Allen Park's Page All Swimming - Girls Stories

Swimming - Girls

DIVING: Twins Shainna and Sierra Yacoub take only months to become state-level divers (PHOTOS)

Allen Park diver Shainna Yacoub has only been diving since she was a sophomore, but her resume may impress you.

Sierra has less diving experience than her twin sister, but her hard work propelled her an amazing 19 places in the state finals this season.

Shainna Yacoub

Sierra Yacoub

When you read about a top state qualifier, it is safe to assume that they come with a long resume of history and accomplishments in their respective sports.

Allen Park twin divers Sierra and Shainna Yacoub finished ninth and 11th respectively in the state this year and their resume may shock you.

Shainna has been in the sport for a total of 22 months and Sierra only has 18 months experience under her belt.

The two wrapped up an extremely successful senior season with the Allen Park Jaguars and longtime Coach Paul LaCroix was more than pleased with their efforts.

“I just finished my 35th girls’ season that in turn, was my most successful ever,” he said. “I have never coached a pair of twins, but judging from their success, I should have tried it sooner.

“This season started with a commitment to work with each other toward a common goal to get the most out of the twins’ senior season, and we did just that. As I look back, I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

For eighteen-year-old Shainna, it was during her sophomore year that she first got into the sport.

Both girls had competed nationally in gymnastics until their eighth grade year, and it helped ease them into the diving world.

“Nothing really made me want to dive,” Shainna said. “One of my friends who was a diver knew of my background and figured I would be good so dragged me to the first practice.

“I almost chickened out and did not go in with her.”

Now, she’s grateful she did.

In her first year she was two spots out of qualifying for the state meet with an 18th place finish at regionals.

A year later she won the annual News-Herald meet, placed second at the Downriver League meet and finished 18th in the state after qualifying for the state meet with a third-place finish at regionals.

Her senior season was capped with a back-to-back win at News-Heralds, a league championship, a third-place finish at regionals and an 11th place finish at the state meet with a score of 334.30.

During the year, Shainna also broke both the six-dive and 11-dive records at Allen Park and was able to break 400 points.

Her record for 11 dives is 407.65 and her six-dive record is 249.50.

Going back to the state meet and improving from last year’s finish was something that Shainna was extremely proud of.

“It really shows me how much I have improved and how much hard work pays off,” she said. “I was really shooting for top-10 this year so 11th was definitely a heartbreak, but I know it’s something to be proud of.

“This year at states I dove better under more pressure. I dove better than I did at regionials which I know means I have learned how to better manage my nerves and to perform well.”

While she does not have any superstitions before a meet, she does have a few rituals to help get her through the day.

Before diving she will listen to Kesha Radio on Pandora to help pump her up. She always has her lucky purple Sammy and talks to her coach before hand as last minute reassurance.

The relationship she has with LaCroix is very special to Shainina.

“I had an amazing coach who was willing to do everything he could to help me, which is always something an athlete with potential needs,” she said. “My coach is honestly one of the most amazing guys I’ve ever met.

“Our relationship is one that I definitely do not have with anyone else. He can read me like a book. I’ll walk into the pool and he’ll immediately know that I’ve had a bad day just by a look I give him.”

Shainna says LaCroix always seems to know the solution to problems and says one of the best things about him is the effort he puts into getting to know each of his athletes and their personalities.

“He has always believed in me, especially when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said.

At the state meet, LaCroix was on the judging panel. The two made eye contact across the pool and he pointed to himself and mouthed “I believe in you,” to Shainna as she prepared for her dive.

“The confidence I knew he had in me gave me even more confidence in myself,” she said. “He learns how each one of his divers needs to be coached and uses that to his advantage.

“He has helped me grow as a driver because he always had faith. Although he not only helped me grow as a diver, he helped me grow as a person. I definitely would not be who I am today if I had not met him.”

The relationship between the two is not lost on LaCroix.

“She and I hold a special bond as a coach-athlete that help us both succeed,” he said. “Our trust in each other is the main reason we were able to gain success so quickly.

“Shainna has become the top diver in the Downriver area this season and accomplished this through her ability to take her performance to another level during every competition. She has proven herself a fierce competitor.”

Sierra comes with an even shorter, but just as much “wow-ing” resume as her sister.

If Shainna’s diving career almost didn’t happen, Sierra’s really almost didn’t happen.

“I actually did not want to dive. When my sister did it sophomore year I didn’t find it interesting at all,” she said. “I went to one home meet, watched her dive and left.”

Sierra had tried various sports since quitting gymnastics and Shainna flat out told her if she did not make the volleyball team that year she had to go to at least one diving practice.

LaCroix also urged her and told her she was welcome to the team.

As you can probably tell, she did get cut and it all worked out after going to her first practice.

“I was so out of my element it was crazy, but Paul wanted me and I knew that I wasn’t going to just sit at home and not do a sport, so I joined the team,” Sierra said. “It was the best decision I made in my four years of high school.

“One of my biggest regrets is not having joined the team sooner.”

Sierra dove right into things last year and extra work over the summer had big payoffs this season.

As a junior she was 28th in the state and finished fourth at the News-Herald meet.

This year she was second at the News-Herald meet, third at the Downriver League meet and placed fourth at regionals to qualify for states.

There she jumped an amazing 19 spots to finish in ninth-place in Division 2 with a score of 341.80.

Like her sister, Sierra also listens to music before diving and takes a “leave it at the door” approach to each meet.

“I leave everything that’s bothering me or worrying me that doesn’t have to do with diving outside the doors before walking into the meet,” she said. “I stop thinking about them and just focus on what I came there to do, which was dive.”

