Senior volleyball player Jelena Novakovic signed a professional contract with ASPTT Mulhouse of the Ligue AF, the highest level of women’s volleyball in France on March 28.
A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Novakovic spent three seasons with the Cavaliers, transferring to Virginia after spending her freshman season at Penn State. Novakovic made an instant impact after transferring, leading the team in kills in both her sophomore and senior seasons. In total, she tallied 822 kills along with 90 aces in her career at Virginia.
Novakovic was one of the top servers in the country this past season, amassing 42 aces in 31 matches. She finished third in the ACC in service aces and was inside the Top-75 in that category among all Division I players.
Novakovic graduated this past spring with a master’s degree from the Curry School of Education. Although she eventually plans to hold a career in the education field, she was always looking to play professional volleyball after graduation.
“The most important aspect of going to U.Va. is that I was able to get a world class education, including a master’s degree,” Novakovic said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “However, I was always passionate about volleyball, and I knew that I wanted to pursue it at the professional level. It will be different because volleyball will actually be my job and I can fully commit to it. I think the decision was not as difficult since I had so much support from my family and all the people around me.”
The move marks an important milestone for the Virginia volleyball program, as Novakovic became the first Cavalier to sign a professional contract since Emily Rottman in 2014.
“It definitely feels special,” Novakovic said. “I think that it shows all of the work that our coaches have put in the last couple of years at the program. They expected me to be at my best every day, and it helped me to get ready for the world of professional volleyball. I hope that my experience sets a precedent for future players. I believe that many of them have the talent and the skills to do it but it would be a matter of choice after graduation.”
The ongoing worldwide COVID-19 crisis made the process of turning professional much more difficult and uncertain than it should have been for Novakovic.
“It was a challenging transition because I am used to having a busy schedule,” she said. “Both the NCAA and the pro volleyball leagues over in Europe were canceled. The COVID-19 crisis changed the recruiting period for rookie players. There was a lot of uncertainty, but I knew that I had to stay in shape and work on constantly improving my game. I normally didn’t have much time to focus on these things.”
Novakovic will be joining one of the top European sides with ASPTT Mulhouse. The club was leading the League AF with a record of 20-4 before the season came to a halt because of COVID-19. ASPTT Mulhouse won the league in 2017 and regularly competes in the CEV Champions League, the top volleyball competition for clubs across Europe. The new season is expected to begin in October and Novakovic is cautiously optimistic that things will return to normal.
“I felt a sense of gratitude when I signed the contract since everything turned out in the best possible way,” she said. “The plan is [to] go day-by-day for the upcoming season. The situation is looking better, and we are hopeful to start training in August.”
The Virginia volleyball team improved every season while Novakovic was with the team, and stars like her have paved the way for a bright future for Virginia volleyball.