5700 miles away from home, Luketic continues to develop

Keshav Prathivadi

Malo nas je al’ nas ima.

When roughly translated to English, it reads: “We’re few, but plenty.” This saying goes around the Eastern European community in the Austin area.

And now one more person can play a part in this well-known saying: freshman outside hitter Katarina Luketic.

The Croatian native’s first year on the 40 Acres also happens to be her first time in the United States. With this comes the excitement of traveling to a new place and also a lot of emotions.

“A lot of firsts … at the airport I had to say goodbye to my family and that was really sad,” Luketic said. “But also I remember how excited I felt when I landed here … this is what I wanted to do and I’m happy here.”

Having left Croatia just weeks before both the season and semester started, Luketic still feels a tinge of homesickness. But there’s someone in her life who made this move even harder.

“I miss (my dog) the most because you can’t talk to or Skype your dog,” Luketic said. “I used to have an obligation to take care of my dog, and now I can’t.”

As the only foreign player on the No. 4 Texas squad, Luketic brings a unique perspective to the team. During her time in Croatia, she had stints with the Croatian National Team competing in tournaments like the Croatian Cup and European Championship on a global stage.

But in Austin, she’s another face in one of the nation’s highest-ranked recruiting classes. Luketic was a late addition to the bunch, but she put her experience to work early in the season as a starter. In Texas’ first two games alone, she notched an impressive 28 kills.

One of the more interesting details on Luketic’s feat is this comes at a time when she’s playing a different style of volleyball for the first time. Having played at such a high level in Europe, the transition to the collegiate game has been anything but easy.

“It has been a little difficult, but the coaching staff really helped me a lot,” Luketic said. “In Europe, we wouldn’t have a six-on-six practice early in the morning, but here people just go for it.”

What else is new for Luketic? Food. The first thing she ate when she got to Austin, as anyone else would, was a breakfast taco. She’s been chowing down on a lot of them following her move and falling in love with a special ingredient along the way.

“It had bacon, egg, and avocado,” Luketic said. “I became obsessed with avocados since I got here … and guacamole too.”

Outside of the gym, Luketic is like any other freshman student: taking four classes, having two midterms on the same day and simply relaxing when there isn’t homework, practice or a game to play. But there’s one part of the title that sets her and her classmates apart: student-athlete.

Trainings at 6:15 a.m. are not only early compared to her days in Europe, but a lot more intense and almost game-like. Despite some variations in routine, her quality of play hasn’t declined.

“She’s a special player,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She came over here to a new system … the game is a little bit faster … she’s a really good blocker so I’m sure we’ll be seeing her throughout the season.”

From here on out, Luketic and her freshmen teammates will continue to lead the charge for the Longhorns as they push through the conference play and look to earn the right to be a top-four seed for the NCAA Tournament.

But as the season rolls on, there’s only one date circled on Luketic’s calendar — Nov. 20.

It’s not the day of a game or a tournament, but the day she hops on a plane to Croatia to see her family again.

Until then, Texas will have to keep its nose on the grindstone. They’ll play at Gregory Gymnasium on Saturday at 6 p.m.