Daily Egyptian

Zhang puts Salukis on national scoreboard

By Aaron Graff

Sophomore diver Sherry Zhang was roughly 700 miles away from her teammates this weekend, but received all of their support.

Zhang qualified for the national tournament in the 1-meter and 3-meter dives at NCAA Zone Diving in mid-March and was the only representative of SIU’s swimming and diving team at the national tournament in Minneapolis, Minn. She earned All-American honors in both events.

She was the Missouri Valley Conference diver of the year after winning the 1-meter and 3-meter dives in the conference tournament. Zhang was the MVC diver of the week four times this season and an MVC scholar-athlete of the week.

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“I’m honored to represent our school in this big meet,” Zhang said.

Zhang finished the 1-meter dive in 12th place Thursday. While this was good for All-American honors, it isn’t her best event. Diving coach Joy Zhao said the 1-meter board is better fitted for divers with more body weight. Zhang is five-feet tall and only weighs 80 pounds.

Zhang competed in the 3-meter dive Friday and was in the lead after the preliminaries. She finished in third place with a score of 385.20 and earned All-American honors again.

Coach Rick Walker said Zhang’s success could help the recruiting process in the future.

“It means the world to the program,” Walker said. “It’s an SIU athlete making the championships. It’s huge, there are a lot of programs that don’t get there.”

Zhao said Zhang was nervous before the meet; she had junior diver Kegan Skelton and senior diver Brittany Weigel talk to Zhang to calm her down.

“Coach (Zhao) actually texted me and said, ‘Can you please talk to Sherry? She’s very nervous and she wants you to kind of comfort her’,” Weigel said.

This was the first time Zhang competed in the national tournament.

“She doesn’t have many big meets like this,” Skelton said. “This (was) her first time experiencing a very big meet without her teammates; she just has (Zhao).”

Weigel said she watched all of Zhang’s dives with several of the Saluki swimmers, who asked her if each dive was good or bad.

“I was the only diver watching here,” Weigel said. “It makes it kind of hard when you’re the only diver and not everyone really understands it.”

Weigel said she helped calm Zhang down, but had to hide her own nerves.

“I was more nervous than she was to compete,” Weigel said. “I know she probably felt a lot of pressure from prelims just because she dove so well and was seeded in first.”

Zhang had no teammates with her, but there was another member of the MVC diving against her and cheering her on. Illinois State University’s Wenting Zhang has been Sherry’s friend since they grew up in China.

Wenting Zhang finished the 3-meter dive in sixth place with a score of 363.90.

“This will draw an awful a lot of attention in the conference from divers that otherwise would have never looked at our conference and haven’t,” Walker said.

Zhang said she didn’t feel alone because her teammates, former teammates and Wenting Zhang were all cheering her on.

“I feel I have the best teammates in the world,” Zhang said.

Zhang was the first Saluki diver to qualify for the NCAA tournament since Rob Siracusano in 1994. Siracusano was a seven-time All-American.

Walker has been the coach for 27 years and said it would not be fair to either Zhang or Siracusano to compare them. Walker said the diving technology has changed a lot during the last 20 years and it’s too hard to assess the situation.

Diving is a subjective sport and Zhao said she wasn’t judging in her head and doesn’t know where she would rank Zhang.

“I’m very happy I wasn’t judging,” Zhao said.

Zhao said Zhang wanted to do better, but was probably nervous since it was her first time at the national tournament, and she would probably do better with more experience.

“I’m very happy and very proud of her,” Zhao said.

Skelton said he was impressed with Zhang doing so well as a sophomore.

“She’s a 23-year-old from China who is only a sophomore at SIU,” Skelton said. “It’s mind blowing to me. She still has two more years to do this again.”

Zhang said she appreciated all her teammates’ support and agreed she can do better the next two seasons.

“I still feel I have a lot of potential to prove in the future,” Zhang said. “This is my first time at the national meet. Now I have the experience, I believe I can do better the next two years.”

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

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