After a strong rookie season with Serbia, Uzelac wants to fight for a spot in the Olympic squad

Already guaranteed in the Paris Olympics, two-time world champions Serbia decided to give some of their players a break during the Volleyball Nations League 2024, most notably Tijana Bošković, Maja Ognjenović, Jovana Stevanović and Bianka Buša.

The absence of some of the team’s main stars will give up-and-coming Serbian players an invaluable opportunity to get playing time and major roles ahead of the Paris Games and among the ones looking to capitalize on it is Aleksandra Uzelac.

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A silver medalist at the 2021 U20 World Championship, the 19-year-old outside hitter was one of the revelations of the Serbian national team in 2023 and returns this year looking to solidify her spot in the squad that will try to give the Europeans their first Olympic title after taking silver and bronze in the last two editions of the Games.

Uzelac got her first call-up to the Serbian senior team in 2023 and didn’t need much time to prove how useful she could be, appearing in all but one match of their VNL campaign and tallying 23 points against Japan before getting on the court in four of the seven Serbian matches during the Volleyball Olympic Qualifier, in China.

The strong performance during the international season gave Uzelac the confidence to take a major step in her club career and she signed with Fluminense in the Brazilian Superliga. The young Serbian immediately became the team’s most important player, emerging as the tournament’s regular season top scorer and leading her team to take bronze in the Brazilian Cup, which led her to sign a contract to play in the Turkish League next season.

Back with the national team, Uzelac knows she will need to make the most of every opportunity she gets to play in order to stand out among what is an endless list of talented Serbian outside hitters who still want a spot in the Olympic roster, such as Buša, Katarina Lazović, Sara Lozo and Bojana Milenković.

The challenges don’t scare Uzelac, who took the time to chat with Volleyball World in an exclusive interview a few weeks before the start of the VNL.

Volleyball World: What led you to the decision to leave Serbia and play for Fluminense in Brazil this season? What did you expect with this move?

Uzelac: Surely it was a desire for something greater. I adapted to the league in Serbia and wanted to change the environment because of my progress. I expected good work above all, a stronger league, meeting with famous national team players and, of course, more experience.

VW: How was the experience for you? As a player, how much did you grow over the last few months? And personally, what was it like to live on another continent in your first experience overseas at just 19 years old?

Uzelac: To be honest, I'm satisfied, but it could always be better. It's always difficult to talk about myself, in some parts of the game I can say that I feel a change, and I feel that it's better than it was. On other things, I think I still need to work a lot. It was hard to live alone, far from family, on the other side of the world... but as they say, that's all part of the sport. When you love something, nothing is a problem.

VW: You were the top scorer of the Brazilian Superliga regular season. Did you expect to be able to make such an impact in your first year? How did it feel to have so much success in your first experience overseas?

Uzelac: I expected the best from myself, of course. I went there with the intention of showing what I'm the best at. Being the top scorer meant to me that I managed to fight alongside all the great players in this league. But I would definitely like it to be even better statistically! Of course, all the success there meant a lot for the first time away from home. It all gave me extra motivation every day.

VW: The 2024 international season will be a big one. How much do you think that coming from a strong club season can help you and how are you planning to be able to carry that good form into the international season?

Uzelac: Everything is certainly easier when you train and play at a higher level all season long. On the other hand, the national team is something else, so everything starts from the beginning. I can say that this year I will be a little more experienced on the court, that’s for sure.

VW: The 2023 season was your first with the Serbian senior national team. How did it feel to accomplish this, which I assume was a big goal in your career? How did the team’s big stars welcome you and how was it to play with Bošković and Ognjenović?

Uzelac: Making it to the national team is one of the goals of every volleyball player. I was sorry we didn’t get to win gold at the European Championship, but there will be more to come. I am glad that I managed to help the players in some way, but they mean so much to me. Just training with them, listening to their advice and watching how professional athletes work was a privilege. I could talk about Maya and Tica all day. It's an understatement to say that I was delighted. I watched them constantly trying to learn something and approaching the game with such dedication, knowledge and strength. Honestly, whatever I could say about them would be way too little. It was a huge honor and I'm glad that I will learn from the best again this summer.

VW: What are your goals with the Serbian national team for 2024? What would it mean to you to be able to represent your country at the Olympics at such a young age?

Uzelac: We want to win gold at the Olympics. I am close to realizing my greatest wish, which is to represent my country at the Olympics, and I will do my best to do as well as possible.

VW: There will be heavy competition between the Serbian outside hitters to make it to the Olympic roster. How do you expect to stand out and beat the competition to be a part of the squad, especially probably being the least experienced among the contenders?

Uzelac: It’s true that I am one of the least experienced players on the team with only one year of a professional career. But I'm surrounded by many good players and that won't stop me from fighting for my place. I'm not afraid, I have confidence in myself and I'll give my maximum to be there.

VW: Looking beyond 2024, what are the main goals and dreams you have in your career? With this promising start you’re having, do you believe you’re on the path to accomplishing them?

Uzelac: I really have a lot of goals in my mind, both in my club career and with the national team. To put it simply, I would like to win a gold medal whenever possible! Be it at the Champions League, the World Championships, the European Championship…I believe that I am on the right path and that I will succeed.

VW: Who are your idols and references in the sport? Is there anyone you would love to play with or against that you haven’t yet?

Uzelac: Of course, my idol, like many of us, is Tijana Bošković. I honestly don't have anyone in particular that I would like to play against that I didn’t already. I can add that I follow Arina Federovtseva a lot, because she is as young as I am and already has a career to wish for.

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