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2018-03-27 14:00:00 CEST

Fighting for their place in the sun

The journey of Serbian players in beach volleyball has not been easy, but they are just getting started

Matic (at the net) and Milosevic (in the red tops) competed in the qualifier of the Fort Lauderdale MajorMatic (at the net) and Milosevic (in the red tops) competed in the qualifier of the Fort Lauderdale Major

For the last three seasons, two beach volleyball teams have been taking Serbia’s flag to some of the most important international beach volleyball tournaments around the globe. That’s an impressive achievement for a country with nothing more than a recent tradition in the sport, but they want more. And they need help to accomplish that.

The men’s team of Lazar Kolaric/Djordje Klasnic and the women’s tandem of Marija Milosevic/Milena Matic have been progressing year after year in the international scene, but it hasn’t been easy for them to have their nation represented in the elite of the sport lately.

“We had support from our national federation from 2013 to 2016, but it ceased after that,” Klasnic says. “They helped us with our preparation and our trips, but it’s over now. And it’s a tough blow, because we have to afford with all our expenses and as we normally start tournaments in the qualifier, if we don’t advance we don’t have the prize money to cover for it. We can’t afford even taking our coach with us when we play. It’s tough, but it won’t stop us from reaching our goals.”

But their challenges start way before they jump in an airplane to play around the world. During the winter, Serbian beach volleyball teams don’t have decent conditions for training as the country doesn’t have any indoor sand facility that could accommodate them. During the last seasons, both teams have spent their entire preseasons working in the gym and training in the hardwood of indoor volleyball courts until the weather allowed them to go outside again.

In 2018, though, they decided they needed to do differently and found a way to get to Florida several weeks before they competed in the Fort Lauderdale Major so they could have a proper preparation for the entire season ahead of them.

We are ready for new battles! Tomorrow @beachmajorseries in Fort Lauderdale starts and both Serbian teams play qualification matches. We play our first game aginst Chile at 10:30 local time (16:30 serbian time) at court 3. You should probably be able to find a stream at after you register on that site. We worked hard in a past month and we will definitely give our best tomorrow. Super excited to be a part of this major event! Feel free to support us, it means a lot. Lets do this! #Klakol #SerbiaBeachTeam #pansport #worldclasssrbija #transexpress #teamserbia🇷🇸 #FIVB #fivbworldtour #beachmajor #beachmajorseries #ftlmajor #major #florida

121 Likes, 6 Comments - Beachteam Klasnic/Kolaric (@beachteam.klakol) on Instagram: "We are ready for new battles! Tomorrow @beachmajorseries in Fort Lauderdale starts and both Serbian..."

“We’ve been playing in the Tour for the last three years and this was the first time we had the opportunity to actually train in the off-season,” 32-year-old Milosevic says. “We decided we needed a drastic change because it was just no possible to keep doing that and expect we’d be able to compete against the best teams in the world. But we did everything on our own. We found a sponsor who helped us, we hired a coach and worked hard to get better. And we look completely different now, both individually and as a team. It’s just a whole different level.”

The situation is especially contradictory considering the fact that Serbia is one of the strongest nations in the world in indoor volleyball, counting with star players and passionate fans. The sport is one of the most popular in the country and their national teams are among the best in the planet, but its relevance is yet to transition to the beach.

Actually, for Klasnic, the distinguished status of indoor volleyball in the country is an additional challenge for the growth of beach volleyball in Serbia.

“Our indoor teams are great and they get all the attention and all the federation’s budget,” the 22-year-old defender adds. “It’s almost like their results make our accomplishments invisible. And there’s also the issue regarding player development as young talented athletes won’t give up on their indoor careers and transition to the beach because there’s no support and no system in place. We probably have 60 professional beach athletes in the country and that’s not enough.”

Kolaric (left) and Klasnic reached the semifinals of the World Tour one-star event in Montpellier last September (Photocredit: FIVB)Kolaric (left) and Klasnic reached the semifinals of the World Tour one-star event in Montpellier last September (Photocredit: FIVB)

A solution for their problems might not be too distant, though, as their European rivals Poland is a country with pretty much the same background, having indoor volleyball as the number one sport.

The difference is that the nation started a strong beach program over a decade ago which saw teams from the country compete in the last two editions of the Olympics and claim several medals in the World Tour in recent years.

“Poland is a very good example on how a federation can handle our sport,” 25-year-old Matic explains. “They decided they wanted to have their athletes in the Olympics and they applied their resources on it. They travel around the world, they are always doing training camps in Tenerife and you can see their results.”

Despite of the adversities, both teams keep showing signs of progress in the sands. Matic and Milosevic have had some World Tour main draw appearances in the last three years and registered three top-ten finishes in European Challenger and Satellite tournaments.

First CEV medal !!! #KlaKol #believe

224 Likes, 1 Comments - Djordje Klasnic (@djolekl) on Instagram: "First CEV medal !!! #KlaKol #believe"

Klasnic and Kolaric, however, went further, having two fourth-place finishes in the World Tour and a bronze medal won in a European Challenger and Satellite tournament in 2017.

 “It’s good to see that people are starting to notice us, but at the same time we are in a bad situation because we have no support,” Matic adds. “All the development has been accomplished by the athletes who have desire to be out there fighting on their own. We have a very good base in Serbia and we could play this sport at a very high level if we had the resources. Without them, we can’t compete against the best in the world.”

According to the players, there are plans been developed to improve the support for beach volleyball in the country in a few years. Until there, they keep fighting.

“Beach volleyball is growing as a sport and it gets more and more attention around the world,” he finished. “It’s attractive, entertaining, fun and usually located in nice places. More and more countries are investing on this sport and I hope Serbia does the same at some point.”

Keep up the good work no matter what, guys!

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