By Aaron Graff

Two lifelong friends moved halfway around the world to compete against each other, but do not consider each other rivals.

Saluki junior diver Sherry Zhang and Illinois State Redbird senior diver Wenting Zhang both are both from China. The two were roommates growing up in school, and both qualified for the NCAA tournament last season.

Sherry said she approaches diving against Wenting the same as anyone else.

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“I really don’t think that much,” Sherry said. “I just focus on my dive, and I’m really happy to say she’s my friend.”

In the national tournament, Wenting finished 15th in the one-meter dive and sixth in the three-meter dive. Sherry finished 11th in the one-meter dive and third in the three-meter dive.

“[Sherry] was nervous,” SIU diving coach Joy Zhao said. “It was the first time for her [at nationals]. It was the first time for me too, I was nervous also. I’m so proud of her and she dove very well in the prelims. The finals, she got really nervous. She’ll be better than last year.”

The two competed against each other Saturday for the first time since the 2014 NCAA tournament. Sherry won both events.

“In my opinion the way that [Sherry’s] been diving, there’s no doubt in my mind she’s a frontrunner to possibly win a national title at the end of the year,” Illinois State diving coach Phil Hoffmann said.

Wenting said she practiced every day, but is focused more on the tournaments coming up season.

“Our season really ramps up after the new year,” Hoffmann said. “I think we all point to conference and then zones and hopefully nationals again. It’s a long road.”

Sherry said it is definitely possible the two both make the NCAA tournament again, but there is no guarantee.

“Diving is hard to tell the results,” Sherry said. “You have to finish the meet before you know it.”

Wenting said diving at the NCAA tournament was a great experience for her last season, and it helped her learn for her final year as a Redbird.

“I want to do great at the conference and also make the NCAA’s again,” Wenting said.

Hoffmann said he never thought SIU and ISU would compete at the national level, but it became a reality and a turning point for his coaching career with all the talent surrounding them.

“Right before the girls dove in the three-meter event, Missy Franklin from Cal Berkley, the darling of the Olympics broke the American record right as the girls were warming up,” Hoffmann said. “It was like, ‘Okay, this is real.’”

The two next compete against each other in the Missouri Valley Conference championships Feb. 18-24 in Carbondale.

“I wouldn’t even call it a rivalry,” Hoffmann said. “It’s a lot of mutual respect. I know [Zhao] and I have great respect for each other. We want the best for the athletes.”

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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