Freshman Nika Šimenc is the first-ever overseas student-athlete to play for Virginia's volleyball program. Hailing from Zagreb, Croatia, Šimenc, at 6-4, is the tallest player on the Cavaliers' roster and is working to adjust to life in the United States.
This weekend, Šimenc will make her first visit to Clemson and Georgia Tech, as the Cavaliers take on the Tigers (Fri., 7 p.m.) and Yellow Jackets (Sun., 1 p.m.)
Question: What made you decide you wanted to come to the United States for school and volleyball?
Šimenc: When I was here to visit some friends in California eight years ago, I actually decided that after I finished high school, I wanted to come to America for college. But of course, nobody believed me when I said that. When I was finishing school and it was time to choose what I should do, I was talking to my parents and because my dad was also an athlete and my mum was one in high school, they wanted me to continue playing volleyball. Because I put in too many years and too much work to just quit, my parents knew that America was the best place to continue my life.
Question: What made you choose the University of Virginia?
Šimenc: The University of Virginia is a great program, which includes academics and sport and that was what I needed. It is a high-ranked university and the volleyball program is amazing. After my official visit here, and after just a few hours of thinking, I chose UVa. The campus is one of the 10 most beautiful campuses in the world and the people are so happy, positive and supportive.
Question: What is the biggest difference between life here and at home?
Šimenc: The biggest difference is food, but I think I am getting used to it. I am lucky to have my assistant coach Jenny because she is a big help and she always makes sure of what I eat. But still, I miss my mums food a lot.
Question: Your dad and sister came to see you last week. What was it like having them here with you?
Šimenc: Last week my dad and my sister were here and it was great to have them. It was an amazing feeling to see that they are happy because of me and they loved the games, especially the football one. That is a sport we don't have in Europe and it was great to be the part of the great win against Miami.
Question: Your dad was a four-time Olympian in water polo. What kind of impact has that had on you?
Šimenc: Yes, my dad was a great water polo player, winning gold in Seoul and silver in Atlanta. Of course I want to be like him, but it will be a hard road and I think America will help me.
Question: If you could bring one thing back home with you, what would you choose to bring?
Šimenc: The one thing that I would bring with me back home would be respect for the sport, love for everything that you are doing and a positive attitude because people don't play sports because it's fun. Ask any athlete, most of them hate it, but they couldn't imagine their life without it. It's part of them, the love/hate relationship. It's what they live for. They live for the practices, parties, cheers, long bus rides, invitationals, countless pairs of different types of shoes, water, Gatorade and coaches you hate, but appreciate. They live for the way it feels when they beat the other team and knowing those two extra sprints they ran in practice were worth it. They live for the way they become a family with their team, they live for the countless songs they sing in their head while training all those hours. They live for the competition, they live for the friends, the practices, the memories, the pain, it's who they are. It's who we are.