Daily Egyptian

Player profiles: Saluki divers Beibei and Baobao Ji

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Sophomore Saluki diver Jiaxin

Sophomore Saluki diver Jiaxin "Baobao" Ji, left, and twin sister Jiarong "Beibei" Ji, both of Taiyuan, China, pose for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, in the Dr. Edward J. Shea Natatorium in the SIU recreation center. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Sophomore Saluki diver Jiaxin "Baobao" Ji, left, and twin sister Jiarong "Beibei" Ji, both of Taiyuan, China, pose for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, in the Dr. Edward J. Shea Natatorium in the SIU recreation center. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Jacob Selsor

SIU’s twin sophomore divers Beibei and Baobao Ji have taken the MVC by storm this season, claiming wins in nine of their 10 combined dive competitions for SIU since arriving from Taiyuan, China just a few years ago.

There is a lot of differences between Carbondale and Taiyuan. Known as the Dragon City, Taiyuan is home to 4,201,591 people and is approximately 7,032 miles away — taking an entire day to travel there from the midwestern U.S.

Despite these differences two things remain the same, diving boards and pools. Twins Beibei and Baobao have made that very clear this season.

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Beibei and Baobao — originally known as Jiarong and Jiaxin respectively — came to Carbondale in 2014, but it was not until this season that they were considered eligible by the NCAA.

The twins learned of SIU’s diving program from their coach at Shanxi Vocational College of Sports in China, where they received much of their dive training. Their mother, Xiaoxia, decided SIU was a good fit and sent her daughters to America.

“[There was] a little bit [of shock coming to America], but we’ve adapted,” Beibei said. “Carbondale is not too bad,” Baobao added with a smile.

If the twins have had to face any hardships since arriving in Carbondale, it certainly has not shown in the pool. Since becoming NCAA-eligible this season, the twins have picked up all sorts of accolades.

Beibei was named MVC Diver of the Week for her performance against Missouri State early in October. She posted a 286.00 to secure the top spot in the three-meter dive — a personal best —while placing second in the one-meter dive with a score of 270.90.

Baobao took MVC’s September Diver of the Month honors when she won two events and placed second in another two during the month.

She won the three-meter against Lindenwood University with a score of 288.80 and placed second in the one-meter with a score of 279.30. She flip-flopped later in the month against Evansville University, winning the one-meter with a score of 278.62 and taking second in the three-meter with a score of 269.17.

Aside from the honors they have earned during the season thus far, it seems the two are always finishing in the top two spots in whatever event they participate in.

In Saturday’s matchup against Illinois State University, Baobao and Beibei finished first and second respectively in the one-meter dive event while placing second and third in the three-meter — the first event this season where neither diver claimed first place.

Despite consistently edging each other out for higher spots on the podium, they claim there’s no sibling rivalry.

“I focus on doing my job great and winning the championship,” Baobao said while Beibei nodded in agreement.

The twins give a lot of credit to their coach Chunhua “Joy” Zhao.

Zhao, who is also of Chinese descent, has coached at SIU for 15 years. The Ji sisters said having a coach here at SIU from their native country helps “quite a bit”, especially with communication.

“There’s no language barrier,” Baobao said. “We can always understand what she’s asking us to do.”

“She helps us focus on the small things and clean up the details,” Beibei added. “We still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Coach Joy has equally high praise for the twins.

“They were already a pretty high level when they got here, so they were pretty good before,” Joy said. “I could not coach them when they arrived because they were ineligible; but since they became eligible I have seen a lot of improvement.”

Joy attributes their dominance this season to their competitiveness, which the coach says has been contagious throughout the whole team.

“They’re very competitive,” Joy said. “They treat every single day like a competition. They’re bringing the competitiveness, as well as excitement, to their teammates and we’ve really improved a lot.”

Joy also has high praise for their excellent work ethic.

“They never stop, they just keep going and going, doing and doing,” Joy said. “They’ll stop when they’re good enough in their eyes.”

Beibei and Baobao — along with the rest of the Saluki swim & dive team — return to competition at 4:00 p.m. Friday inside Dr. Edward J. Shea Natatorium when they host Kentucky, Missouri, and Northwestern in the Saluki Invite.

Sports writer Jacob Selsor can be reached at jselsor@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @jacobselsor_DE 

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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