Hena Kurtagic, a middle blocker on the Serbian junior national team, does not think twice about pointing to Stefana Veljkovic when asked who her idol is.

“She is an excellent player! Her blocking, her performance in general, is great! I want to be like her and one day I will be!” the 1.95m-tall rising star of Serbian volleyball told Volleyball World on the premises of the FIVB Volleyball U20 Women’s World Championship in Belgium.

“Right now I am not like her. I am a little bit of a quiet person and a quiet player, and she is like a monster, like a beast during the game.” Kurtagic added.

Hena Kurtagic in a blocking action at the U20 World Championship

Hena Kurtagic in a blocking action at the U20 World Championship

Hena is only 16 years old, the second youngest player on the Serbian squad in Kortrijk, but she has already had a solid set of experiences and achieved a significant amount at age-category championships. She played for her country in the most recent editions of the European Championships in all three different age categories. In 2020, she claimed a U19 continental silver and a U17 continental bronze and was named on the Dream Team as the Best Middle Blocker on both occasions.

All that, just a couple of years after she got into volleyball for the most unusual reason.

“I got into volleyball three or four years ago because I wanted a high grade in physical education at school,” she admitted. “I don’t know what happened next, but here I am!”

And here she is, at the U20 World Championship, as a leading player of her team, and qualified for the semifinals and quite possibly heading for another big medal and another Dream Team nomination.

Hena Kurtagic spikes

Hena Kurtagic spikes

“This championship is a good experience for me and my teammates. We will give 100% to win medals. The level is higher than at the European Championships. It is a full championship, with teams from other parts of the world, and it is a great experience, especially for me, because I am one of the youngest players here. It is good for me to play with and against athletes who are older and therefore better than those of my own age. Of course, I hope to be and I will try to be on the Dream Team here again, but I don’t know if it will happen. Maybe! We’ll see...”

Hena Kurtagic has also taken her first steps at the senior level. With her club team, TENT Obrenovac, she celebrated a national championship title in 2020 and a silver medal in 2021, played in the Champions League and reached the semifinals of the CEV Cup. She also received a call to train with the senior national team of her country, reigning world and European champions, and she thought it was a great learning experience.

“That was a little bit weird, because I was the youngest there and Tijana Boskovic, Brankica Mihajlovic, Milena Rasic were there..., the top players in the world, and, of course, I was a little bit intimidated,” she said. “Even just watching them was a great experience, let alone playing with them.

“I will give all of me when and if the coach thinks I am ready for my debut with the national team.”

Hena Kurtagic celebrates with her teammates

Hena Kurtagic celebrates with her teammates

Hena declined to point to any special interests she might have outside volleyball.

“Only volleyball! Every day, all day – volleyball!” she said. “These matches, these friendships, all the travelling are the things that motivate me to train hard every day. I love volleyball and I am here to play. It brings out the best in me and I am here to give my best.”

It is clear that for the ambitious, committed and hard-working young athlete, dreams quickly turn into realistic goals.

“My current dream is to win a gold medal at this World Championship,” Kurtagic said. “In the future I dream of playing at the Olympic Games and of joining some of the best clubs in the world, such as VakifBank, Eczacibasi and Fenerbahce. When I achieve these dreams, I will dream up new ones.”