In a special interview for volleycountry.com, Mia Jerkov shares story about her volleyball experiences.
When and where did you start to play volleyball? Could you tell us about your first volleyball experience?
I started playing volleyball in Split Croatia… my hometown. It was a small club named Arka Split but my coach was a famous exYugoslavia volleyball coach Branko Draganic. He transferred to me his passion and love for volleyball.
My first volleyball experience wasn’t a classic situation like you would hear from others. I was 13 years old and by then I played tennis and did swimming for 5 years. Branko Draganic saw me walking down the street and I was a skinny and tall… He knew my family and then he started calling my parents to see if I were interested to come to some practices… I didn’t know what to think but one time I decided to show up to practice and I loved it. However I didn’t have any knee pads and I wasn’t good as others in a team (I didn’t know anything) so I figured I still don’t deserve to wear knee pads until I can get a little better. I kept working hard but my knees were so bruised it was ugly… and one day my coach brought me my first volleyball knee pads
. I felt so great… I kept working hard and in one year I made it to the youth national team.
After completing your education in the United States you were a player for Uralochka. How do you look back on this choice? What did you learn in Russia?
I went to Russia after my junior year at Berkeley so at that time I didn’t finish my education but I came in later to finish it. I was 21 years old and it was a difficult decision to make. No one in my family graduated and I was supposed to be the first one and at prestigious university, so my decision to go professional was very hard and hard to accept in general. However, the opportunity to play in the team that wrote a history of women’s volleyball is one in a lifetime experience. At that time I just followed my heart but today I believe it was a good choice. Nikolay Karpol was my coach and he thought me so many things and he made me tougher, more ready to compete and win. I believe it was a big deal making 21year old a starter in a team that was full of Russian olympians. He made a huge risk with making me play and I hope I paid him back just a little bit :).
Russian championship is harsh due to so much traveling, and it takes so much time to travel from one side to the other so thats a setback for the whole competition, but overall is a great championship with great players. I love Russia and I left there a lot of great friends and memories. I hope some day I get to go back.
From Russia you transferrred to Italy, where spent several seasons. Could you summarize this period? The best and worst moments?
My experience in Italy was very different than Russia. I came in to a different team with different way of training than Russia or USA for that matter. I took some time to get used to it. My first year I had a privilege to work with Brazilian coach Mauro Marasciulo and he helped me a lot to get use to Italian style. We worked so hard and I could see great results from it and that gave me motivation to push myself harder and harder every day. My second year I transferred to Vicenza a team that was better than the team I used to play in, but situation in the club was very difficult and everything culminated with a car crash that fortunately didn’t see anyone get hurt. After that I transferred until the end of the season back to Forli. The irony is that I played great all season and was high up in every statistical category but the whole situation was so disappointing and hard that I decided to quit volleyball at the end of that season and go back to school. In 2008 I graduated from University of California at Berkeley and was very happy about it. By the end of that year I got a call from my coach Mauro Marasciulo if I would be interested to come back and play half season in second Italian league. At that point I havent touched the ball for a year and half and I lost 6kg but still my passion for volleyball was alive so I decided to give it a try. It was a hard comeback but somehow I made it through with help of my family and teammates. We played both cup and championship finals that year and I managed to get back to my previous levels. However, I knew there was still a hard road in front of me. My last year in Italy was in Piacenza…a great team with great people running it…they were like a family to me. My experience in Piacenza was a bumpy road mostly due to so many changes to the team during a year. We were a good team that couldn’t express its quality for most of the year. My game was always aggressive and that wasn’t something my coach wanted in his team so I didn’t play for first half of the year and we kept losing everything. That was very frustrating to watch but I decided to work hard and prove my coach wrong so I made it. I made it to play all the time until the end of the year and that was my biggest victory… and the team was winning finally. 🙂
You could say that, I expected from my Italian experience to be much more positive considering everything but for me it was a great lesson; It taught me to never stop believing in myself and even when bad things happen, one should believe in justice because it always comes.
What was the main reason why you left the Serie A and signed a contract with the Pink Spiders? How do you see the time that you spent there? Was there anything that surprised you in Korea?
