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Brankica Mihajlovic: We are like a true family

Serbia's Brankica Mihajlovic takes on the Dutch block of Juliet Lohuis and Laura Dijkema in the opening week of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 31, 2019 - With the World Championship title weighing on their shoulders, Serbia are gradually introducing some new blood in their team at this year's FIVB Volleyball Nations League, ahead of their push for the only major gold medal that still eludes them: the most coveted of them all - that of the Olympic Games.

But to bring it all together the old guard is still around - and who better at making everything work seamlessly than 28-year-old Brankica Mihajlovic, who has been earning world medals for Serbia since their bronze at the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix.

"It's been very nice, and very demanding," says the two-time Olympian reflecting on the period since that first medal of 2013. "We have come closer as a group, like a true family. We have grown as a team continuously. We won bronze at the 2015 European Championship, the first one for me in this competition, and then it got even better in 2016 and 2017, and last year we became the world champions. So, from my point of view, it's been only success, on all levels."

Brankica Mihajlovic in action against Turkey in the opening week of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

But her fondest memories are from that 2015-2016 period, when Serbia were actually the most successful team in the world with three medals: gold at the European Games in Baku, then bronze at the European Championship, and in the end silver at the World Cup in Japan.

"Oh, yes!" she exclaims. "I almost forgot about that! That World Cup in Japan was maybe the most difficult competition for us, 11 matches in 14 days. We finished second, behind China but in front of the USA. It was unbelievable and so stressful. We did great, I remember. And surely it was a turning point for us. After that we became the Olympic vice-champions and we began climbing to the top of the world."

And that top of the world was gold at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Japan.

"It is still vivid," says Mihajlovic. "To be honest I often go on YouTube to watch replays of the final points in the gold medal match. We are the world champions, and it feels great. But you always have to look forward, and come up with the new goals. So now we have the Olympic qualifiers and the European Championship coming up, and that is something we need to focus on and forget about anything else."

"I am glad that we have the opportunity to introduce new players in this year's VNL, so us, older and more experienced girls get to rest a little bit," continues Mihajlovic. "Mid-July we have to start working hard for the Olympic qualifiers and the European Championship, so we need to be very focused and prepare well. Maybe we do not like long preparations, but it is the formula that was proven to be successful, so we should continue doing what we did in the previous years and I am sure that the results will be visible."

Despite spending up to five months a year together with her Serbia team mates, she doesn't single out any of them as her best friends.

"It would not be fair to single out somebody from the team because they all are great. Maybe, I spend more time with Tijana Malesevic, Bojana Zivkovic, Jovana Stevanovic and Milena Rasic, but really I have warm relationships with everyone, with older girls and with those who just joined us. We have a truly nice and unique atmosphere in the team."

However, Mihajlovic does have her pre-match rituals, though she's reluctant to go into details.

Tijana Malesevic and I know each other from 2010 or 2011, and we started together in the team, we are roommates, and yes we have something going on before the matches, but I would prefer to keep it as a secret," she giggles.

Serbia are only missing Olympic gold from their already bulging trophy cabinet - so success in Tokyo 2020 is obviously on their minds.

"This is definitely our primary goal," she says. "We came so close in 2016, and that is something that everyone of us is eager to win. But it is still too far away, we haven't even qualified yet."

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