By Neil Patrick Healy
In just her fifth event as a Nevada diver on March 18, sophomore Sharae Zheng became the first Wolf Pack athlete to win a national championship in 14 years. With her wins in the 1-meter and the 3-meter dive last, Zheng is just the eighth Division I national champion in school history.
The Chengdu, China native, who joined the program in January after winter break, recorded a score of 344.95 in the 1-meter dive to beat out UCLA’s Eloise Belanger (336) and Pei Lin (332.20) of Miami (OH). Nevada diver Krysta Palmer finished ninth after posting a score of 310.7.
In the 3-meter dive, Zheng was in fourth place with two dives to go, but finished by scoring a 404.70 to beat out Lin once again, who finished second with a 399.40, while Florida’s Kahlia Warner finished third with a 387.20. Palmer finished 46th on Friday and Nevada swimmer Yawen Li was 44th in the 400 individual medley.
“In the finals, I told her not to listen to the judges or watch any scores, and she came through under pressure,” diving coach Jian Li You said in a press release. “The 3-meter is a tough field with some great opponents, so I’m very proud of her. She was very consistent both days.”
Not only is Zheng just one of two multi-event national champions at the NCAA championships along with Stanford’s Ella Eastin (200- and 400-yard IM), her titles are also the first in Nevada diving history.
Zheng also becomes just the third Wolf Pack athlete in school history to win multiple NCAA national championships. Swimmer Limin Liu won three national championships (one in 1999 and two in 2000), and cross-country skier Katerina Hanusova also won three (one in 2001 and two in 2002).
She is also the eighth Nevada athlete to win an NCAA title, along with Liu, Hanusova, Pat Myers (downhill ski), Ryan Tanoue (rifle), Tommi Viirret (giant slalom), and both Joe Bliss and Mills Lane (boxing).
“To compete and win at this level and adjust to the culture in such a short amount of time is really remarkable,” said diving coach Jian Li You. “She’s worked very hard and has done a wonderful job, and I’m so happy and proud of her.”
Zheng and head dive coach You led the Wolf Pack to a 20th-place finish at the NCAA championships in Atlanta over the weekend, which was the highest finish among non-power five schools, as Nevada’s divers accumulated 56 total points (Zheng with 40 and Palmer with 18).
Zheng’s sophomore season consists of four regular season titles, two Mountain West titles, one NCAA Regional title and two NCAA titles. Zheng won the 1-meter and 3-meter at the MW Championships and won the 3-meter in the NCAA Zone E Regional to qualify for the NCAA championships.
As a result, Zheng was named diver of the year and You was named coach of the year by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. You also won the Mountain West coach of the year for a fourth straight season and her seventh overall.
“For us as a program to be able to recruit, coach and compete at this level is incredibly exciting,” said head coach Neil Harper. “Congratulations to Jian Li and to Sharae. It was fun watching this unfold and watching Sharae perform so well under pressure. We’re excited to share this accomplishment with our Wolf Pack family back home.”
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached ay email@example.com and on Twitter @ NP_Healy.