LINCOLN — Though they both lost time this season to foot injuries, defending champions Austin Alexander and Taylor Carter are ready to spring into action at Thursday's state high school 1-meter diving championships.
Alexander is a senior at Lincoln Northeast who seeks his third consecutive state title, while Carter, a junior at Omaha Marian, goes for her second championship in the girls meet.
The girls will go first Thursday at the Devaney Center with the first round scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. The boys will follow with the first dive set for 2 p.m.
Carter has missed almost the entire season while recovering from foot surgery. Crusaders coach BJ Christiansen said Carter has progressed nicely since participating in a couple of dual meets before her first 11-dive program of the season Feb. 11 at the Metro Conference championships.
"I think she looks really good," Christiansen said. "I remember her telling me before her first dual meet that she wasn't sure if she was going to make it through her six dives.
"We knew she would be able to do it. That was just the perfectionist in her coming out. She wanted to do them very well, not just do them."
Carter finished fourth with an 11-dive score of 418.60. To qualify for state, a diver must score at least 300 points. Thirty-three girls and 23 boys met that threshold this season.
Carter won the 2015meet with a state record of 526.00 after finishing second in 2014.
Because her foot injury happened before the season, Carter has had time to bounce back for Thursday's meet.
She will have plenty of people pushing her: Six other girls have posted scores of 400 or better, including teammates Kelly Straub and Metro champion Abigail Knapton, along with Jessica Warak of Bellevue West, Sydney Bonta of Lincoln Pius X and Catherine Sobus of Elkhorn/ Elkhorn South.
"I'm glad she got over 400 at Metro, but she knows there's room for improvement," Christiansen said. "I was glad to see her get through the 11 dives and get through it. With a couple of extra weeks of practice, she'll be ready to go."
Alexander's injuries — ankle sprains on both feet — kept him sidelined for three weeks beginning in late January.
Rockets coach Kyle Hunt said those injuries, suffered during dryl and training workouts, have proven beneficial.
"He's always been a student of the game, and he's been kind of known to go nerding out with a lot of the technical things in the past," Hunt said. "But to be honest, some of that was missing a little bit the last year or so."
So like a quarterback who has no choice but to watch the action, Alexander was charged with chores that forced him to get back to his technical roots.
He helped diving coach Rob Babcock with tasks such as keeping track of his teammates' scores and offering advice like an extra assistant coach. Hunt said it was time well spent for his senior.
"There's a reason for everything," Hunt said. "Now that he's back, it's like his sophomore year again when he lost to (Ralston's Joey) Weber the year before.
Alexander was healthy enough by the time of the Heartland Conference meet to win with a score of 463.85, just off his pre-injury season best of 484.25.
The season leader with a score of 586.10 is Elkhorn/Elkhorn South senior William Gottsch, who finished third last season at state behind Alexander and Weber. All three of their scores made The World-Herald's all-time Top 10 list.
Alexander's 558.45 last year is No. 2 in state meet history behind the mark of 574.74 set by Dave Keane of Omaha Westside in 1974. Never before has anyone, let alone two people in the same year, come as close to taking that record as Alexander and Gottsch.
"Will is really good. He has been there and knows what it takes," Hunt said. "He can certainly be a state champion when it's all done Thursday. So can Austin."