The McNamara sisters kissed the Bruins’ first beach volleyball NCAA trophy, then hopped on an 18-hour flight to compete in their first professional tournament.
“Playing in high-pressure games halfway across the world was just a great experience,” said junior Nicole McNamara.
Nicole McNamara and her twin Megan travelled to their first FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in Bangkok, Thailand, just two days after earning UCLA’s 116th national title in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
The duo, representing Canada, defeated Thailand’s Pronsuda Kritsana and Yodsaphat Pakham and Spain’s Paula Soria and María Carro in Pool D to advance to the quarterfinal.
“Well, our ultimate goal after we graduate is to play professionally for Team Canada,” Nicole McNamara said. “So any experience we can get in the meantime … is going to help us so much.”
The McNamaras defeated Latvia’s Marta Ozolina and Agnese Caica 23-21, 21-15 to advance to the semifinal. However, the pair lost to Soria and Carra 21-14, 20-22, 16-18, falling short of making the championship match.
“It was our first-ever world tour event,” Megan McNamara said. “So it was mostly just to go and see where we’re at compared to the other top teams in the world.”
The Pac-12 Pair of the Year placed fourth in their professional debut and won $400, but were unable to accept the prize money due to NCAA regulations.
However, coach Stein Metzger recognizes that the international experience will help improve the duo’s game and mentality.
“It helps them play big in big games,” Metzger said. “You saw in the national championship, when they’re able to get on a roll like that. It’s just going to further solidify their ability to play big in big moments.”
The McNamaras were the only pair in the NCAA championship – among all eight teams – to go undefeated in the tournament. The pair played every match as UCLA’s No. 1 pair, finishing the season 35-7.
Nicole McNamara said bringing home the title prior to the tournament generated momentum that diminished their stress going into their first pro tour event.
“We were riding such a high from winning the NCAAs that when we showed up (in Thailand), we were just still really fired up and excited to play,” Nicole McNamara said. “So there wasn’t the anticipation and the nerves.”
The twins already had previous international experience playing in age-group tournaments, including the 2017 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U21 World Championship in Nanjing, China, last summer.
“There’s a lot of pressure because you don’t have your four other UCLA teams to fall back on,” Megan McNamara said. “It’s just you out there, no coach in your box … and I think (previous experience) really has helped us (in Thailand).”
World rankings are based on a point system in which points are earned based on performances at FIVB tournaments. Megan and Nicole McNamara currently rank 231st in the world with 220 points. They earned 80 points from 2017 in China and 140 points from their fourth-place finish in Thailand.
“They already act like professionals in practice and in matches,” Metzger said. “But for them to have that experience and see how the professionals are actually doing it – it’s a great learning process for them.”