Zhang's trip to the NCAA Championships marked the fifth time a Saluki qualified for nationals in SIU history.
Last year Zhang came away with a third-place finish and First-Team All-American honors in the three-meter dives.
This weekend's zone diving qualifying event is the final step to qualify for nationals.
Zhao announces tryouts for 2013-14 diving team
MVC Swimming & Diving Championships (Day Four); Feb. 21, 2015
In her time as SIU's diving coach, Zhao has earned Diving Coach of the Year recognition four times. Under her leadership, SIU divers have been named conference Diver of the Year nine times and have earned 12 conference titles.
Most recently, Zhao was named MVC Diving Coach of the Year after SIU's standout diver Kaixuan 'Sherry' Zhang earned titles in the one-meter and three-meter dives at the MVC Championships. Zhang broke MVC records in both the 1- and 3-meter dives, with a 379.35 score in the one-meter dive and 449.10 score in the three-meter dive. On the men's side, Kegan Skelton came away with a MAC conference title in the 1-meter dive, finishing his career as the first male Saluki to earn a conference title under Zhao. He was also named MAC Diver of the Year.
To conclude the 2014-15 season, Zhao accompanied Zhang to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year where she finished in the top half of competition in the one-and three-meter dives at 24th and 21st, respectively.
In the 2014-15 season alone, Saluki divers rewrote the record book as Kegan Skelton ranked second and fourth all-time at SIU for three-meter dives, while Zhang secured the top five all-time spots for three-meter dives and four of the top five in one-meter dives. Esther Chen ranked fourth all-time at SIU in the one-meter dives with a 362.31 score to cap off the diving records in the 2014-15 season.
During the 2013-14 season , Zhao coached Kaixuan 'Sherry' Zhang to one of the best diving seasons in school history. Zhang was a two-time All-American, taking third in the three-meter dive at the NCAA Championships, while also earning All-American status in the one-meter dive. Zhang was also named MVC Diver of the Year after winning the one and three-meter dive and setting new MVC point records. Zhao was also recognized for her coaching prowess as MVC Diving Coach of the Year. Under Zhao, Zhang was a four-time MVC Diver of the Week honoree.
Zhao also saw success with the men's team in 2013-14 season. Kegan Skelton earned second-team All-Conference honors after finishing second place in the three-meter dive at the MAC Championships. In his second place finish, Skelton posted a lifetime best score and became just the second men's diver in school history to break the 380-point total in the three-meter dive.
SIU also saw success under Zhao in 2012. Zhang won the three-meter dive at the MVC Championships while setting a new pool record. Esther Chen earned a second place finish in the one-meter dive.
In 2011, Brittany Weigel earned MVC Diver of the Year honors, marking the second consecutive season Zhao coached the MVC Diver of the Year. Weigel was the third diver to earn MVC Diver of the Year laurels under Zhao, and the fifth Saluki MVC Diver of the year in the past six years.
In 2010, Zhao coached Emily Gable to MVC Diver of the Year honors, earning MVC Co-Diving Coach of the Year, as well as guiding Kyle Carevic and Justin Ruszkowski to the NCAA Zone C Regional Meet in West Lafayette, Ind.
In 2007, Zhao coached Curtuneanu to the MVC 1-meter and 3-meter titles and a conference Diver of the Year title. Zhao also garnered league honors as she was named the Valley's Diving Coach of the Year.
The Salukis came away with three of the four diving titles at the 2006 MVC Championship and Invitational. Cristina Curtuneanu won the women's 1-meter while Brandon Birchak swept the men's 1-meter and 3-meter titles. For their performance at the meet, Curtuneanu and Birchak both earned MVC Diver of the Year honors, and Zhao was named Diving Coach of the Year for the Men's MVC Invitational.
The accomplishments did not stop there, though, as Birchak and Curtuneanu, along with Jessica Leong, qualified for the NCAA Zone D Meet in Columbia, Mo.
Zhao has also continued the tradition of a strong personality on the pool deck, and carries a strong knowledge of the sport, and an attention to detail consistent in SIU's diving coaches. The former international diver came to SIU in 2003 with 20 years of experience as a diving coach, ranging from the international to high school levels, in addition to her personal experience as an international diver in China.
She wasted little time making a mark in her first year as the Saluki diving coach in 2003-04. Zhao was named 2004 MVC Invitational Diving Coach of the Year at her first MVC Invitational Meet, after coaching Brandon Birchak to one- and three-meter titles and an MVC Invitational Diver of the Year award.
She came to SIU from Fresno State University, where she was the women's diving coach from 1999-2003. At Fresno State, her divers qualified for the NCAA Zone Meet and reached the Western Athletic Conference finals every year. During that same time she also served as the head coach for the Fresno (Calif.) Diving Club.
From 1997-99, Zhao was an assistant diving coach at the University of Nevada, where she coached Lang Rao, who finished second at the 1999 NCAA championships. In 1999, she also was the head coach at the Carson Valley Diving Club.
Prior to coaching in the U.S., Zhao held three international coaching positions in her native China. From 1993-97, she served her second stint as the men's and women's diving coach for the Tian-Jin Province Diving Team. During her four years, she had a women's diver win the silver medal on the platform at the 17th World University Games, a gold medal at the Youth Games of China and a bronze medal at the 1996 Chinese National Meet. She also coached Sang Xue to a silver medal at the 1998 Goodwill Games. Her work earned her the Excellence in Coaching Award in 1992 and 1993.
She also served as the diving coach for the Chinese National Team from 1989-93, where one of her divers finished fourth in the women's platform dive at the 25th Olympic Games (1992), second in the platform at the 7th World Cup and second in the platform at the 16th World University Games.
Zhao began her coaching career as the men's and women's diving coach for the Tianjin Province Diving Team from 1983-89. During her time there, two of her male and female divers qualified for the Chinese National Diving Team.
Prior to coaching, she competed internationally as a member of the Chinese National Diving Team from 1977-79, following four years (1973-77) as a member of the Tianjin Diving Team. Zhao received her bachelor's degree in physical education in 1989 from Tian-Jin University in her hometown of Tianjin, China.
She lives in Carbondale with her husband, Mark Liu, and their sons, Matthew and Charles.