Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and Russ Hons/UND Athletics
More than 5,000 miles away from her real home in Belgrade, Serbia, senior Tamara Merseli has found the perfect home in Grand Forks for her volleyball career. The outside hitter arrived from a junior college in southern Iowa last season. Her impact was immediate, becoming a fixture in the Fighting Hawks’ starting lineup. Merseli played an instrumental role in UND’s Big Sky championship campaign in 2016. She, along with other star seniors Faith Dooley and Sydney Griffin, have the Hawks soaring this season. Merseli believes the experience this team gained during last season’s run to the NCAA Tournament will be more than enough to push UND back to the national stage. We caught up with Merseli before the season to ask how she ended up in Grand Forks and what her plans are for after the season.
Position: Outside Hitter
Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
Other College: Indian Hills CC
SETS PLAYED: 220
MATCHES PLAYED: 62
2016 Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year
2016 All-Big Sky Conference First Team
You transferred to UND from Indian Hills Junior College. What was the big draw to come here?
Tamara Merseli: “I think it was everything because I was looking for the best fit for me, and it was somewhere in Division I, in the middle of DI competitions. I had options but they weren’t as good as UND was. Coach (Mark Pryor) was pretty open to telling me what’s going on, what they expect, what’s the system and how they work. Then seeing all these facilities, that’s a plus for UND.”
What was your initial reaction of the campus when you came on your visit?
“I actually stayed with Sydney (Griffin) and Faith (Dooley). When I came, it was a long flight, long day, and it was so cold, and I went to the Ralph (Engelstad Arena) and it was a hockey game. I was there for the first time and it was so cool. The next day, I saw the gym and everything else. It was everything I was asking for.”
What did you find out about this program after you transferred here that you didn’t see by just visiting?
“Family is a huge part of my life, so volleyball is a huge part of my life. So coming here and seeing how people and teammates are together and how hard they work and being in a gym that averages 1,000 people coming into a game. I think that’s a dream of every single athlete—being in that environment playing and the prettiest gym in America.”
What’s it like to play in front of those big crowds at the Betty?
“I can’t describe how pleased I am because I think that’s something that drives you to push harder and work harder because, as a volleyball player, I don’t want to disappoint the crowd. So playing as hard as I can is just something that motivates me and it’s so amazing.”
What’s your plan once you’re done playing volleyball this fall?
“I’m trying to figure it out. I want to continue to play volleyball. I want to keep doing it. I’m not sure if I’ll coach or I’ll be a player back in Europe but I want to stay in volleyball.”