skip navigation

Skyline’s Smith is equal parts fierce competitor, positive person, outgoing personality

By Terry Jacoby , 01/29/18, 1:15PM EST


Skyline Zain Smith!

Zain Smith stepped off the bus at the MHSAA Division 1 State Swimming and Diving finals in November with a game plan. She’s only a junior, but the Skyline diver had everything mapped out. Every detail detailed. Every dive pictured in her mind and then executed on the scoresheet.

And the game plan, if done correctly, would land her in first place.


As a freshman, Smith splashed second at the state finals. Last year as a sophomore, second again. There was really only one place to go, one goal to shoot for and in Smith’s eyes, one way to get there.

“I knew what I was going to do at the state meet, I knew what needed to be done and I had the confidence that I had the capability to win but nothing is for sure until it happens,” she said. “I also knew that I had tough competition.”

In the D-1 state finals, held this past year at Oakland University, divers are required to do 11 days. The first five dives are during the preliminary round which takes place the day before the swimming finals begin on Saturday.

“I felt my first three dives during preliminary were strong,” Smith said. “I was feeling pretty good. My competition was right on my tail though. It was a pretty good battle after three dives.”

But something buckled, specifically her knee, on her fourth dive.

“My knee buckled and it happens during diving when you jump and you don’t land quite right and my knee buckled under my weight which prevented me from getting the height I needed for the rotation on my dive,” she said.

Smith didn’t fail the dive but ended up with her lowest score on a dive in her three years of high school competition. It wasn’t the time or place for her knee to give way. And it certainly wasn’t part of that detailed plan she had drawn up coming into the meet.

“I was undefeated this year in all my dual-meets and tournaments and during competitions I usually have a really strong mind set and know what’s happening but I have to admit, that dive threw me off a little,” Smith said. “I was a little shaken up but I also knew I had to pull it together.”

Her next few dives were strong, but a little cautious. She needed to make up some ground to get back on track because that score on dive number four had cost her six spots in the standings. There was work to be done.

“Going into my last dive I had one girl ahead of me,” Smith said. “I really wanted to be in first place going into finals because you get to pick the walk-out song. And I’ve never been able to pick the song.”

Her eighth dive was solid and moved her back into first place, but barely. She had a score of 311.30 with Forest Hills Northern Eastern’s Gracie Sleeman at 310.50.

Yeah, less than a point.

The first eight dives are considered the semifinals so Smith took that slim lead into the finals despite the low score on her fourth dive. And … she got to walk out onto the deck listening to “Mercy,” by Kanye West. It was fitting because Smith wasn’t going to be showing her competition any mercy in the finals.

“Once we get to the finals we make what we call a sandwich,” Smith explained. “That means the first dive that you do and the last dive that you do are ones you feel most confident doing and that way the judge’s first impression of you and their last impression of you are good.”

She was in a good place – and I first place.

“I felt confident,” she said. “I was a little nervous, I had my routine, I had my coloring book and my music. I’m a very social person so I like to talk to all the divers and I have an upbeat attitude so I was having a lot of fun.”

After the first three dives, Smith still maintained a slight lead in the standings with an emphasis on slight. But remember the sandwich. Smith was saving her most confident, strongest dive for the end and she was finally at the end.

“I ended up with my highest scoring dive of the year (54 points),” she said with a laugh. “So, at the state meet I had my highest dive of the year and my lowest dive of the year. That final dive felt good, it felt clean and I was pretty confident it was enough to land me in first place.”

Smith still had to wait for Sleeman to dive but the junior from Forest Hills couldn’t match the 54 and the junior from Ann Arbor won her first state meet in comfortable fashion. Smith finished with a score of 446.90 points to Sleeman’s 436.65.

Ann Arbor also placed two other divers in the top 10 – Huron’s Annie Costello, only a freshman, was fourth and Skyline junior Paige Sundermann was seventh.

The plan might not have gone according to plan but she still ended up where she wanted to be – in first place. And to no surprise to her coach.

“Zain has a fierce competitive nature surrounded by a breath of fresh air,” says Skyline Coach Maureen Isaac. “She is the only athlete at Skyline that competes in both swimming and diving.”

As a team, Skyline finished fourth at the state finals with 191 points.

Smith has already begun looking at colleges and has had contact with collegiate coaches through her club team, Legacy Diving out of Eastern Michigan University. She will soon begin visiting some of the colleges on her wish list with formal visits starting this summer.

“I have a list of about 30 schools,” she says. “That’s crazy, I know. But ones I am really interested in include Stanford, Michigan and Ohio State. I am interested in engineering but I’m still deciding on what to major in.”

She decided on diving at an early age.

“I was 10 years old and some of my friends were doing country club diving and they asked me to try it and said let’s try it for one week,” she said. “Within the first week my two friends had quit. But I really liked it. One of the girls I met there was diving with Legacy and told me all about it so I joined Legacy and that’s how it all got started.”

And where it’s all going to finish is anyone’s guess. But it’s safe to assume that Smith at least has a plan of where and how it’s going to finish and while the plan might change over time the results will probably land her where she wants to be.