“America is very different,” Djuricek said. “In Serbia, athletics and academics are separated. You can’t be a great student-athlete, you have to choose one. This option was amazing for me. You have the opportunity to get a great degree and still play Division-I athletics.”
Djuricek met families from all over the world through the church in Serbia where her grandfather is a pastor. The Americans she met gave her an idea of the U.S. lifestyle.
“We also traveled a lot as a family,” Djuricek said. “[The difference in cultures] wasn’t as big of a shock as it should have been.”
But American soccer, especially in Fort Worth, was not in her original plan.
“I wanted to play in Europe,” Djuricek said. “A lot of my friends play in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, so I really never considered this option.”
However, an aunt encouraged Djuricek to submit a video to some U.S. universities just in case the soccer situation in Europe didn’t work out or if she wanted to have the opportunity to play soccer and go to school simultaneously.
Aside from TCU, Djuricek communicated with Florida State University, UCLA, Western Kentucky University and Ohio State University.
“[Coach Bell] was the last coach I spoke with,” Djuricek said. “When I spoke with him for the first time over Skype, he was very nice and kind.”
Djuricek’s twin sister came to the DFW area on a mission trip in the spring and returned home with a first impression of the area.
“She told me that everything is super nice and that all of the conditions are amazing,” Djuricek said.
While her sister brought her impressions of the area back to Serbia, she also brought impressions of Djuricek to Fort Worth.
“Tijana never visited the school, but I did meet her twin sister in late spring,” Bell said, “They’re exactly the same. It was nice to meet her through her sister.”
Djuricek has started in all six of the games the team has played this season. While only attempting two shots on goal in those games, she has had a major impact on the game defensively. In the final minutes of Sunday’s match against Missouri, the Tigers were racing down the field with a good scoring chance to take the lead. As Missouri’s cross came into the box, Djuricek used her head to keep the ball out of harm’s way twice in a game that ultimately finished with a TCU double overtime victory.
— TCU Soccer (@TCUSoccer) September 4, 2017
Djuricek was also a very influential piece in the Frogs’ first goal of the evening. In the 65th minute of Sunday’s match, the Frogs were awarded a free kick from midfield. Djuricek took the kick and landed the ball beautifully in the box, in a play that was finished by senior forward Allison Ganter.
“She came right in and inserted herself in the lineup from day one,” Bell said. “My expectation is that she stays there and continues to get better and improve her game.”
Coach Bell said he’s happy with Djuricek’s transition to American soccer and to TCU.
“It’s been very good,” Bell said. “Her English is fantastic, she’s got a big personality, loves everybody, and is accepting of everybody’s cultures and backgrounds. It’s very easy to talk to her, so I think the team has grown to really like her a lot. She’s a very nice addition, not only to our program but to TCU as a whole.”
Her backline partner, senior Ryan Williams, said Djuricek is vital to this team and is incredibly important in the team’s early success this season.
“She is very solid,” Williams said. “I play right next to her, so she’s been a huge help after losing our starting center back of four years. Her transition has been very good. Coming from Serbia, she’s had to learn a few more soccer terms, but from playing next to her, I think she’s adapted very well.”
Djuricek said Williams has been a mentor and friend; someone she leans on and trusts. Williams reciprocates the feelings.
“I definitely feel like she’s comfortable asking me questions since I’m right there,” Williams said. “I feel like I’ve helped her a lot with learning the soccer terms and just overall communication on the field.”
Djuricek said she has grown greatly as a soccer player since her arrival in Fort Worth, thanks in part to Williams.
“I’ve never played soccer with this kind of formations and tactics,” Djuricek said. “I’ve learned to be much more aggressive because that’s how you have to play here.”
The third and final member of the starting backline is first-year Ariana Owens. In the first six games of the season, the Frogs have allowed only four goals because of the physical defense the backline.
“I didn’t expect it to be this good at this point of the season,” Bell said. “The two freshmen have adjusted rather quickly.”
Each player in the backline brings a unique quality that is crucial to the team’s success. In Bell’s perspective, Djuricek’s personality and high soccer IQ are great additions to the team.
“Her personality is very different from everyone else, which is really cool to see,” Bell said. “From a soccer perspective, she’s able to play different types of balls and textures out of the back and help us keep possession and play an attractive brand of soccer that we want to play.”
Djuricek focused more on her experience when discussing what unique quality she brings to the table.
“What’s unique about me is my experience with the Serbian national team,” Djuricek said. “I was the captain of the U-17 and U-19 teams, and I can definitely use that for good and use it to help our team to be more successful.”
Djuricek and the Frogs will return to Garvey-Rosenthal Soccer Stadium and finish their three-game homestand Friday at 7:00 p.m. against Northeastern. The first 250 students in attendance will receive free American flag “Frog Side Strong Side” t-shirts.