All-American Vanja Przulj signs with professional volleyball team in Finland

All-American volleyball standout Vanja Przulj (right) signs a pro contract with Hämeenlinnan Lentopallokerho Ry in Finland. Head coach Jaleesa Harper (left) and several teammates attended the signing event on Friday, April 20, 2024.

Vanja Przulj discovered a passion for volleyball growing up in Belgrade, Serbia. From an early age, her goal was to play professionally. However, she had to leave her family behind to achieve her dream. 


After high school, 18-year-old Przulj packed her life’s savings in two suitcases and boarded a plane bound for the United States. After two breakout seasons with Eastern Wyoming College––including a trip to the national championship her junior year––UNC Pembroke came calling. In two seasons with the Lady Braves, Przulj helped turn the program around and developed into one the most dominating scorers in program history and one of the nation’s top Division II players, which caught the attention of agents at the next level.


On Friday, surrounded by teammates and coaches huddled inside the English Jones Center lobby, Przulj realized her lifelong dream, signing a professional contract with Hämeenlinnan Lentopallokerho Ry in Finland.


“It feels awesome!” she said. “This has always been my dream––to come to the (United) States and play volleyball and eventually go pro. It’s emotional, too, because I think of the little girl I was 12 years ago, and now I look at myself and all that I’ve achieved. It means a lot, but if it were not for the opportunity to play for UNCP and the success we’ve had here, I wouldn’t be able to go play pro.”


A senior business student, Przulj will earn her degree on May 4 and after a short visit home, she’ll make her pro debut in August. Though she only played for two seasons with the Black & Gold, her dominance will have a lasting impact and has helped change the culture of the program. As for her accomplishments, Przulj can fill a trophy case with the hardware she’s collected.


All-American. Conference Carolinas champion. Two-time All-Conference. Tournament MVP. (D2CCA) All-Southeast Region. (AVCA) All-Region.


The 6-foot outside hitter set a school record for kills in a game (32)­­. She finished her senior season leading the conference with 4.72 kills per set and 5.33 points per set. Nationally, Przulj finished fourth in total kills, fourth in points per set, seventh in kills per set and tied for 26th in service aces.


Head Coach Jaleesa Harper said it isn’t often you get to witness a unique talent the likes of Przulj come through the program. 


“The numbers she was able to put up this year is something that I haven’t seen before,” Harper said. “She’s a dominant player. She had a double-double (kills and digs) in every game except one. Vanja had 566 kills her senior year. That’s beyond impressive.”


Przulj is blessed with exceptional athletic ability, a strong work ethic and a passion for the sport. Yet, what sets her apart is her confidence, a lack of fear and drive––skills that can’t be taught.


“Vanja’s such a dynamic player,” Harper said. “She can score in several different ways. She’s not just a power hitter. She knows how to utilize the block, hit a sharp cross, swing down the line, and power through blocks. Her ability to score in different ways set her apart.” 


At UNCP, Przulj said she found her confidence, which elevated her game.


“Over the years, I struggled with, ‘maybe I’m not good enough.’ Then I came here, and my teammates and coaches trusted me. Why would I not believe in myself and trust myself? That gave me a lot of confidence in myself and my game. It helped me realize that I must believe in myself.”


Harper credits Przulj’s leadership for helping turn around a program that had seen its share of losing seasons. In 2022, the Braves won the program’s first Conference Carolinas title since 1991 to earn the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament berth. Now, Przulj looks to continue her winning ways in Finland.


“It’s been a heck of a ride,” Przulj said of her UNCP career. “This was a fantastic opportunity to get to play (at UNCP) and to get to meet these people and play for Coach J. Everyone here was so welcoming when I first came here, so I will be proud to represent this university (in Finland). Everything that we accomplished as a team and what I’ve been able to achieve––there are no words to describe how I feel.


“It’s been amazing!”