Six weeks, five tournaments, four countries.
For the first time in their careers, UCLA beach volleyball’s rising seniors Megan and Nicole McNamara spent the first half of their summer competing around the world against top professionals in the sport – and it paid off.
The Canadian pair garnered their first international gold medal, winning the World University Beach Volleyball Championship on July 13 in Munich, Germany.
The ninth annual tournament featured 32 pairs from 29 different countries; teams represented not only their nation, but also their school.
“We love having the opportunity to represent Canada around the world,” Nicole McNamara said. “But at the university games also being able to represent UCLA was amazing.”
The McNamaras won their pool 3-0, headlined by a 21-5, 21-3 victory over Thendiswa Bejancke Della and Manana Innocent Mosai of South Africa. The match only lasted 19 minutes and became the quickest match of the tournament.
The twin sisters were reunited with Kyra Iannone – the current University of Alabama at Birmingham beach volleyball coach – who coached the McNamaras in the 2016 and 2017 FIVB World Championships.
“Winning the gold medal was special,” Nicole McNamara said. “But also having our parents there to share it with us and our coach who has coached us since we were younger.”
Megan and Nicole McNamara secured the title as the eighth seed, knocking off the third-seeded pair of Paula Soria and Belén Carro from Spain in a three-set thriller.
“We played against some of the best teams in the world,” Megan McNamara said. “It’s really good for our growth because the girls have tougher serves, hit harder and (play) just a faster, more aggressive game.”
The court-one pair for UCLA jumped into the pros after helping the Bruins win their first national championship last season. They finished with a program-best 35-7 record and were the only duo for the Bruins never to get swept – losing all seven matches in three sets and going 31-0 in two-set matches.
But wins at the professional level didn’t come right away for the McNamara sisters.
The Pac-12 Pair of the Year was eliminated in pool play at the two-star FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in Sentosa, Singapore, and finished fifth at the Die Techniker Beach Tour in Nuremberg, Germany.
“We felt really defeated afterwards,” Megan McNamara said. “But it forced us to take a look at what we need to improve on. … I think if we didn’t have those two tough losses that made us hungrier for more, then we wanted the University Games, so that’s why (first place) was so sweet.”
Megan and Nicole McNamara headed back to Asia on July 17 after the University Games, continuing the FIVB World Tour in Haiyang, China and Tokyo, Japan – both three-star tournaments.
The duo finished ninth in Haiyang after falling in three sets to their UCLA teammate rising senior Sarah Sponcil and her partner Caitlin Ledoux, a graduate from Long Beach State.
The McNamaras then took fifth in Tokyo the following week, after losing in straight sets to Norway’s Ingrid Lunde and Oda Johanne Ulveseth in the third round of elimination.
“We definitely want to get back in the gym and put on some more muscle,” Nicole McNamara said. “A lot of the girls we were playing against were just so much stronger than us and can hit the ball harder.”
The McNamaras returned back to UCLA for summer session C classes, which begin this week. Both said they plan to academically graduate in the December so that they can prioritize beach volleyball in the spring.
For now, the All-Americans have exchanged their Canadian jerseys for blue and gold, ready to get in the weight room before the regular school year starts.
“I think the biggest takeaway for us was that after this summer, we learned that we’re right there with all those top teams,” Megan McNamara said. “We’re excited to get back to work and help UCLA win another national championship.”