CARY–It turns out the two best 3A 500 yard freestyle swimmers in the state have been practicing together for years.
And they’re on the same team.
Just like the fierce inner-team competition between Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen drove the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s, Luke Roman and Alex Andre were the dynamic that steered Orange men’s swimming to the Central Conference championship for the third straight year this winter.
Often, the best swimmer that Roman and Andre would face in a given week wouldn’t be from an opposing team in a dual meet.
It would be in practice against each other at the Orange County Sportsplex on many a weekday morning.
The ultimate proof came in the 3A State Championships at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary on Thursday night, when Roman and Andre were paired alongside each other in the 500 yard freestyle finals.
Roman would walk away with the 3A State Championship at 4:41.62.
Andre, situated one lane to the left of Roman, beat Carrboro’s Matt Strada to the wall for second place with a time of 4:44.45. Strada took the bronze at 4;47.37.
Roman, in lane four, led after completing the first lap in 24.94 seconds. Strada would briefly take the lead after lap three, but Roman came back and reassumed command by .15 of a second following the fourth turn. Andre would surpass Strada on lap five, but Roman delivered his best moments in the final stages. He lengthened his lead to 2.1 seconds going into the bell lap.
Roman becomes just the second male swimmer in Hillsborough history to win a state championship. The only other champion was Orange’s Ben Scott, who won the 2018 3A 100 yard freestyle title.
“It’s means so much to me,” Roman said. “I got so emotional when I saw the first place on that scoreboard. Swimming is kind of like a life cycle. I go to school, I swim and I feel like that’s all I do. In the end, I’ve wanted this for such a long time. I’ve been praying so long for this.”
It was a twist of fate from the 2023 3A State Championships. In the sane pool, Andre finished third in the 500 while Roman came in seventh. Facing Andre on a daily basis helped make him a state champion.
“It definitely gets a little competitive,” Roman said. “But we’ve been swimming all of our lives with each other. So it’s something that we’re used to. I love it in the end.”
Earlier in the day, Andre finished fifth in the 200 yard individual medley at 2:00.82. Strada won the gold with a time of 1:55.95.
“By constantly pushing each other in practice, we make each other better,” Andre said.
Roman wound up with two medals on the day. He captured the bronze in the 200 yard freestyle. Andrew Commins of Carrboro took the gold with a time of 1:3.96. Owen Lin of J.H. Rose earned the silver.
“I couldn’t be happier for Luke,” said Orange Swimming coach Ron Geib. “Luke has battled his own mindset sometime and he’s defeating himself when he can win. He’s now proved to himself that he can win at this level. It’s always been there. It’s just a matter of getting over that mental hurdle.”
The elusive state championship completes a dominant year for Roman. Two weeks ago, he lapped the field to win the 500 yard freestyle in the Central Conference Championship in Hillsborough. On Saturday, he took the gold medal in the Central Regionals in the 500, swimming’s marathon race. It’s so lengthy, teammates are stationed at the end of the pool to hold up placards signaling how many laps a swimmer has remaining.
“When you’re doing a 500 yard race, that’s tough,” Geib said. “To be down in the pool and not relent, it’s huge.”
Cedar Ridge’s Nikhil Agans, a senior, finished seventh in the 200 yard freestyle. In the 100 yard freestyle, Agans reached the finals and came in 8th.
In the opening event of the men’s finals, Andre, Roman, Nicholas Baczara and Ayden Twiddy finished 9th in the 200 yard medley relay. After finishing 9th in prelims on Thursday morning, the quartet won the consolation race at 1:46.21.
To close the night, Andre, Baczara, Twiddy and Roman came in 5th in the 400 yard freestyle relay. Carrboro, which claimed the team state championship, won the 400 relay state title.