When Katie Belle Sikes earned the right to choose her own walkout music for the 50-yard freestyle finals, she could only think of “Enemy” by Imagine Dragons.

The fact that the Las Vegas-based band had actually performed at PNC Arena in Raleigh just hours before Friday’s NCHSAA State Swimming Championships at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary was fitting, yet moot. Sikes, a sophomore, was focused on mental preparation.

“I thought it might intimidate the competition a bit,” Sikes said.

As the top-ranked sophomore swimmer in North Carolina, public or private school, Sikes had already secured two regional championships before Saturday. Along with that comes the feelings of being a marked woman and the pressure that could saddle a lesser competitor down, which made “Enemy” the perfect song to walk into the biggest race of her young life on several fronts.

Your words up on the wall as you’re praying for my fall

And the laughter in the halls and the names I’ve been called

I stack it in my mind and I’m waiting for the time

When I show you what it’s like to be words spit in a mic.

By the time the long day finally ended, Sikes dropped the mic and accomplished something that no female swimmer in the history of Orange High School has done: win a state championship.

Sikes won the 50 meter freestyle at a time of 23.24 seconds, earning All-American consideration. Carrboro’s Lindy Bilden came away with the silver medal at 23.65 seconds. West Carteret freshman Adeline Cloutier was third at 23.77 seconds.

“I was pretty confident in my 50 meter freestyle, but I was also the most stressed for that one,” Sikes said after a long day that started at 8:30 AM and didn’t end until nearly 12 hours later. “In my 100 freestyle I was seeded 2nd, so I was not as stressed about losing my ranking.”

Last year as a freshman, Sikes finished 2nd in the state in the 50 meter freestyle behind Charlotte Catholic’s Olivia Rhodes.

In the preliminaries earlier in the day, Sikes had the top time of 23.27 seconds, once again earning All-American consideration. Bilden was 2nd, while Parkwood’s Emilee Hamblin was third at 23.90.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has awarded state championships since 1950 in swimming and diving. In the 61-year history of Orange High School, only Ben Scott won a state championship in the 100 yard freestyle in 2018.

Orange’s Jennifer Rehm won two 4A State Championships in diving in 1999 and 2000.

“I don’t think words can express how honored I am,” Sikes said. “I’m just so proud to be able to represent my school as best as I can.”

In addition, Sikes won the bronze medal in the 100 yard freestyle. She finished third at 51.37 seconds. J.H. Rose’s Madeline Smith, who was named the Most Outstanding Female Swimmer of the 3A Championships, finished first at 50.18, automatically earning All-American status.

Sikes, Melissa Campbell, Sandra McCouch and Ellie Wileman qualified for the state finals in two different relay events. The quartet finished 7th in the 200 yard medley relay at 1:59.28. In the 200 freestyle relay, Sikes, McCouch, Campbell and Wileman came in sixth with a time of 1:47.02.

McCouch, who is in her first year at Orange after transferring from Philadelphia last summer, finished 11th in the 100 yard breaststroke.

Campbell came in 16th in the 100 yard butterfly.

In men’s swimming, Orange freshman Luke Roman, who won two Central Carolina Conference championships, finished eighth in the 200 yard freestyle. Nick Baczara came in 15th in the same event.

Roman also came in ninth in the 500 yard freestyle at 5:08.06. Another Panther freshman, Alexander Andre, came in 7th in the same event.

Andre also came in 14th in the 200 yard individual medley, while Phillips finished 15th.

The Orange men’s team of Ian Moore, Evan Phillips, Andre and Luke Roman finished 8th in the 200 yard medley relay.

Roman, Baczara, Andre and Phillips finished 9th in the 400 yard freestyle relay.

Orange senior Evan Phillips reached the finals of the 100 yard breaststroke, finishing 8th.

In the 100 yard backstroke, Orange senior Ian Moore finished 11th at 59.71 seconds.

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