McNamara Twins return to Mexico

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 impressive finishes.


“We just loved it,” Nicole said. “It was one of my top five favourite tournaments I’ve ever played.”


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.