Collegiate Sand Championships Meet FIU

May 02, 2014, 10:48 p.m. (ET)

Meet the 2014 Sand Championships Field – Florida International

We caught up with senior Jessica Mendoza and junior Tina Toghiyani to chat about FIU’s first team appearance at the AVCA Sand Championship. Jessica finished third in last year’s pair championship. It also marks the first time in 18 years FIU is playing for a team championship title since men’s soccer did so in 1996.

USA Volleyball: What are the emotions playing for a championship in the programs second year of existence?
Jessica: Very excited and very hungry. Last year our team didn’t get to come to nationals. We worked really hard last year but this year we came back with fire and more energy. We are excited and hungry!

Tina: We’ve been practicing all off-season, we saw the competition last year and we worked really hard every day – coming out at 6 a.m., training physically, emotionally and mentally. All off and on-season we’ve wanted the championship.

There are three Florida schools in team play for the title, what does that say for the strength of sand volleyball in the Florida region?

Jessica: I think it’s huge. I’ve done my own research and looking at the west coast teams – and I know a lot of the Florida girls here. Since beach volleyball has been starting, it’s been really popular on the west coast. Now that there are junior programs blowing up in Florida, I think it’s going to be a huge success for Florida teams in the near future. Girls are starting at a young age, they’re going to grow up and get all these scholarships to Florida schools. Three out of the six teams here are from Florida, it says something to these west coast teams – we’re coming up. We’re not the second choice, there is a lot of California love like programs. When they see Florida has a lot of talent it’s going to spread out the options for recruiting.

You’re from Florida? Who is better, northern or southern?

Jessica: I’m from Orlando. Northern is more indoor and coming from central Florida we don’t have many beaches and not a lot of people know how to play. South Florida has the beaches, coaches, people, culture, lifestyle, everything. If you’re in a city where there isn’t a lot of beach volleyball you need to find those few outlier volleyball players that can play and train. Go to every beach tournament you can get to.

Toughest competition while you’re here?

Tina: Weather. We work with wind all the time but not right next to the coast. We get a lot of wind but not as much as here. Ourselves.

Jessica: Ourselves, that goes for every team. When you’re on the courts, it’s a mental game. It’s who is mentally tough at the time. Everyone is pretty much on the same level, you have the top six teams and everyone is working hard and trained. Not a lot of people work on the mental game and understand that that’s a huge part of the game.

What are the skills needed to succeed on sand?

Tina: Passing is our main focus, shorter game. Play closer together, short sets. Strong serves, we’re very focused on our defense to work with this wind.

Most looking forward to while here at the championships?

Jessica: The experience. These girls didn’t get to come last year and some came but didn’t play. We have our pairs here that don’t travel but they’re here to support us. It means the world to us that they’re all here. The experience to see this and see what to work toward all year just to get to this weekend. It changes your mentality to where you want to be.

Tips to teammates that haven’t been here?

Jessica: Don’t give up and keep grinding. There is competition coming up and kids are getting better because they’re starting at such a young age. Stay focused on your job and what you need to do and what are you going to do to get there.

Tina: Heart is the most important, whoever wants it more. We all have the skills and drive but it’s who wants it more.