HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA — DJ Klasnic laughs by means of the pleasant jabs.
“You guys all the time make enjoyable of me for being the oldest faculty participant,” says the 28-year-old Serbian who, sure, continues to be in faculty, finding out laptop science and competing for the Westcliff College males’s seashore volleyball crew. It was fairly a steal for Westcliff coach Fernando Sabla when Klasnic moved from Florida to California. A roster sometimes crammed with indoor converts and seashore rookies now had a bona fide skilled anchoring its court docket one. Not that Klasnic landed at Westcliff as a result of it was essentially his dream to take action. It was totally on the whim of Klasnic’s girlfriend, Marine Kinna, who had dedicated to complete her personal profession at LMU, in Santa Monica.
Then, as he was residing it, he realized it was one in all his many desires in any case.
“She requested if I wished to come back to California. I’ve by no means thought of it. That is new and dangerous nevertheless it’s an ideal factor for my profession,” Klasnic recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Issues had been nice with Marine and I used to be prepared for the chance, a brand new journey.”
It was one in all a lot of right-place-at-the-right-time moments for Klasnic. The one purpose he was in Florida to fulfill Kinna within the first place? Years prior, the Serbian girls’s crew was practising in Florida and requested if he would possibly need to come prepare. Sounded ok to him. He advised his dad and mom he was making the transfer from Serbia to Florida. Their response? A mixture of confusion and bemused curiosity.
Klasnic didn’t even know the place in Florida he was going.
“It’ll be good for my profession,” he advised them, nonetheless with none thought what metropolis he’d finally land in, “and I’m going.”
That call touched off a string of occasions Klasnic can solely shrug and describe as luck, ignoring, in an endearing sense, the truth that luck tends to seek out those that put themselves in place to be discovered by it. Few would contemplate shifting from Serbia to an unknown metropolis in Florida, to coach for a profession that doesn’t exist in Serbia, just because they had been invited to take action. But Klasnic, fueled by each ambition and naivete, did precisely that.
It’s an uncommon aspiration, for a Serbian to change into a world-class skilled seashore volleyball participant. Earlier than Klasnic turned skilled, a Serbian crew had by no means received an FIVB medal. Solely a pair of brothers, Nemanja and Nikola Vucic, had ever carved out the distinctive path that’s making a residing — or considerably of a residing — taking part in the game. Klasnic adopted them carefully.
“For me it was ‘Wow’ it was so cool,” Klasnic mentioned. “I believed it was by no means going to occur.”
Which helps clarify why he purchased the flight to the USA, sight unseen. Didn’t know the place he was going or who he would possibly meet alongside the best way, solely that it was within the correct common course: West. All of the sudden, the gamers he had grown up watching on YouTube and wherever else he may discover AVP highlights had been standing throughout him on the opposite facet of the online. He wasn’t simply collaborating, both, a helpful apply pawn. He was beating them. Lots. In his first 14 tournaments in Florida, from 2018-2020, his worst end was third.
Piotr Marciniak, a longtime skilled and fellow European — Marciniak competed for Poland and was one of many high gamers on the NVL Tour — let Klasnic crash at his home and play protection for him. Ricardo Santos, one of many best blockers within the recreation’s historical past, a person with a gold medal round his neck, did the identical. So did Phil Dalhausser.
“The door opened,” Klasnic mentioned, and even now, he can hardly imagine it. Who was he, a child from japanese Europe, to be coaching and competing with the best gamers within the recreation, guys he had grown up idolizing and watching on TV?
“It was a dream even assembly Phil. At one level in Orlando, I didn’t have a spot to sleep and Phil mentioned you possibly can sleep at my home and I’m like ‘OK, I’m sleeping at a gold medalist’s home’ and identical with Ricardo. Residing the dream,” Klasnic mentioned. “I don’t understand how I ended up right here. It’s important to be fortunate to reach this sport. It’s important to be fortunate sufficient to come back from a small nation to right here. You possibly can’t simply determine you’re going to California, you gotta discover your approach, step-by-step. There was a highway in entrance of me and I used to be simply strolling, following the trail, and if it really works, it really works.”
He has stayed the trail, and it has rewarded him in sort. This yr, after making an attempt to get the correct inexperienced card that may permit him to compete on the AVP for half a decade, he was alas cleared to play. He made his first major attract New Orleans with Brian Miller, ending seventh. A month later, in Huntington Seaside, he took one other top-10. In Chicago, he surprised Manhattan Seaside Open champs Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander after which took Dalhausser and Avery Drost to 3 units. In Laguna Seaside two weeks in the past, he completed third.
“I devoted all the pieces to that and I actually tried to work other ways and enhance my recreation and the logistics to play AVP and I’m excited to dwell my dream,” Klasnic mentioned. “One thing that I used to be dreaming, I’m nonetheless dreaming however I’m residing it now. I can’t imagine I’m taking part in with the highest gamers and having nice companions. I’m not watching, I’m going there to win. That is for me an opportunity to dwell that skilled seashore volleyball life and compete with the perfect.
“Successful my first medal on the World Tour in 2017, it was ‘Wow, I can do that.’ Successful gold with Lazar [in 2022], ‘Wow we will do that.’ Going to AVP and qualifying, ‘Wow I can do that as effectively.’ All of it finally makes you greater.”
Some would possibly contemplate it a step down, to make the semifinals of an AVP, to go toe-to-toe with Dalhausser after upending the Manhattan Seaside Open winners — after which return to school, competing with and towards principally uncooked seashore gamers. Klasnic loves all of it, each step of this winding and fantastic journey.
“Once I was younger, I used to be pondering I might like to play faculty within the US. It might be the perfect time of my life,” he mentioned. “However I wished to dwell the seashore volleyball dream. After a pair years, I received the chance to dwell each desires on the identical time. Go dwell the faculty life, compete towards different schools, examine within the US, have the crew and meet folks and create friendships and a the identical time play seashore volleyball. Once more, fortunate sufficient.”
Westcliff is 5-1 this season, with the AVCA Nationwide Championships scheduled for Nov. 4 in Huntsville, Alabama. Does Klasnic, a bona fide skilled each on the Volleyball World Seaside Professional Tour and the AVP, who has criss-crossed the globe and is nearing 30, discover it humorous that he’s teammates with youngsters? After all. Will that damper his enthusiasm? Not within the least.
“I’m simply so excited to guide that crew as a captain,” he mentioned. “I used to be introduced right here as an skilled participant to show the opposite guys and lead the crew. I’m making an attempt day by day to be that instance, the best way I work out, the best way I apply, to point out them that that is the best way.”
The best way of the itinerant Serbian: Strolling the unknown path, step-by-step, main to at least one dream after one other.
“My objective in seashore volleyball is to see how far I can go. Is that Future, Problem, Elite? Medals? Not medals? AVP? Win an AVP?” he mentioned. “That objective drives me: How far can I am going? As soon as I begin going backwards and begin making worse outcomes, then perhaps it’s time for one thing else. So long as there’s one thing in entrance of us, I’m so excited.
“I’m 28 and I’m simply getting began.”