Orange’s Sikes named Big 8 Female Swimmer of the Year

Updated: March 3, 2021

She has placed higher in the state championships than any female swimmer from Orange High ever.

She’s the first freshman swimmer in school history, regardless of gender, to be Big 8 Conference Swimmer of the Year.

She competed at the University of Georgia’s Gabrielsen Natatorium while still in middle school.

Katie Belle Sikes did extraordinary things her freshman year at Orange, even without enjoying the ordinary things that athletes at all schools take for granted.

Like consistently practicing with her teammates. Or going to an in-person class.

Sikes, who finished 2nd in the 50 Yard Freestyle in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A State Swimming and Diving Championships on February 11 at Pullen Aquatic Center in Raleigh, was only able to attend a handful of practices this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unfortunate part of a Covid year, rarely did the year round kids practice with the other swimmers because of reduced lane requirements,” said Orange swimming coach Ron Geib. “Over Christmas, she was the only year rounder that came to an optional practice. Usually they have plenty of swimming without adding.”

To keep the number of athletes practicing down in order to maintain safety guidelines, practice preference was given to those were weren’t year round swimmers, like Sikes is. Thus, she was only allowed to attend a handful of sessions since she swims at the Orange County Sportsplex six times a week, two hours a day.

“The practices I had with Coach Geib were very helpful,” Sikes said. “I look forward to working with him more I the future. He was so instrumental in getting a season organized this year, not just for Orange but also for Cedar Ridge.”

Regardless of sport, once a goal becomes so entrenched inside of an athlete, the facility they compete in often becomes a part of them. Sikes has been a mainstay of the Sportsplex since she was in the third grade.

She can be still found training at the Sportsplex’s pool with the Hillsborough Aquatic Club, her summer travel team.

Though she captured the 3A Central Regional Championship in the 50 Yard Freestyle at the Greensboro Aquatic Center on February 6, Sikes was surprised by her finish at the state championships.

“I went into it open minded because I’m a freshman,” Sikes said. “I was going against people a lot older than I was. Overall, I was really happy with my result.”

While Sikes formally started competing in swimming during elementary school, she was around the water in her earliest years. Her grandparents would treat her to a summer beach trip, usually Hilton Head or Atlantic Beach, every summer.

Sikes had a yearning to go into the deep end of the ocean, despite her parents’ concern. Though she loathed it, she was forced to wear a life jacket until her parents decided to loosen their rules.

“I think her family played to biggest role in helping her with poise,” Geib said. “They are great role models for their daughter. They instilled her work ethic. Swimmers work very hard at their craft. Many hours in a pool for a few second improvement If they are lucky. Katie works hard and holds herself accountable.”

There was one instance when Sikes was three years old that tested her parents’ patience.

“She has always been drawn to the water and fearless,” said Sikes’ mother, Kristin. “We will never forget the time when she marched herself off the diving board at her grandparents’ pool. She hoped right into the deep end by herself.”

The only problem was that Sikes couldn’t swim at the time. While a brief moment of panic set in for her parents, she immediately bobbed up from the water and tried to make it to her brother, who was standing at a nearby latter.

“Before her dad and I could jump in after her, she had made her way to her own safety,” Kristin said. “It’s probably around that time we started joking that she was part fish.”

She continued to swim competitively with the Hillsborough Aquatic Club throughout middle school.

“When she mentioned wanting to try summer swim with her friends we thought it would be good exercise and we could knock out swim lessons at the same time,” Kristin said. “Little did we know it would turn into year round, 6 days a week craziness!

When she was 12, she stepped onto a large stage during a national competition in the 50 yard freestyle at the University of Georgia’s Gabrielsen Natatorium.

“Out of all the pools I’ve been to, that’s my favorite,” Sikes said. “I’ve been to Atlanta, Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, but there’s nothing like that.”

The only female aquatic athlete to win a state championship in Orange High history was Jennifer Rehm, who was a two-time 4A State Champion in 1-meter diving in 1999 and 2000.

As she focuses on a high school life that will hopefully be more ordinary her sophomore season, Sikes’ goals are clear.

“I want to win a state championship,” Sikes said while sitting inside the Sportsplex a week after the state championships. “It’s easier to achieve than the Olympics, but I’m going to have to work really, really hard to get a state championship. Fortunately, the distractions should be much less next winter than it was this year.”

She’s already accomplished more thins than almost any Orange female swimmer in history. But Sikes still has miles to travel before she finds what she’s looking for.

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