CARY–It wasn’t the last lap of her life. Far from it.
But it was Katie Belle Sikes’ last lap as an Orange Panther. As Ainsley Rasinske approached her, Carrboro’s Ellie Hill had just put the Jaguars ahead by .11 of a second in the 200 yard freestyle relay 3A State Championship final. The capacity crowd roared as Rasinske yielded to Sikes one more time.
Sikes final anchor leg would be one to remember.
In lane four, she dove in the water just behind Carrboro’s Avery Shuping. Like a blue streak underneath the aqua water, she surged ahead almost effortlessly and completed 25 yards in just over eleven seconds. Within an instant, Orange went from trailing to leading comfortably.
25 yards later, Sikes touched the wall as a Panther just once more. In her last high school race, she clinched one final state championship.
If there was a way to freeze that moment for just a little longer, Sikes would have.
Orange, comprised of Sikes, Rasinske, Riley and Piper White, won the relay at 1:39.23, three full seconds ahead of Carrboro’s time of 1:42.30.
Sikes had earned individual titles since she was a freshman. She became the first female swimmer from Orange to win a state championship as a sophomore when she captured the 50 yard freestyle in 2022.
When she formally signed with the University of Georgia last November inside Orange High Gymnasium, she said the only thing she had never done was help her teammates (or as she more commonly refers to them, “her friends”) win the 200 yard medley relay state championship.
On Thursday night at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, Sikes erased the only blot on her otherwise spotless record.
Sikes, White, Zoe Jones and White opened the night with a tight victory over Central Cabarrus to take the state championship. Last year, Central Cabarrus edged Orange by .15 seconds for the gold medal.
Piper White completed the freestyle in 24.48 seconds, edging Cabarrus’ Audrey Wolff by six-hundredths-of-a-second to take the crown.
“I think what’s really impressed us about Katie Belle over the four years we’ve known her is what a quality kid she is,” said Orange swimming coach Ron Geib. “Everybody sees her swimming prowess and it’s undeniable how fast she is. But that girl will cheer everyone from the newest member of our team to the most experiences member of our team. She’s just as happy as someone else winning as she is for herself winning.”
With four first place finishes, the Orange women’s team finished 2nd in the team standings, their best-ever showing. The Lady Panthers came away with 187 points. Lake Norman Charter won the state championship with 300 points.
Individually, Sikes was as strong as ever. For the third year in a row, she captured the 50 yard freestyle state title. The only minor quibble would be her time of 22.38 seconds was a tad shy of the 22.17 seconds she completed the race in last year, which set an event record and earned her automatic All-American status.
But her other individual race on Thursday night made up for it.
Sikes earned her second straight 100 freestyle state title at 48.76 seconds, setting a new state championship event record, regardless of classification. It was the 25th fastest time ever recorded by a high school swimmer in American history and earned Sikes automatic All-American status in two separate events.
For the second year in a row, Sikes was named the Most Outstanding Female Swimmer of the 3A State Championships. She’s the fifth woman to repeat as MOFS of the 3A championships dating back to 1992.
Sikes ends her Orange career with five individual state championships, three relay state titles (she was a member of the first Orange relay swim team, regardless of gender, to win a state championship in 2023) and seven individual regional championships.
Cedar Ridge junior Sophia Stinnett finished with her first individual state championship medal. After winning two championships at the Central Regionals on Saturday in Greensboro, Stinnett finished third in the 100 yard backstroke at 1:01.25 Abbey Cronin of Central Cabarrus took the gold. Stinnett also came in fourth in the 500 yard freestyle at 5:15.99. Madison Bowen of Croatan, in a thrilling finish, took first after Kathryn Ford of Fred T. Foard led almost the entire race.
Orange’s Riley White, another senior, also went out in style. She earned the bronze medal in the 100 yard butterfly with a time of 59.06 seconds. Carrboro’s Maya Lambers won the state championship at 55.83. seconds. White also came in fourth in the 200 yard individual medley at 2:11.77. Cedar Ridge junior Quinn McCrimmon finished tenth. Kaylee Eggers of Rocky Mount earned the state title.
Orange sophomore Piper White finished sixth in the 50 yard freestyle. She came in seventh in the 100 yard freestyle.
Cedar Ridge junior Quinn McCrimmon finished 10th in the 200 yard individual medley. McCrimmon also came in 13th in the 100 yard butterfly.
Cedar Ridge’s 400 yard freestyle relay team of Stinnett, McCrimmon, Sierra Godfrey and Hala Zafar finished 14th.