Water polo was the one familiarity for Vojislav Mitrovic ’18 during his freshman year.
Princeton was “a totally different world,” said Mitrovic, a 6-foot-4 goalkeeper from Novi Sad, Serbia.
Mitrovic, who goes by Voya, was the first player from his country to play for veteran head coach Luis Nicolao, and he sacrificed plenty before he got to his dream school. He’d passed up a full scholarship to Southern California to stay close to his family after his father suffered a heart attack, then gave up his Serbian national-team spot to focus on learning English. It still took two years after high school and “four or five” tries to achieve the minimum score required by Princeton on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
“In freshman year, I was all over the place,” said Mitrovic, an economics major. “Culture-wise, it was a challenge to keep up with those informal conversations we had during meals. I kind of got used to balancing academics and athletics, but it was really challenging.”
Water polo was his home away from home.
“The team was almost like my second family, both the teammates and their parents,” he said. “They were super supportive, which meant a lot to me, especially in the beginning when I had to adjust to everything. They were my go-to people for everything.”
In return, his team received a standout goalkeeper. A two-time honorable mention All-America selection by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches, Mitrovic set a single-season program record with 301 saves to lead Princeton to the Eastern Championship last year.
This year, Mitrovic shoulders the Tigers’ hopes of becoming the first Princeton team to earn back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championships. Through Oct. 2, the Tigers were 11–6, including a 4–1 start in the Northeast Water Polo Conference.
“He’s everything,” Nicolao said of Mitrovic. “Our whole season is based around him. Defense wins championships, and anyone that plays us knows that we have an exceptional goalie.”
Mitrovic had a relatively late start to his career. While many Serbian children begin playing water polo by age 7, he started at 12, after focusing on handball. Water polo hooked him with “the challenge to be better year in and year out,” he said.
At Princeton, Mitrovic has taken the same attitude outside of the pool. He is a residential college adviser, a director of the Yearbook Agency, and the first student-athlete in more than a decade to sit on the Priorities Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC), which focuses on the University budget. Being engaged in campus life is a way to fight homesickness, he explained: The busy schedule “fuels me to not be nostalgic and keep moving forward.”
“He was a fish out of water in every step when he came,” Nicolao said. “Now he realizes he belongs, he’s in the right place, and he’s taking every opportunity he can with it, and he’s enjoying it thoroughly.”