Sunday, June 4, 2023

From South Africa to Southern Illinois, Ruard Van Reenen Covers Historic NCAAs

From South Africa to Southern Illinois, Ruard Van Reenen Covers Historic NCAAs

ruard van reenen Did your research before deciding on Southern Illinois as your college destination.

The small-town feel of the Missouri Valley Conference school was tailored to the South African backstroker’s specifications. He arrived at Carbondale with no idea what to expect. However, it took a little more time to figure out what a Saluki was.

“Definitely not,” Van Reenen said last week at the NCAAs about his foreknowledge of SIU’s obscure mascot.

Nevertheless, he has turned into one of the most accomplished Salukis in program history thanks to a stellar NCAA run in Minneapolis last week.

Van Reenen made a pair of B finals, finishing ninth in the 100 back and 13th in the 200 back. His 13 points tied the Salukis for 28th. He is the first Southern Illinois swimmer to reach the NCAAs since 2005 and the first since 1995 to score.


Ruard van Reenen; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Freshman hopes this is just the beginning of his journey in America

“It’s a huge leap forward for the program,” he said. “I knew coming into the program that I had some goals, and I definitely feel like we exceeded those goals. It’s kind of an ego boost, but it’s a great way to blow your head.” Stays squatted, feet planted on the ground. This will encourage me to get better at training.

Van Reenen chose a path that is by no means a guarantee for a top South African. That country’s elite athletes were pretty evenly split between choosing American colleges or staying home to train. Some, like last year’s NCAA champion Matt Sates of Georgia, come to the states but don’t stay long.

Realizing this, Van Reenen sought a position that would work for him. The Durbanville native attended boarding school, so he was used to being away from home. In founding SIU, he found the small town feel of Carbondale to be preferable to a big city, and finding the right setting eased his adjustment.

“I’ve got friends back home who made a difference in America,” he said. “The easiest way to put it is that it’s just a mindset. I was in boarding school at home, so I was away from home for five years. Moving from South Africa to America, being so far away from home, was a first for me. Wasn’t a big shock. They told me to calm down, try to make new friends and that’s what everyone told me, and told you to do.

Comfort has translated into improvement. He owns SIU records in both backstroke events – 44.67 in the 100 and 1:39.73 in the 200. He was “a little disappointed” not to reach the A final of the 100 back, entering with the seventh best time. Her preliminary swim of 45.17 placed her in 10th place, .12 seconds behind the A final. He made up for it by clocking a personal best of 44.67 in the consolation final.

A return of 200 on the final day was also consolation, with Van Reenen rising from 31st seed to 13th.

One of the challenges Van Reenen sought in America was playing in the NCAAs. For someone of Van Reenen’s calibre, South Africa’s preliminary test can often be a formality. The experience of fighting through the prelims and being prepared from the start is something he hopes will benefit him in the bigger bouts.

Next on his list of goals is the World University Games in the fall. He will go to South Africa in April for the trial. With Pieter Coetzee ahead, he is realistic about where he stands in South Africa’s backstroking hierarchy. But Van Reenen hopes the experience and confidence she gained from the NCAAs will prepare her for the summer.

He said, “Obviously we have one of the fastest backstrokers in the world in Peter Coetzee, so it’s not like I’m going back home and it’s going to be just me.” “… I think I’m going back home and hopefully I can run for their money this year, and hopefully see some big time.”

Times of National
Times of National
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