Serbian Star Leads Trapper Volleyball Squad-And Cherishes Its Family Feeling
Aleksandra Djordjevic pronounces her I’s like E’s and her W’s like V’s, and when she gets into “trouble,” she isn’t afraid to facetiously use “I don’t know” as an escape route.
Yes, when it comes to English, there’s a slight language barrier for Northwest College volleyball’s Serbian freshman. But luckily for Djordjevic, she doesn’t need to communicate with her words on the court — her game does the talking for her, and her positive attitude off the court takes care of the rest.
If you’re unfamiliar with NWC’s outside hitter from Belgrade, Serbia, know this first: The 19-year-old is NJCAA Division I volleyball’s seventh-best kill collector, having registered 498 of them in 36 matches this season, and ranks eighth in the nation with 4.15 kills per set.
And following the Lady Trappers’ triumphant run through the Region IX Tournament on Nov. 4-6, Djordjevic was not only named to the all-tournament team, but was tabbed Region IX Player of the Year as well.
But even more impressively, when asked about her collegiate accolades, Djordjevic didn’t seem to care. Not because she doesn’t see them as important, she just preferred to point out what was.
“I love this team ... I love my team,” Djordjevic said. “I play for my team because we are like family, and they always treat me like family.”
For Djordjevic, volleyball and family have been one and the same since her childhood days in Serbia. In her homeland, athletics are separated from academics, leaving student-athletes to compete in sports via club teams not connected to their schools.
Djordjevic had the benefit of playing under her mother, who coached her club volleyball teams. When Lady Trappers head coach Shaun Pohlman discovered Djordjevic and began recruiting her to the United States, it was Djordjevic’s mother’s blessing that served as the final push to Northwest College.
“At first, I did not want to go ... I didn’t want to leave my family behind,” Djordjevic said of coming to the U.S. “But I loved coach [Pohlman], and so did my parents, and once my mother said ‘Go, go,’ I felt good about coming here.’”
Pohlman has preached team harmony and closeness during his four years as NWC’s head coach. His focus is not on finding good volleyball players, but instead on recruiting good, team-oriented, unselfish, dedicated people who happen to excel at volleyball.
When he made initial contact with Djordjevic in December 2013, he said he immediately knew she would bring those qualities to Powell — and she has.
“Aleksandra loves this team, and she loves all of the girls on this team,” Pohlman said. “She came here, and she worked hard and she made an effort to really bond with her teammates.
“She didn’t use the language barrier as an excuse ... she learned to communicate with her teammates and built relationships with them on and off the court.”
ON- AND OFF-COURT COMMUNICATION
The line of communication Djordjevic has on the court with her teammates can be simplified pretty quickly: the setters send the ball in Djordjevic’s general direction, and she spikes the heck out of it. So naturally, it was the off-court communication that took the most effort, some of Djordjevic’s American teammates said.
“I got to go pick Aleksandra up from the airport in Billings and I didn’t know that her English wasn’t very good,” NWC sophomore Megan Huddleston said. “So I had to kind of use hand signals and gestures to communicate with her at first. It was kind of like a guessing game.”
But eventually, for Djordjevic, time spent going through the daily grind of collegiate athletics with teammates, as well as taking English as a Second Language courses at NWC, put an end to the use of charades.
“We even have little inside jokes and slang that we use together now,” Lady Trappers sophomore Krystalyn Sloan said of her relationship with Djordjevic. “It definitely takes some time to adjust to foreign players, but at the same time, it’s an awesome experience. And playing with Aleksandra has been amazing.”
Pohlman knows that recruiting any player into his program is always a risk. He said that some players mesh with his program standards and flourish, while others don’t and fizzle out.
Signing international players can be an even greater gamble, as the different styles of play, lifestyles and distance from friends and family can often hinder an athlete’s focus on school and their sport.
But with Djordjevic, Pohlman said the Lady Trapper family served as a second home for the young athlete, providing her security and a platform for success in the process.
“Aleksandra came here, and the girls immediately treated her like family,” Pohlman said. “And that’s the atmosphere we want here, we want Trapper volleyball to be a family. Our girls treated Aleksandra like family, and she treated them the same way.”
And stats or no stats, awards or no awards, Djordjevic made it clear that her intention this season, with the Lady Trappers on their way to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament starting today (Thursday), is to win a national championship. And she plans to do so with her family.
“We spend so much time together and we work so hard ... we are so close ... we want this,” Djordjevic said of her team’s championship aspirations. “I want this for my team because I love my team, and I want to help my team win. That would make me happy.”