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McNamara Twins Talk Olympic Dreams and Sibling Chemistry

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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.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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