TORONTO, Canada, March 28, 2021 - “You have no
idea!” Megan and Nicole McNamara said in unison.
And they are exactly right.
There are scant few of us in the beach
volleyball world who have any earthly clue just
how exciting it is for the McNamara twins not
only to play beach volleyball again next month
in Cancun, not only to compete on the World Tour
again after nearly two years off.
But just to play beach volleyball outside.
“It has been so cold,” Nicole said.
Indeed, winters in Toronto, where the McNamaras
train full-time with the Canadian national team,
generally don’t see many days north of 30
degrees Fahrenheit, or anything in the positives
in Celsius. Unless you’re supremely masochistic,
or you’re looking for some funny social media
content, training outside is simply not an
option. Canada’s prepared for it, of course;
it’s not as if the cold is a new concept in
Toronto. There are indoor beach facilities for
training, weight rooms, anything a beach player
could want, save for the natural elements and,
well, a real beach.
What a pleasant surprise it was, then, when the
FIVB schedule was released, and from April until
May, the World Tour would be in Cancun, putting
up a three-week bubble with back-to-back-to-back
four-star events. At last, the McNamaras could
finally compete, could finally play outside.
And, in a funny sort of way, they’d get to be
doing so at home.
Nicole McNamara estimated that her and Megan
were three or four years old when their family
vacationed to Mexico for the first time. Their
parents had purchased a timeshare at a resort,
and they loved it enough that they began
returning every Christmas break.
“We’ve been there more times than I can count,”
said Nicole, the lefty of the two who plays on
the right side. Other than their preference of
dominant hand and side, it is virtually
impossible for anyone not related to the
McNamaras to tell them apart.
“It’s where we go every year,” Megan said of
Mexico. “We love the people and it just feels
like a second home to us.”
It was their trip in seventh grade that remains
the seminal vacation for the two. That was the
year the McNamaras took off school and briefly
moved to Europe, traveling for three months
before returning to Mexico. For five months in
Mexico, the twins were enrolled in school,
learning Spanish. When they came back to the
resort, however, they learned the skill that
would quickly become the centre of their lives.
They played what they called “resort ball” with
the vacationers, slapping around a volleyball
with vacationers likely more concerned with
their margaritas than their side out. But still:
it was enough to know that “we were pretty good
at it,” Nicole said. “That’s really when we fell
in love with the game.”
And the game has loved them back.
The McNamaras were recruited to UCLA, where they
jump-started a dormant programme, becoming one
of the most dominant and recognisable pairs in
the NCAA. They surpassed 100 wins as a team.
Four times they’d be named All-American. In
their junior and senior seasons, they led the
Bruins to back-to-back NCAA Championships.
And, yes, they did this despite standing
5-foot-9 both (1.75m).
They were the shortest court one pairing in the
NCAA, yet also one of the best court one duos in
the sport’s history. Their height is both a
constant thorn and source of humour. They know
they aren’t the biggest team, and, frankly, they
don’t really care.
If there were any doubts that their small-ball
game could translate from college to the
professional level, they were mostly silenced in
the fall of 2018, at the Chetumal three-star.
There, the McNamaras took fourth, narrowly
losing the bronze medal to Kerri Walsh Jennings
and Brooke Sweat. It was almost poetic, that it
was in Chetumal, a beautiful beach in Mexico,
where the McNamaras claimed one of their most
“We just loved it,” Nicole said. “It was one of
my top five favourite tournaments I’ve ever
Megan added: “It’s rare you’re in a place that
loves beach volleyball as much as we do.”
Soon they’ll be back at that place. For three
weeks, the McNamaras, like the rest of the beach
volleyball world, will be in Cancun.
For three weeks, they will at last get to play
beach volleyball outside.