Zhang was named the Missouri Valley Conference Diver of the Year in 2014.
March 14, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Southern Illinois women's diving team wrapped up the NCAA Zone C Championships with standout performances by Kaixuan Zhang and Esther Chen. On the men's side Kegan Skelton will compete in the 10-meter platform dive Sunday.
Saluki sophomore Kaixuan Zhang automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 20-22 in Minneapolis, Minn., with her first-place finish in the three-meter competition and her third-place finish in the 1-meter competition at the NCAA Zone C Diving Championships hosted by Ohio State.
With her finish in the three-meter dive Saturday the 2014 MVC Diver of the Year becomes the third women's diver to take the top-spot at the Zone Diving events in school history. Zhang scored an astounding 709.90 to lead the rest of the field by 20 points. She scored 342.30 in the preliminary round to sit in second-place behind Kentucky's Christina Cabot, but a finals round score of 367.60 vaulted her into first and to the programs first NCAA Diving Championship since 1995.
The Hu Bei, China native finished the one-meter event on Friday behind Purdue's Casey Matthews, who bested the field of 45 divers with a score of 616.20, and Illinois State's Wengting Zhang who finished second.
"This is big for the program," said head coach Rick Walker. "Zhang is a remarkable diver, as the results show, and Joy has done an outstanding job bringing the talent out of her. -- Once you get to the show, it is anybody's ball game so we have high hopes of getting on the scoreboard."
The divers with the top 18 scores from the preliminary round advanced to the finals of the 1-meter competition. Zhang sat in second place after the prelims with a score of 296.55 and bested that with a score of 310.85 in the finals to finish with her 607.40. Just three weeks ago at the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Championship Zhang was named MVC Diver of the Year while Joy Zhao was named MVC Diving Coach of the Year.
Zhang is the third women's diver to represent the Salukis and just the fourth diver in program history to qualify for the NCAA Diving Championships. The last Saluki to qualify for the NCAA's was seven-time All-American Rob Siracusano who finished competed in four NCAA meets and finished fifth at the 1994 World Championship Trials.
Senior Esther Chen finished her SIU career with a ninth-place finish in the one-meter dive with a total score of 567.25 while finishing 34th in the three-meter.
On the men's side, junior Kegan Skelton finished 12th in the three-meter (645.00) and 31st in the one-meter diving competition. Skelton will be the lone Saluki competing in tomorrow's 10-meter platform diving competition.