As Colin (Zhipeng) Zeng prepared for one of the biggest moments of his diving career, he could not help but ponder a question that had been on his mind since the beginning of the season: Was he at the right college?
Zeng pushed the question to the side as he executed flawless dives, winning the NCAA men’s platform diving championship and becoming the first Ohio State diver to win a national championship since 2008.
That was last season. After winning the title, Zeng decided to answer this question. The answer led him to Dave Parrington, Tennessee’s long-time diving coach, who recruited Zeng out of high school but was unable to land him at the time.
“Not too long after NCAAs, we got the call that Colin was looking to move for various reasons and that he was really interested in looking at us again,” Parrington said.
This time around, things worked out, and Zeng is already excelling at Tennessee.
The redshirt junior from Fujian, China, has earned the SEC Diver of the Week award three times this fall. Zeng scored a 439.65 on the 3-meter springboard in a dual meet at Louisville, the fifth-best six-dive score in Tennessee history. He also scored a 422.55 on the 1-meter at the Tennessee Invitational for the third-best score in program history. Zeng has won every 1-meter event he has participated in this season and has had almost the same success on the 3-meter, finishing first every time but once.
He has competed in his specialty event, the platform, just once this season. He made it count, scoring a 460.20 and breaking the Tennessee record held by Gabi Chereches, who scored one point lower in 2001. Zeng does not hesitate to acknowledge his newfound success this season under Parrington.
“Oh, definitely,” Zeng said. “I am very confident that I am going to be even better this year.”
It has been said that competition breeds excellence; this principle is on display daily at Allan Jones Aquatic Center, home to the Tennessee swimming and diving team. Just look at Zeng and his teammate Liam Stone. Stone is the defending SEC Diver of the Year, and he also won the 2016 National Championship on the 1-meter springboard. Now he has had the opportunity to compete alongside a fellow top-10 finisher on both the 1-meter and the 3-meter at the NCAA Championships last season.
“It’s been awesome. I mean, we push each other every single day,” Stone said about training with Zeng. “We are always competing, and we get along great, which helps as well.”
Zeng is no stranger to intrasquad competition. He competed alongside Christopher Law at Ohio State last season, who was a top 15 finisher on the 3-meter springboard and the platform at the NCAA’s. Zeng says his competition with Stone is competitive and friendly but never hostile.
“It’s really cool, and it’s very encouraging every day during practice to train and get better,” Zeng said. “It’s a very competitive environment, and it is a lot of fun.”
They might be quiet and friendly as they compete, but the level of competition does not go unnoticed by those that are in the building. Tennessee head coach Matt Kredich may be more focused on the swimmers, but he has not failed to see what is happening in the diving well.
“He (Colin) has been an incredibly valuable addition … I have certainly seen Liam benefit, and I think Colin has benefited from Liam’s skill as well,” Kredich said. “To have people who are aiming to be the best in the world — that’s contagious.”
As 13-time SEC Coach of the Year Parrington looked around his office at the many duos of divers that have come under his tutelage during his 28 seasons at Tennessee, he could not help but feel Zeng and Stone will be among the best he has seen.
“We have had some pretty good duos, looking back on it, but they (Zeng and Stone) are going to be right in their company,” Parrington said. “We are going to see what the deal is once they are both done with their eligibility, but they are already in some pretty elite company.”
For now, Zeng continues to look toward the bright future he has at Tennessee and beyond. He has set a few marks that he will try to achieve in the future.
“Goals: NCAA and SEC Champion and eventually the Olympics,” Zeng said. “I do it to please God instead of to please people. It’s been a gift since I was little, and I want to continue in college and even beyond college.”