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Henré Louw and Duné Coetzee are both from the same hometown of Pretoria, South Africa. (Photos Courtesy/University of Georgia Athletic Association)

The Georgia swimming and diving team is filled with people from all across the state, the country and the world. There are two freshmen in particular who have taken foreign influence to the next level.

Henré Louw and Duné Coetzee are both from the same hometown of Pretoria, South Africa, and now they reunite on the same team over 8,300 miles away from where they grew up.

Bringing history to Athens

“We have been friends for about eight years,” Coetzee said. “We grew up in the same town and swam together for a little while and then (Louw) moved coaches, but yeah, we’re very close friends.”

Both of them have swam competitively since they were young. Louw said he started swimming when he was 11 years old. He originally started swimming just as a summer hobby, but he was introduced to the competitive scene by a family friend who saw potential in him.

Louw competed in the 2018 Open Water World Junior Championships and the FINA Junior World Championships in 2019, with a personal best top-20 finish in the 1,500 meter freestyle. He’s also received a bronze medal in the South African open water national championship, and he’s the youngest athlete to qualify for a FINA World Cup finals event.

Coetzee started swimming competitively at age nine. She reached the finals in the 200 meter butterfly at the 2019 FINA Junior World Championships. She won both the 200 meter butterfly and the 400 meter freestyle in the 2020 South African short course national championships.

Over the summer, she reached the peak of competitive swimming by participating in the Tokyo Olympics. She swam the third leg of the 4x200 meter freestyle relay team, and her team’s 8:01.56 time is the fastest time for the event in all of Africa. She swam a 1:59.75 split in the race.

“It was insane, and I can’t put it into words,” Coetzee said. “I feel very honored and blessed to be sent from my country as one of the few women that has ever gone to the Olympics for South Africa, because we didn’t have a lot of South African swimmers in 2016, so being part of making a little bit of history with that was amazing.”

Talented duo

Since coming to Georgia, Coetzee has made an immediate impact. She owns the top time in the 200 yard freestyle and the second-fastest 500 yard freestyle time so far this season.

Louw said it was an unreal experience to watch her and the relay team qualify and compete in Tokyo.

“It was an insane moment when they qualified for the 4x200 relay and everyone was just so happy,” Louw said. “We had a watch party, so we would wake up at 4 a.m. in South Africa and then just watch all the South African swimmers, and it was just insane seeing her swim and doing what she does best.”

Louw actually had an impact on Coetzee’s decision to come to Georgia. He said he visited Georgia first and fell in love with the campus. He told her what an amazing place it was, and how it felt like home to him, which prompted her to visit, and she had similar feelings about it as well.

Before the school year started, they both left Pretoria on the same flight, and Coetzee said having Louw with her made the adjustment to the student-athlete lifestyle in a different country a lot less stressful.

“It’s nice to have someone to train with,” Coetzee said. “He’s such a fast swimmer, such a fast trainer, and we always motivate each other in the pool and push each other, so being back with him on the same team, it’s really amazing.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the Bulldogs had a South African talent in the pool. Neil Versfeld, a former Bulldog swimmer and another big influence on Louw and Coetzee’s decision to come to Georgia, is in his second season as associate head coach for the swimming and diving team.

Versfeld grew up in Durban, South Africa, which is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. He swam for Georgia in 2006, 2007 and 2009, and was a record holder in both the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke. He was a semifinalist for South Africa for the 200 meter breaststroke in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“It’s a very small swimming world,” Versfeld said. “I’ve known them growing up, I’ve known their coaches, obviously swimming in South Africa for many years, so that connection definitely helped to help bring them in on the recruiting visit, and the rest is history once they saw this beautiful place.”

As freshmen, their collegiate journey is just beginning. Louw’s goals for the season are to make it to the finals in the SEC championships, qualify for the NCAA championships and score as many points for the team as possible. His goal for Coetzee is to see her make it to the finals at the NCAA championships this year.

Coetzee’s goals for the season are to get more used to swimming in yards instead of meters, push herself to her limits and to be a great teammate. Her goals for Louw are for him to swim as fast as he can push himself and to be a better person.