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Minyo, McNamara form experienced duo at NPL

The outstanding volleyball careers of North Penn-Liberty seniors Maddison Minyo and JoJo McNamara almost never happened. They had planned to play soccer in junior high entering the 7th grade. Then Nightmare Volleyball Club coach Bill Grega held a summer clinic at Mansfield University the summer before they began 7th grade. Saturday, these two standouts will start their 120th consecutive and final high school match as state finalists.

The two started as freshmen for a district championship team.

“I was definitely scared. I didn’t think I would make varsity let alone be put into the starting line up,” said McNamara reflecting on her freshman season.

“Maddison and I had always played together so it was nice have someone I already knew and was in the same position as me.”

Minyo had similar thoughts.

“It honestly was pretty nerve wracking. I’d been playing club for a couple years so I was used to some higher competition at my age level, but I wasn’t expecting to be playing against and with a bunch of amazing older girls who had been playing for years,” Minyo said. “I was excited because I knew it would be great volleyball, but it was pretty scary since I didn’t really know what all I was getting into.”

What they were getting into was a whole lot of winning. Three NTL Large School and four District 4 titles later — with a state final appearance coming on Saturday against North Catholic at Cumberland Valley at 1 p.m. — the duo has left an undeniable mark on this program and have taken it to new heights.

“It’s really cool knowing that I’m able to leave a good mark on the younger girls and I just hope that helps them keep their love for the game and work hard,” Minyo said. “I remember when I was younger and really looked up to the older girls and it really inspired me to work hard so I could be as good as they were. Seeing how much they love the game really inspired me and I just hope that I can pass that on as well.”

For McNamara, who has 1,579 career assists despite playing in a 6-2 system (she only sets half the rotations), she was thrust into being a starting setter as a freshman. Getting the starting nod was a big confidence boost.

“I would say definitely starting freshman year coming up with really no rep and I got to play with all those really good girls was when I realized (I was good),” McNamara said.

It took Minyo a while longer.

“I wouldn’t say that I was very confident in myself probably until last season. I used to get upset with myself really easily but I worked on my mindset a lot last year and got to a point where I started feeling good about my play and wasn’t getting mad at myself over everything,” Minyo said. “I wouldn’t say that I think I’m great or anything but I’m happy with what I’m able to bring to our team.”

Minyo is just about the only person who would say she is not great. She’s been one of the state’s premier players this year, even after undergoing a change of position from a middle hitter to a six rotation outside hitter who had to now start playing back row defense. As impressive as her offensive output has been with going over 750 career kills and hitting well over .400 this year, it’s her combined 600 digs and serve receptions this season that have made all the difference for this Mountie team down the stretch.

“I worked really hard since the end of last year to make sure I was prepared for it. I practiced playing defense as much as I could at club practices and on my own since that was the biggest transition. I hadn’t played back row since I was in junior high so I wanted to make sure I was ready for that,” Minyo said. “I also lifted and did plyometrics a lot, especially throughout this summer to make sure I was ready to be an outside hitter. I knew it was going to be a lot more work since I was going from playing half the game and mostly being there for blocking, to playing the entire game and being a key hitter so I knew I needed to get myself prepared for that change.”

For McNamara, her last name carries a lot of weight in Southern Tioga. Her grandfather has been long been a staple of area sports and her father and uncle are both district champion basketball coaches. It’s something she’s had to handle and has handled well.

“It definitely is hard coming from a super sports-centered family, but I definitely wouldn’t change it for anything,” McNamara said. “We are a super competitive family and it has definitely pushed me to be the best player I can. My family are my No. 1 supporters and I definitely would not be anywhere close to where I am today without them.”

McNamara has drawn comparisons to former Mansfield legend Tesia Kacynzski O’Brien. Kacynzski was a multiple time all-state setter as well as a standout basketball and softball player who went on to be a two-sport star at Elmira College. Though McNamara was a toddler when Kacynzski was playing, she’s flattered by the comparison.

“I always hear people talking about Tesia, so it’s kind of crazy to hear people compare me to her. It doesn’t feel real honestly,” McNamara said.

The two of them are also standout students. While McNamara has decided not to play college volleyball, she has been accepted into the occupational therapy six-year doctorate program at Misericordia. Minyo, who currently stands as the class valedictorian, would like to play in college.

The two of them have known each other since preschool and their careers as student-athletes will be intertwined as the leaders of this great Mountie team. Saturday, they will get to add one more tally to all the play dates they had growing up living just down the street from each other. This time, it will be in a state championship match.

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