CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — There are thousands of fans rooting for Bruna Vrankovic this season, but the support that matters most came before she was an Illini.
“One of the main reasons I’ve came here is because I felt Chris as well as the whole coaching staff had my back,” Vrankovic said.
And that relationship started several years ago. The 21-year old outside hitter is not your normal recruit. Vrankovic played for the Croation national team, and professionally before coming to Illinois. But she hit a few bumps along the way, after a steroid was found in her system in 2017, forcing her to serve a nearly two-year suspension from the FIVB.
“So my verdict at the end was that consumption was not intentional, but since there was no way to prove the route of digestion, I got two years,” Vrankovic explained.
“Everyone makes mistakes, and she’s more knowledgeable of the situation because of it,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “But when you get through the recruiting process you get to know them as people, and we want to bring great people into this program.”
“It’s not easy to find people that would do that for you,” Vrankovic said. “So it was definitely something that kept me ongoing, even during those months where I couldn’t practice.”
The doping allegations weren’t the last of Vrankovic’s obstacles, she also had to be cleared by the NCAA. That didn’t happen last year, forcing her to sit out, even though she was enrolled at Illinois. She’s finally on the court this season as a redshirt freshman.
“It definitely taught me a lot of patience with life in general,” Vrankovic said. “Being a part of a team in America is definitely different than being a part of a team in Europe, this is something that I’m really comfortable with at this point.”
Vrankovic has already earned 44 kills and 8 blocks this season, something she’s been waiting to do for a long time.