Main reason I signed with Pink Spiders was because I needed a new experience and new motivation. My time in Italy made me feel that Italy is not right place for me to be, so I wanted a change. Experience in Korea in one word; life-changing. Its hard to explain but Korea changed me and I would like to believe in a good way. When I first came to Korea I felt like I came to another cultural galaxy. I was completely fascinated and scared also. The beginning was tough, especially running practices but somehow I made it through physically and mentally, and it made a better player and arguably a better person also. Its a funny thing, but when you live in a dormitory with the girls and you live through all the good and bad moments then its inevitable to bond on some deeper level, and I can still feel that bond. Sometimes I even miss it. I was challenged every day… I needed to perform better everyday and I was asked to win and be the best every time I stepped on the court. It was hard to live up to all these expectations but when I put aside all of my fears and doubts I could do exactly that, and after a while..it becomes normal, a second nature. My experience in Korea was life-changing and it was exactly what I needed in that time and place. It made me better player and it made me see life in different perspective. I’m truly grateful for my time in Korea and for great friends I left behind and who helped me so much during my stay there. Everything about Korea is surprising and fascinating but what surprised me the most was such a group spirit. There is no individualism. Individual qualities are praised but whats valued the most, is how much an individual can contribute to a group or society; because if society benefits then individual also benefits. It sounds normal now but when you think about it, in Europe rarely anyone lives like that anymore.
Now you are playing in the Turkish league. Could you compare it to others where you have played?
Turkish league is arguably one of the strongest in the world. Its a privilege to be able to play here and I love to play and measure myself against stronger teams. Its still little early to compare but for me personally the most challenging was Korea, mostly because tactically everyone is focused only on me, being the only player to score important points. In Turkey there are more players who can score important points so its easier. In Turkey like in Korea I enjoy myself more, playing volleyball, so automatically I like it more. I hope it keeps up :).
Is there any place (league) where you have not played yet, but would like to?
I would like to play in Brazil. I never played there and it would be interesting to try. Also I like to work very hard and I heard they practice a lot.
What is your most memorable volleyball moment?
There are couple of great moments but the most memorable one is definitely my first year in Russia. We were down 2-0 against Dinamo Moscow (Moskovskaya Oblast) in championship finals and we turned it around 3-2 and I was elected MVP. It was a crazy game and I still don’t remember any of it, only the end :)…but I was honored to play next to players like Elizaveta Tishchenko, Elena Plotnikova and Natalija Safronova so that was the best part of it.
Do you have any idol in volleyball?
When I was little I admired the most Evgeniya Artamonova and Lyubov Sokolova. They both have incredible technique and I really tried to pick up everything I can from them. Russian National Team often came to Pula Croatia for training camps so I would get to see practices and Nikolay Karpol also made me train with them, so thats why I’m so influenced with these players. He would always tell me, Mia look at Zhenya and Lyuba…look at their technique. And after that I would go to the wall and try to do that movement million of times until I can get it right.
But my sports idol, is Michael Jordan. Sometimes, I would get up 5am and watch his tapes and interviews. He truly inspired me to go over my limits and fears, and he still does.
I would also like to ask you about the national team. How do you see its future?
Croatian National Team is probably a great enigma for most volleyball supporters. So many times people approach me and ask me, How come so many of Croatian players play in great clubs and have great results but National Team never manages to play well?! Well, I could try to answer it, but its apparent that the players are not the problem. I’m the first one who would like to win great games wearing a national team shirt but my time is running out. I would like to say that our future is bright and I definitely hope so, but its hard when there are no investments into Croatian volleyball. This is all I will say, and I hope you will call me in 8 years and tell me, Mia you were wrong, Croatia is World Champion. :).
And the last question. If not volleyball, then…?
If not volleyball…then…..ugh :)… this is a hard one…
If I never chose volleyball I would have chosen basketball like my father did.
But I was also considering dropping sports and becoming a doctor like my late aunt Melina Taras.
But now I’m just a volleyball player with Legal Studies degree…so I might be a lawyer in a future :).