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McNamara Twins Talk Olympic Dreams and Sibling Chemistry


Megan and Nicole McNamara are 22-year-old professional beach volleyball players from Vancouver, British Columbia. The identical twins played together at UCLA, where they won two NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships. After graduating last year, the twins are now members of Team Canada and are working to pursue their Olympic dreams. 

What inspired the two of you to first pick up the sport?

Megan: In sixth grade, we started passing the ball around during a beach vacation and we really loved it. And when we came home we joined our middle school indoor volleyball team because that was what was available at the time. And then a couple years later we found out that Vancouver had a beach volleyball camp, so we signed up. It all took off from there.

Have you two always been partners?

Nicole: Yes. Ever since we first started playing beach volleyball when we were 12, we have always played together, and that’s a big part of why we love it. I was injured at one point during our UCLA offseason, and Megan had to play with different partners. But in every competition, we have always played together.

Do you two spend most of your time together even outside of volleyball? 

Nicole: Yeah, we live together and we have a lot of the same friends, so we do spend a lot of time together. But as we’ve gotten older, we’ve tried to carve out time in our schedules that’s dedicated to being alone, because it can be a lot when you work together and train together. But we’re best friends and we love doing things together. We have a lot of the same hobbies, including travel, which is great because our sport brings us to beautiful places around the world, and we also love cooking. We started a website where we post tournament updates and share our favorite recipes. Just fun little things we like to do outside of sports.

Beach volleyball probably isn’t the first sport people think about when they think about Canada. Is it popular in Vancouver?

Megan: It’s growing a lot. When we first started, they had a lot of local tournaments. There was a big professional adult scene, but it was mostly just playing for fun on the side. But it’s really growing in the younger ages now, especially since it became an NCAA sport in 2015, which was also our first year in college. Before that it was just part of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Now, so many up and coming young girls want to get scholarships to play down in the States.

Was UCLA always a dream school for both of you? Did you know from the outset of the recruiting process that you both wanted to go to the same school and remain partners? 

Nicole: California was always the dream. It’s the biggest hub of beach volleyball in North America. As soon as we heard that there was beach volleyball in college, we knew that we wanted to be recruited together and use that as a stepping stone for our professional careers and Olympic dreams. It was important for our parents, too, for us to go to university and get degrees. We were recruited by a few other schools, but as soon as we stepped foot on the UCLA campus, we were both just wide-eyed. We fell in love right away, and we immediately knew that was where we wanted to go.

Megan: Heading into the recruiting process, we knew we wanted to stay as a pair. It was actually pretty hard for us to sell to coaches because we are an undersized pair. A lot of coaches wanted to split us up because of that, because a pair usually consists of a tall blocker who is six feet plus and a “smaller” defender who is under six feet. Megan and I are both around five-nine, so we fall on that smaller side. But our UCLA coach thought it was great that we wanted to stay partners, and she let us prove to her that we could play together in college.

What was the transition to college competition like for you? 

Megan: We started out as the number one pair on the team as freshmen, so we felt a lot of pressure. We were going up against all of the best pairs from every other school. So the transition was definitely hard at first, but we had such a supportive and awesome team surrounding us.

Nicole: Starting at the ones was a huge honor. Especially as sisters, we had a lot of media coverage and a lot of the eyes were on us. People wanted to know who these “freshman Canadian twins at the one pair” were. There was pressure, but it also allowed us to mature. We wanted to represent UCLA well, and as we got older, younger players started looking up to us as role models, which definitely forced us to take the role very seriously. We knew we always had to be focused at practice and looked for ways to succeed.

What do you think was the key to your success at UCLA?

Megan: I think the fact that we had just been playing together for so long. A lot of the partnerships in the NCAA were only formed that year, or maybe they had a couple years together, but we’d been playing together already for so many years before we arrived on campus. And being sisters we’re just so comfortable with each other. We can hold each other to a high standard and say the difficult things.

Nicole: I mean, we would pass the ball back and forth in our front yard for hours and hours growing up, so our ball control is one of our biggest assets. Being undersized, we needed that in order to win games. And we definitely had an underdog mentality just because we are smaller players. We went out every game playing our hearts out. Our coach called us “Team Fearless.”

When did you start to have Olympic aspirations? 

Nicole: When we first started playing the sport at 12 years old was when we knew we wanted to go as far as we could go. We loved it that much. And at around the age of 15, we started to play internationally for Team Canada in the Underage World Championship. That was when we realized that it could be realistic for us, too.

What has the last year been like after graduating college? 

Megan: Right after graduation in 2019, we moved to Toronto and started training with the Canadian national team. We’re the third-ranked Canadian team right now, so the 2020 Olympics would have been out of the picture for us because only the top two teams per country compete, and the other two pairs had already confirmed their spots. So our main focus is the 2024 Olympics. And this year we just really wanted to play in as many professional tournaments as we could to gain more experience and to get more comfortable playing at that level, because it’s definitely a big jump from the NCAA.

What does a typical professional beach volleyball season look like for you? 

Nicole: First, the FIVB posts all of the information about the tournaments that are happening for the upcoming year, ranging from one star to five stars with five stars being the highest level. In all these tournaments you get points that go towards Olympic ranking. So ahead of the season, Megan and I sit down with our personal coach and go over the schedule to see what tournaments make sense for us to compete in based on location, level, expenses, etc. For example, we already had our plan for what tournaments we were going to play in from March till August of this year, and all of those tournaments were three to five stars. But obviously that plan has been put on hold indefinitely.
Megan: We can pick which tournaments we want to attend, but it’s ultimately based on entry points. You get points based on your performance at a tournament, and then, a few weeks before a given tournament, they’ll tell you if you have enough points to play in that tournament. It’s pretty late notice, so even when we have a plan for the season, it sometimes changes.

The Coronavirus has obviously impacted your spring/summer season, with cancelations left and right. How has it impacted your training? 

Megan: We’re in Vancouver with our parents right now. We were actually at a tournament in Sydney, Australia when the virus began to get serious. This was mid-March, and the tournament was cancelled at the very last minute. So we were in Sydney for a total of 48 hours and then had to get on a plane to come back. We decided to go home to be with our parents in Vancouver rather than back to our apartment where we normally train and live, because there’s no training in Toronto right now.

We’ve been lucky to have pretty nice weather so we are able to go pass the ball around in our yard. This allows us to keep our skills sharp. But it’s definitely hard because we have no sand, no net, and no structured practices. It is hard to simulate the same type of training that you normally would do. But we’re just trying to stay in shape with at-home body workouts and yoga.

How much do you think time away from being in the sand will affect your game and your chemistry as a pair? 

Megan: It is definitely tough to maintain a peak. And we felt like we were nearing a peak for upcoming tournaments. We were training all the time, lifting really heavy, practicing five to six days a week. It’s hard to maintain that at home. But regardless, we’re just trying to keep the cardio up and stay in the best physical shape that we can, so if things do ramp up really fast, the skills might come back a little bit faster if we’re already in peak physical shape.

Nicole: And we know everyone else is in the same boat. So when we do get stressed about our limited training, we try to remind ourselves that everyone else is living it too. This is a global situation, so we’re trying to stay positive and control what we can control.