JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University sand volleyball’s No. 1 duo of Taylor Nyquist and Sammie Strausbaugh has been invited back by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) to the third annual AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship, May 2-4 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
The pair was invited for its second straight year to compete as one of the ‘Best of the Rest’ from schools that are not competing in team action. Nyquist, a senior, and Strausbaugh, a junior in sand volleyball, are in the company of duos from Long Beach State, the University of North Florida, Grand Canyon University, the University of Louisiana Monroe, Saint Mary’s College of California, Loyola Marymount University, Tulane and UAB.
“It feels great to be invited back by the AVCA,” Strausbaugh said. “I know they consider a lot of pairs from across the country so it's an honor being invited. This tournament is a once in a lifetime opportunity so being able to go twice now is just amazing and I will remember these moments for the rest of my life.”
“It's really exciting to be going back for a second year in a row,” Nyquist agreed. “I think it's a great accomplishment and we worked hard all season to get back to the national championship. It's exciting to experience some different competition and a very high level of play, so I think it says something that we've gotten the opportunity to go back to Gulf Shores.”
In 2013, the pair concluded National play with a 1-3 pool play record, highlighted by a three-set victory over UCLA to cap off their season 30-6. While this is a new season, they both explained that they can learn from last years’ experience.
“The experience last year taught us a lot about the different styles of play that teams have,” Nyquist said. “Many west coast teams get invited and they seem to train a little differently, but Sammie and I are focusing on our game and being the best players and team we can be.”
“Even though we didn't do as well as we wanted to last year,” Strausbaugh said, “we can use that experience to help us this year because we now know what to expect. The nerves are gone, we learned how to prepare better, we know the level of competition, and we know what our schedule will be like for the four days we are there.”
The Pairs Championship is slated to start with pool play on Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3. The top two finishers will be seeded into Sunday’s single elimination bracket while the six top pairs from the team championship schools and top two from the four semifinalists will also compete on Sunday. A play-in will occur for the remaining two spots.
Taking from their experience, the pair has also executed preparation a little differently. They have somewhat of an idea of what to expect, Nyquist explained, and have been playing together as a pair for a while to know what their strengths and weaknesses are as well as what they need to work on. Strausbaugh added that the duo has been trying to scrimmage as much as possible – against some of their teammates and friends who live in Jacksonville.
Concluding their 2014 season in the National Championship is certainly a good way to finish, the athletes agreed.
“This season has been great,” said Strausbaugh. “It has actually been really similar to last year. One thing Taylor and I have done really well this year is constantly improve. We are always finding things to work on at practice and we never get complacent.”
“It's been an exciting season,” Nyquist added. “Sammie is so much fun to play with and I think we've grown as a pair and connected really well on the court. Coming off two pretty strong seasons together I've found that it's tough for some pairs to have the heart and understanding that we do when we’re on the court together. So it's definitely emotional for me.”