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Jovana Vasic led SPC women's tennis to prominence

ST. PETERSBURG — Jovana Vasic covered a tennis court with intensity and power, and conducted her life the same way. The former St. Petersburg College standout and All-American finished her sophomore year as captain of a team stocked with international players like herself — a team ranked third in the country.

Ms. Vasic was also an honor student with a 3.36 GPA who wanted to go into broadcasting. Blessed with intelligence and stunning looks, she struck coaches and teachers as the embodiment of a student athlete.

Her teammates knew her as a confident leader, someone who encouraged them during their matches while never losing focus on her own. In her spare time she volunteered to coach junior girls, some of whom began wearing tennis outfits that matched hers.

On Aug. 24, Ms. Vasic died in a car crash in Texas as she was on her way to start her junior year at Northern Arizona University, where she had a full tennis scholarship. She was 20.

According to news accounts, the wreck occurred after a semitrailer truck crossed a median and hit a BMW carrying Ms. Vasic and her father. Ms. Vasic died at the scene. Milan Vasic, who was driving, was injured but has since been released from a hospital. The crash is under investigation, but the semi's driver will at least be charged with a traffic infraction, the Texas Highway Patrol reports.

"It's a cliche, but the girl had it all," said Phil Girardi, her coach at SPC. "She was the total package — a great athlete, a beautiful girl and smart."

Jovana Vasic was born in 1990 in Belgrade, in the country that is now Serbia. Her family moved to the United States in 1993 in the midst of the Bosnian war. Her parents homeschooled her in Illinois and introduced her to tennis at age 5.

She grew in stature (5 feet 9) and skill, turning into a nationally ranked junior player who did modeling on the side.

"We literally envisioned her as being similar to Anna Kournikova, a supermodel tennis player," said Marko Zaric, a cousin.

Her power, speed and reflexes caught the attention of major universities, but she didn't get a scholarship. She was working out at IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton when she met Madeline Johnson, then SPC's captain.

"We connected right away," Johnson said.

Ms. Vasic ended up with SPC's Lady Titans, starting as the team's No. 2 behind Johnson. Their apartment near the campus was the site of impromptu parties and sleepovers.

"We'd have a match that day and be so tired," said Johnson, 21. "I'd say, 'Jovana, I can't move, I'm so sore.' And she'd say, 'Me too, but let's go out!' "

Ms. Vasic succeeded Johnson as team captain for the 2010-2011 season, which culminated in a No. 3 national ranking by the National Junior College Athletic Association. Individually, Ms. Vasic ranked No. 4 in doubles and No. 25 in singles.

After getting word of Ms. Vasic's death Aug. 24, Girardi began calling his players.

"When I was telling them the news I made sure they were sitting down," Girardi said. "Then the hysteria would follow."

He kept calling until he reached the final player about 3 a.m.

Many of those teammates and former coaches have flown to Chicago for her funeral today, on what would have been her 21st birthday.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Jovana Vasic

Born: Aug. 31, 1990.

Died: Aug. 24, 2011.

Survivors: Parents Milan and Mila Vasic; grandmother Mica Zaric; sister Stefana; and brother Stefan.

Jovana Vasic led SPC women's tennis to prominence 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 9:37pm]
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