Twins Nicole and Megan McNamara are a package deal.
They were when they were recruited by NCAA schools to play beach volleyball and are now, competing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, which is making a stop in Edmonton this weekend at Northlands in conjunction with K-Days.
The McNamara twins from Vancouver, will play as full professionals in Edmonton having graduated from UCLA in June as two-time national champions and won gold at the FISU University Games last summer in Hamburg, Germany.
“It’s awesome getting to play here, it’s so easy; an hour flight,” Megan said. “Everything is familiar, we’re comfortable with all the Canadian fans, it’s going to really fun, it’s really exciting. We have high expectations for this tournament, we’ve been training hard and looking at the field, I know we can do well here and we’ll see how far we can make it.”
The 21 year olds began playing volleyball in middle school and made the transition to the outdoor game by the end of high school. They were heavily recruited by U.S. schools and ended up at UCLA in Los Angeles where they had a successful four-year career.
“We started with a bunch of different sports, but then we were on vacation in Mexico and there was a court at the resort and we just played for fun and we just loved the sport,” Megan said. “Then we came back to Vancouver and found out there was some camps and tournaments for young kids, so we kind of just dove in and right away we knew that’s what we wanted to do.”
Accomplished both in the gym and on the sand, the beach game quickly took a priority for the sisters. They had a number of options following high school and decided on Southern California. Beach volleyball has just been added to the sports curriculum when the McNamara twins were recruited.
“We were looking all over; Hawaii, Florida, Arizona,” Nicole said. “But we knew we wanted to be in California, so UCLA was kind of the perfect fit. It’s also good academics and good location. It was perfect.”
Winning a second national championship and gold last summer at the University Games proved to be a solid springboard for the pair heading out on the World tour. It was their first world title having won silver at the Youth Olympics and bronze at the Under-21 championships.
“It’s was awesome, it was our first gold medal internationally we had medalled at Worlds before, and it was really an awesome experience,” Megan said. “We went in knowing that we were capable and that was always the goal, to be on top of the podium.”
Both registering at five-foot-nine, the two bring a similar style to the court. They are a quick team who are relentless on the ball and have a reputation for never giving up on a play. Being siblings and having played together all their lives also proves to be an advantage.
“We can be very honest with each other,” Megan said. “It’s something we’ve had to work on and worked with sports psychologists and different councillors to work on that relationship because it can be our greatest strength or it can be a weakness. It’s definitely gotten a lot better, and it’s something that we have to work at. But I think being out there with your sister, we have a better connection than other teams and we’ve been playing together for so long, it helps.”
Winning with each other is also makes championships more meaningful. The two are a deviation of the normal beach volleyball pair where there is usually a noticeable height difference between partners.
“Kind of the standard on a beach volleyball team is a taller blocker and a shorter defender,” Nicole said. “That’s what you would expect to see out of a beach volleyball team, but there have been successful teams where they were both shorter. We like to watch them and see how they compete against big blockers, because you have to change your game a little bit.
“We have a similar style, we are both smaller players so we run a bit of a faster offence and we have to make up for our lack of a block in other ways, so jump spins (shots) and things like that. I think we have a similar, unique style.”
Their style is obviously working and the twins are looking to transfer their college success to the professional ranks. They are on tour full time for the first time having graduated and are able to take home all of their winnings. As NCAA players on tour previously the two could only accept the amount of prize money to cover their travel and expenses.
“We started on the tour last summer a little bit, but it was hard balancing this with NCAA because we had to block off most of the year with our NCAA competitions,” Nicole said. “So we graduated in June and now we’re full time. Now, prize money is not an issue.”
Eventually, the two want to represent Canada at the Olympics are believe they have the talent to get there. It helps their practice partners on Tuesday were recently crowed World Champions; Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
“I think just putting ourselves out there getting more experience at this level will help,” Megan said. “Just having the experience that we’re going to get practice with the World Champions and learning how to travel and compete at the highest level.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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