Seniors Nicole McNamara, Megan McNamara and Sarah Sponcil have won back-to-back national championships with UCLA beach volleyball, but now the three are focusing on international competition.
The McNamara twins entered last week’s FIVB Itapema Open in Brazil as one of eight Canadian pairs. The duo made it out of pool H with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands’ Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink and a 2-0 victory over Germany’s Sandra Ittlinger and Chantal Laboureur.
The Bruin duo fell 2-1 in the second round to Russia’s Nadezda Makroguzova and Svetlana Kholomina, ending their tournament run.
Two other Canadian pairs earned medals, with Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes placing second and Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson taking third.
Sponcil and USC graduate Kelly Claes were one of 11 U.S. teams that traveled to Brazil – but only 10 teams from a given country were allowed to compete in the tournament.
Sponcil and Claes lost 2-0 to Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the USA country quota round of the tournament. Therefore, the pair didn’t get to compete against any other teams. The U.S. duo of Alexandra Klineman and April Ross took home the gold.
Both pairs traveled from Brazil to China for the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Jinjiang 2019 to take the next step toward the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Nicole and Megan McNamara defeated China’s Lin Lingling and J. M. Li 2-0 in the qualification round Tuesday but then fell 2-0 to Diana Lunina and Maryna Samoday of Ukraine in the second round.
Sponcil and Claes bypassed the qualification round and will face Latvia’s Tina Graudina – one-half of the Trojans’ 2019 court one pair – and Anastasija Kravcenoka in the main draw pool H on Wednesday.
To earn spots in the Olympics, the pairs will have to be in the top 15 teams in the Olympic ranking as of June 15, 2020, or place high enough in one of three future tournaments. The earliest qualifier is the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball Senior World Championships this June in Hamburg, Germany.
The McNamaras and Sponcil are just three of five UCLA seniors – all of whom plan to play professionally.
Senior Izzy Carey will head to Ireland on Friday to train with the Irish national team, which she first competed with in summer 2017. Senior Zana Muno will pair up with an unnamed Washington player to begin her beach-only career after previously splitting time with the indoor team as a Bruin.
The seniors will no longer compete at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, but their professional careers will solidify UCLA beach volleyball as a world-class program.