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Milena Rasic: happily exiled in Turkey

Thursday, 31 Mar 2016
Zuzanna Dulnik - @ZetDe04
Photo: CEV

Our most recent Player in Focus Milena Rasic is one of the most known middle blockers in the world.

At age of 25, the Serbian star plays on many fronts, representing her country on international competitions and playing professionally in Turkish League, away from her homeland. Volleyverse spoke to Rasic about her goals, nostalgia about her domestic league and players she looks up to.

Although she’s only 25 years old, Milena Rasic is one of the most experienced players in national team of Serbia. Having made her debut in national team back in 2009, she went with the teams through all the major international and club volleyball competitions in the world. Now heading onto her third Champions League final and second Olympics, Rasic has it all to become one of the most successful middle blockers.

The battle of Europe

After four years and four French champion titles, four French Cups and Champions League silver with RC Cannes the Serb moved to Turkey to try compete in one of the strongest clubs in the world VakifBank Istanbul. The first season brought silver of the Turkish League and bronze of the Champions League. This year Rasic seeks more than that. VakifBank marches for the title in the league, keeping second place with 20 victories and 2 losses. The team recorded the winning streak in Champions League, at first winning pool B, then defeating 2015 Champions League winner Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul in the Play-Off 12 phase. In the Play-Off 6 VakifBank met Volero Zurich and secured their spot in the Final Four winning 3-2 and 3-1.

We’ve had pretty hard way and I am so happy and proud that we made it”, recalls Rasic. And yet in Montichiari it won’t get any easier as VakifBank will meet another well-known rival Fenerbahce Grundig Istanbul. In the final – should it happen for Rasic – the team will face Russian giant Dinamo Kazan or Italian rookie playing in front of the home crowd Pomi Casalmaggiore.

“Right now it would be inappropriate to talk about gold, even though this is our first goal. Not only ours, but also of the other teams who are going to be there. The first thing that we need to think about is the semi-final against Fenerbahce. One thing is for sure, we will fight till the end, as always.”

Dream of Olympics

While many players won’t slow down after the club season, but turn into Olympic qualifiers, Serbians are among those who can catch some breath. Rasic secured the Olympic berth with her team at the World Cup in Japan back in 2015, finishing right behind China. Going through tough season with the qualifier held between World Grand Prix series and European Championship was easier to handle thanks to team’s mentality, not giving up and good atmosphere. For Rasic these were the reasons why Serbia got their tickets to Rio 2016. And although it didn’t feel real in the first place, she believes they deserved to win the qualification back then.

The post-club-season rest seems like an extra award alongside the Olympic berth. “We will have a little bit of rest, and honestly that is the thing we need the most after hard season”, said Milena. And just like in the Final Four, the question of aiming for gold needs to be asked.

“Serbia will go there to play and fight till the last point. We know what we can expect there, and that is for sure good volleyball and strong opponents. We’ll be ready for that”, explains Rasic. The team’s roster is not known yet, but the player has all the confidence in their coach Zoran Terzic. “I am pretty sure he will choose the best ones at that moment.”

The secret of Serbia’s power

Terzic indeed has the list to choose from. After every Olympic cycle many teams go through major changes in the rosters, often lowering their level in the first years. This issue doesn’t seem to touch either women or men national teams of Serbia. One talent is replaced by another with Rasic, Brankica Mihajlovic or Tijana Boskovic to mention a few. How do they do that? Rasic can’t explain the phenomenon. Great level of coaching of the junior teams could be one of the reasons, but gaining experience in the best leagues since the young age another. The Serbian league itself is far from the top in Europe, therefore best Serbian players find their jobs all over the continent.

“Most of the players are young, but still really talented”, Rasic praises her younger colleagues who play in Serbian league. She hopes however that the championship will get stronger in the future.

“I hope that one day everything will be like it used to be before, and that we can come back home and play in our own country.”

Quick like Maja

At age of 25, being regarded as one of the best middle blockers in the world, Rasic remains focused and humble. “That is a really big honour for me”, she responds. “And that makes me want to improve more and more, day by day”. When asked what does it take to be the best at her position, herself known for her great offensive skills – awarded Best Spiker at the 2011 World Grand Prix – doesn’t share a holy grail of middle blocker’s knowledge. Her answer, as simple as it might have sounded, is probably the key: “You have to work hard on every practice and give your best”.

Are there any middle blockers the Serbian star looks up to? The honour goes to Croatian and opponent from Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul Maja Poljak. “I wish I had her speed in block!”, laughs Rasic.

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