LINCOLN — There was no slowing Will-Da-Beast Thursday in his pursuit of a state diving championship.
Will Gottsch, the Elkhorn/Elkhorn South senior whose nickname since middle school was on three T-shirts at the Devaney Center, didn’t just earn his first high school victory over longtime rival Austin Alexander of Lincoln Northeast.
Gottsch went full Beast Mode and obliterated the last state record still on the books from the 20th century.
Punctuated with a final dive that made everyone in the natatorium roar — including the man who owned the state record for 40 years — Gottsch finished his 11-dive program with a career-best 595.90 points.
Alexander posted his career-best state meet score of 573.70 to finish second and end his career third on The World-Herald’s all-time Top 10.
After all of the pictures with family, friends, coaches and teammates, Gottsch admitted he had grown weary of losing to Alexander, the winner of the last two state titles.
“There was definitely some rage built up that helped drive me today,” he said. “I don’t do losing very well, and I’ve always been second fiddle to him. I wanted to put something up to keep my name in the record book.
“All that losing really fueled my fire to get here.”
Gottsch’s name likely will be in the record book for many decades. Dave Keane’s also will stay on The World-Herald’s Top 10 for years to come after his career best held up as the state record since 1976.
Keane posted a 574.74 for Omaha Westside that season, and when Gottsch nailed his final dive at 5:43 p.m. to move from fifth to first all time, Keane was more than thrilled to step aside.
After making way to the deck and posing for a few photos with Gottsch after congratulating the state’s new diving standard bearer, Keane admitted he had no idea that his record would last this long.
“Forty years? Oh yes, that’s long enough,” Keane said. “I can’t believe it wasn’t broken before now.”
One of the reasons Keane thinks high school diving is in a renaissance period is that there have been so many top-level divers pushing each other the past several years.
“In the old days my score was so high because there were five, six, seven, eight divers from all over Omaha, Bellevue and Lincoln who were pushing each other,” Keane said. “They helped everybody move up their scores.”
Gottsch’s progress the last two months — he went well over 500 points at the Westside Invitational in January and Elkhorn’s Fete Fling a week later — led Stormin’ Antlers diving coach Deb Howorth to think a special performance was on the horizon.
“He was 100 percent focused on doing something like this all day,” Howorth said. “Will has the biggest heart about diving, he wants to go after records and be the best. He stayed confident the whole time and stayed consistent.”
That consistency was noticeable throughout every dive Gottsch and Alexander made for the judges and crowd gathered to witness the duel.
From the first dive through the last, Gottsch never trailed Alexander.
Alexander was within 13.20 points going into the final dive after trailing by nearly 30 early in the final section of dives before the final cut.
Knowing he was still within striking distance made Gottsch work that much harder, even after committing to Missouri around the winter break.
“I knew I had to keep working hard,” Gottsch said. “Austin was definitely a help to that. I’ve been working since the day after last year’s state meet to leave a legacy.”
Those three friends of Gottsch’s will always have those Will-Da-Beast T-shirts they had custom-made less than a week ago to remember the day that Will truly was a beast.
Results: 1,Will Gottsch, Elkhorn/Elkhorn South, 595.90 points (state record, betters 574.74 by Dave Keane, Omaha Westside, 1976). 2, Austin Alexander, Lincoln Northeast, 573.70 (No. 3 all time). 3, Zach Boyd, Millard South, 440.10. 4, Aaron Haeffner, LNE, 433.80. 5, Vinny Malene, MS, 429.40. 6, John Andrews, E/ES, 7, Jack Frisbie, E/ES, 386.90. 8, Schuyler Miller, Beatrice, 375.85. 9, Conor Kearns, Lincoln Pius X, 353.05. 10, Beau Larsen, Ralston/Omaha Gross, 345.80. 11, Senad Husenaj, Lincoln North Star, 336.75. 12, Will Johnston, Millard West, 318.65. 13, Michael Huebner, Kearney, 318.05. 14, Robbie McEvoy, R/G, 297.60. 15, Avery Bailey, Scottsbluff/Gering, 291.90. 16, Austin St. Amant, Omaha Westside, 290.35.