Getting To Know USC Track & Field's Mihajla Milovanovic
This week I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with USC junior cross country runner Mihajla Milovanovic. She transferred from Loyola University Chicago this year. We talked about her adjusting to campus life and the team, preparing for the new 6K competition, her secret sauce to becoming an incredible runner, and so much more. In Mihajla's first race for USC, she was the third Trojan to cross the line, finishing in 40th at the Riverside Invitational 6K (21:35:7). Mihajla is just getting started and is certainly going to continue to be a force to be reckon with.
Q: How do you pronounce your name?
MM: Mee-hai-la Mi-lov-on-av-ik
Q: Do you go by any nicknames?
MM: People call me Mimi on occasion.
Q: How was the adjustment of coming in as a junior to USC?
MM: Yeah, it's been good. Coming from a small Division-I school, it's been a big jump to go to a Pac-12 nationwide-known university, so USC's resources have been really helpful. Teamwise, there are about nine new people and only five returners. So, the program has been doing a great job helping us all at once and coach [Jebreh] Harris has been really welcoming.
Q: What inspired your decision to come here?
MM: As most transfers would say, some schools are just not the right fit for you, and I think being so far away from home in Chicago when my family lives in Arizona was difficult. So, I started looking at my options and I chose USC for its athletics and curriculum. The running program really stood out to me because of coach Harris. He's so intelligent in the sport that he teaches and is so wise in everything he tells us in practice. Being here for four weeks I've already noticed a dramatic difference in my mentality and running. USC doesn't just have amazing sports, but the academics are also unbeatable --- the balance here is insane.
Q: You have had an amazing personal performance, from posting a personal record in the mile, 300m and the 500m for which you took 11th place in 2020. In your first race for USC two weeks ago, you were the third Trojan to cross the line. What are some of your personal and team goals for this year and has it evolved since the last two races?
MM: It's crazy because if you asked me what my goal was when I first came here it was way different than what it is now. When I first came here, I had a very open mind because I was struggling at Loyola mentally and with racing, so I told myself, whatever happens, happens. But now that I'm here I have bigger expectations for myself because I truly believe that I can do what I came here to do, which is to perform at the Pac-12's for cross country and help put USC on the map. We've struggled in the past, but as a team, I think we're ready to show out as previously shown in our past race.
Q: The 6K is new this year. How's that going and how do you mentally prepare for it?
MM: Yeah, it's been a challenge. I did my first 6K two weeks ago. There's a big difference mentally with doing a 5K on the track versus a 6K on the cross-country course. You need to be mentally strong, so you don't get in your head when you go up a hill or see a hill and think "Oh shoot, I have to go up there right now". But I think that the harder you train the easier it becomes. Coach Harris does a great job in preparing us for what's to come. He really didn't joke around with some of the workouts we did to prepare for the 6K. In Mammoth, we basically ran a 6K, so that really helped me mentally prepare for what that race looks and feels like. Coach Harris really engraves that when we step to the line, we always know what to expect because we trained for it. I also like to pace myself with my teammates and we are consistently communicating with each other which helps to keep focus during the races.
Q: You mentioned earlier that there are nine new people on the team. How's that dynamic been like?
MM: It's been really fun. We went to Mammoth and that was a major bonding moment. Every practice you learn something new about everybody and how they react to different situations. So, we've gotten really good at communicating and just being a family, which is something the program has always striven for. I think coach Harris has really helped us become a family by putting us in different groups so we can get to know different people we don't usually train with.
Q: Do you think USC's emphasis on family has contributed to the success the team had in the past two races?
MM: Yeah, 100 percent. The whole running together concept came from our bond outside of running. We all have this passion for not only having ourselves do good but having everybody else on the team do well, too. It's so motivating and it's the whole reason we're becoming a family. I think we show extreme teamwork.
Q: In addition to running in high school, you also swam. Do you still? Is swimming the secret sauce that has helped you become a better runner?
MM: Honestly, I think it is. I swam for 17 years of my life and if I didn't swim, I wouldn't quite have the foundation for what training is really like. Because swimming is also super rigorous, it has really taught me determination and hinted as to what long-distance running would look like. So, I was really prepared to come into running. I go to the pool whenever I can and do a swim workout rather than running, which is a nice break. Coach Harris has us do aqua jogging and we did 300 minutes of cross-training during the summer. For more than half of the minutes, I would be in the pool. Swimming is really beneficial because I feel like it helps me build my endurance for running.
Q: How have your Serbian roots shaped your career aspirations?
MM: Both sides of my grandparents are directly from Serbia and my first language was Serbian. My Serbian culture has always been very important to me. After hearing my grandparents' story of migrating to the U.S and the brutality that they, and every minority, have faced before coming here, I knew I wanted to become an immigration lawyer. Since I was in eighth grade, my goal has been to help every community as much as I can.
Q: Last question, what is the go-to song that gets you pumped and ready to race?
MM: Oh, that's a hard one. Anything Post Malone, all his songs are great!