Going back to the state meet was a big goal for Sierra in her senior season.

“As a first-year diver last year I was ecstatic that I qualified to go (but) when I got there and I saw some of the other girls I couldn’t help but think, there’s no way I’m as good as they are,” she said. “And I was right. I placed 28th after the first round, not even making the first cut.

“But I was okay with that because I was just happy that I had made it there and gotten the experience.”

This year, Sierra’s goal was to be as close to the top-10 as possible and after finishing fourth at regionals she realized how close she was to that dream.

“Going into the finals on Saturday in ninth place, I was on cloud nine. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I just wanted to hold onto my spot and deal with the place in the top-10 in my last three dives. And I did.

“States was a great time. Being Division 2’s ninth-place state finalist was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It also showed me that maybe I can go farther with this sport than I originally thought.”

Sierra’s relationship with LaCroix mirrors her sisters.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” she said. “He’s incredible. He knew that I could do things that I didn’t even know I could do. I look up to him so much.

“He’s supported me every step of my diving journey. He’s so understanding and patient and he knows how I work and function and that’s very important.”

Seirra credits LaCroix with all her success and said had she had a different coach she would not have been able to accomplish what she has the past two seasons.

“His lessons and wisdom are going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “He would always come into practice with a good attitude and never gave up on any of us.”

Like with Shainna, LaCroix knows how special the relationship is with Sierra.

“Sierra’s success came from countless hours of precision practice followed by her belief in her training,” he said. “She is the consummate student of the sport.

“Sierra accomplished her goals this season by adopting a training program that was completely unfamiliar to her. We trained her to trust quality over quantity during her practice regiment to help prepare her for year-end competition and it paid huge dividends at this year’s state finals.”

Along with their coaching, the Yacoub sisters have had some opportunities that helped boost their career.

Being a gymnast for over a decade definitely helped, but also made some things challenging.

For Sierra, the trouble came with hurdling.

“I have a lot of trouble with my hurdle because of the way I would hurdle when vaulting gymnastics; it’s very different from a diving hurdle, and it’s hard for me to distinguish them when I’m performing them,” she said. “The skills I had to perform as a gymnast definitely helped my diving because I was not afraid to do them and I didn’t have to spend the time learning how to do them as our younger divers do.”

Shainna’s thoughts echoed her sisters and said the sport helped her with twisting, flipping and immensely with form.

“When I first started, my coach told me that I was a gymnast trying to become a diver,” Shainna said. “At our last banquet, as my coach was presenting me with my award, he was extremely proud to tell me that I was a diver who was a gymnast.”

Another boost to their career was the opportunity to attend a two-week diving camp over the summer at Indiana University.

There, the two worked alongside world renowned Olympic coaches Jeff Huber and John Wingfield as well as the IU diving team and other nationally ranked divers and Olympic hopefuls.

“It was probably one of the best things I have done as a diver,” Sierra said about the experience. “I learned so many things that helped my diving this year (and) I attribute all of my successes this season to going to camp over the summer.

“I don’t believe I would have accomplished as much if we had not gone.”

Competing as two of the top divers in the area is hard and it comes with more complications when your biggest competitor is your twin sister but the Yacoubs handle it as best they can.

Shainna more often than not has the edge over Sierra but Sierra doesn’t let it get to her.

“The way I deal with the competitiveness between my sister and I is that I’m her biggest supporter,” she said. “I would never get angry or mad when she would beat me.

“Coming second-best to her I believe helped my performance increase this year and it helped me to become a better diver because I was always striving to do what she did.”

Shainna said the competition is something she doesn’t really have to deal with.

“We’ve always had competition,” she said. “She was a high level gymnast and she was higher than me in that.

“It definitely helped encourage me to try that much harder, watching her learn and perfect new dives. I knew I would have to really be on my game every meet.

“(But) no matter what the score, I’m proud of her and happy I introduced her to the sport.”

Coaching the two was something LaCroix had to get used to.

“Coaching twins is very unique,” he said. “They know each other so well they sometimes communicate without words. At times, it’s spooky, but extremely effective.

“Sure they pick at each other like most siblings, but their connection is stronger than I am usually familiar with.

“They have the ability to bring each other up when the other is down (and) this is a great asset during the season for themselves and their teammates.”

For Sierra and Shainna, they do not see the state meet as the end of the road and both now turn to deciding on college diving.

“To be able to accomplish everything that I have in such a short amount of time is extremely honoring,” Shainna said about her career. “I know for a fact that I impressed other people, but I also impressed myself.

“To me, it shows just how much hard work, dedication and drive can pay off.”

Shainna’s thoughts were mirrored by Sierra’s.

“My accomplishments as a diver mean to me that I have talent and a lot of it,” she said. “I never expected to do half the things I did as a diver.

“But Paul wanted great things from me and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Both girls are looking at various colleges and Sierra said she would love a side job as a coach in the future.

For now, the girls leave behind a legacy at Allen Park High School.

The Jags had the largest diving team downriver this season with seven girls and Sierra said their support was also a big factor in hers and Shainna’s success.

“They helped me so much by being there and always supporting me,” she said. “I helped them by using my gymnastics knowledge and my diving knowledge to help them improve and achieve things this year.

‘Our team is amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to spend my two seasons with.”

For LaCroix, coaching the Yacoubs is something that leaves a lasting memory.

“As I look back on all the twins’ accomplishments, I couldn’t be more proud as their coach of the success they achieved and the process they followed to get there,” he said. “This will be a story I tell to inspire future athletes for years to come.”

Last Updated: 12/20/2013 3:08:23 PM EST

Promotions & Specials

See All