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We have the best players in the world but volleyball is a team sport - Milena Rasic

Milena Rasic (right) celebrates with her Serbian teammates during the 2018 World Championship final
Istanbul, Turkey, May 6, 2020 – Arguably the best middle blocker in the world, Milena Rasic has been one of the great contributors to the tremendous success of the Serbian national team in recent years, but thinks it is the team as such that should be credited for the achievements and not the big names in the squad.

“We could brag that we have the best players in the world, but volleyball is a team sport and one player who repeats, ‘me, me, me’, is enough for everything to fall apart,” the 29-year-old athlete said in an online interview with the national federation of Serbia. “It is an honour and a great pleasure to play for Serbia. Right from the start, when you join the team, you feel like you are a part of something big. The achievements and the friends you make there cannot be put into words. Our success over the years speaks for itself. Without the great atmosphere we create in the team we wouldn’t achieve any of this. We have a dream team, but it is important that we are a true team!” 

“When I started practising volleyball, it was my escape from reality. I could hardly wait to meet my friends and play volleyball, and I was happy. It all began to fit perfectly. I was growing up and learning not only about volleyball, but about life in general. I realised I could make something of myself in volleyball, and maybe I could create a better life for myself. Volleyball taught me a lot of things and helped me grow into a healthy and sane human being,” Milena Rasic added.

A career rich with numerous medals and individual honours followed. It was highlighted by the 2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championship gold and the 2016 Olympic silver, with Rasic named on the Dream Team on each of these occasions. She and her Serbian teammates have turned into true icons of women’s volleyball with thousands of fans all over the world.

“We get a lot of fan mail from all around the globe - Japan, Poland, Brazil... It’s incredible!” the 1.93m-tall volleyballer said. “I think everything started at the Olympic Games in Rio. We were not favourites, we went there to give it our best shot and whatever happened would be fine... And then we beat USA in the semis and people liked us. Everybody in the hall cheered for us because we were the underdogs. From that moment on, we gained a lot of support from all over the world...”

Rasic spikes in the 2018 World Championship final against Italy

Milena Rasic has earned the reputation of a true all-round player.

“This is thanks to all the coaches I have worked with,” she pointed out. “I worked on all elements, except maybe reception. I guess I’m not bad in defence as many coaches told me so. I started as a setter, which is unbelievable even for me right now, and I tried every position. I even played as a libero once in the youth team of my first club, Sumadija Arandjelovac.”

While most of her many individual prizes were for Best Middle Blocker, in 2011 Rasic was named the Best Spiker of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.

“I must admit I was surprised by that award,” she commented. “It rarely goes to the hands of a middle blocker, but they looked at the percentage in attack. Everyone knows that Serbia like to attack with their middles, especially Maja Ognjenovic. I was fortunate to play with excellent setters who fed us, middles, with balls, and we scored.”

Serbia’s most recent international success was the 2019 CEV European Championship title, in which Rasic did not take part. During the spectacular final in Ankara, however, she supported her team from the stands.

“The main reason was that I really needed to rest a little bit. I talked it over with coach Terzic and I spent my summer with family and friends,” she explained. “To be honest, it is much easier for me to play than to watch. You sit there knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do from the stands, and that you could help if you were down there, on the court.”

Milena Rasic has had a fantastic playing career at a club level as well. For the last six years she has been part of VakifBank Istanbul’s stellar generation that won, among many others, two trophies and two bronze medals over the last four editions of the FIVB Volleyball Club World Championships. Rasic was part of the competition Dream Teams in 2016 and 2018, but she remembers the 2019 event as the most difficult moment in her career.

“I was not in good shape and had trouble finding my game. I felt really bad. It seemed like it was never going to end,” she said. “Luckily, we won a bronze medal, and I came through.”

“I am too emotional and I frequently cry after a match, sometimes even after a bad training session,” Rasic confessed. “Even if I play well and we lose, and especially if we play for a medal, I often cry...”

When the coronavirus lockdown started, Rasic stayed in Turkey, where she was reached for this interview.

“I am fine. I have everything I need. I respect all the recommendations to stay at home and I go out only to pick up groceries nearby and I wear a mask and gloves. I watch movies and TV, and now I am putting together a 1,500-piece puzzle. It feels like I’m never going to finish it,” she laughed.

“We get exercises from our club trainer and work out mostly for strength or running in place. Unfortunately, we cannot work with a ball. So for one hour a day I jump around and surely get on my neighbours’ nerves. We have training every day, except Sunday, and these exercises are really helpful.”

Milena revealed what is the most important thing she learned from volleyball.

“I learned that when I fall, I have to get up and try again - even harder and even better. No matter how many times you fall, you always need to find the strength for one more try. This applies not only to sports, but to life in general. Do not give up!”

Milena Rasic

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