Brendan McNamara exploded onto the Lancaster-Lebanon League boys tennis scene in spring 2018 when, as a freshman, he reached the Class 2A singles final of the league tournament.
In 2019 as a sophomore, McNamara again competed in the league 2A singles final and went on to reach the District Three singles championship.
He’d likely have more accolades to this point had the COVID-19 pandemic not wiped out his junior campaign last spring.
For as good he is on the tennis court, though, McNamara might be even better in the classroom. Now a Lancaster Catholic senior, McNamara has a 4.83 grade-point average. His ACT score is 36 out of a possible 38. On Wednesday, he was named valedictorian for the Class of 2021.
He’s winnowed his college choices down to three schools: Villanova University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Miami. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in either public policy, economics, political science, or a combination of those, and hopes to eventually attend law school.
McNamara cites a few things in regard to his academic success. The first is a good memory.
“I feel like I just need to work on a subject and study it, then I’m able to remember the material well once I’m able to teach it to myself,” he said.
The second is a work ethic he developed from his parents.
“All you can control is your work ethic,” he said. “Just working as hard as I can for everything, no matter how small the task.”
The third is his parents taking a hands-off approach with McNamara, the youngest of three children, when it came to completing schoolwork as he got older.
“Sometimes when you have people on top of you all the time telling you to do things, you won’t want to do them,” McNamara said. “So having that freedom and liberty to go at my own pace and be self-motivated has helped me.”
McNamara’s mother introduced him to tennis as a child.
“At that time it was local high school courts when I was little,” he said.
McNamara realized in middle school he might have a future in the sport. He then started attending clinics at Hempfield recCenter in Landisville, where he also has been taking instruction from Ryan Jeckel, a Manheim Central alum and the longtime Barons boys tennis coach, who is also a registered United States Professional Tennis coach.
“(Jeckel) been a constant factor through my trials, failures and successes,” McNamara said. “He’s always been there to dissect my matches to learn and see what I can do better in the future.”
So, too, has been Crusaders fifth-year coach Mike Cannon.
“One of the biggest things in Brendan’s growth is he’s been able to manage his mental game in a lot better way now than when he did as a freshman,” Cannon said.
Earlier in his prep career, McNamara was too hard on himself when things didn’t go his way.
“As a freshman he got into his own head,” Cannon said. “He would get a lead. And then the other guy would get back into the match and end up winning. That was tough for him. … He has put a lot of time and effort in to have that not let that beat him.”
To the point McNamara has realized the only thing he can control is his effort.
“Once you lose, you can have your period of time to be upset,” he said. “But the next day accept it, and look at what I did wrong and what I can do better in the future.”
That thinking applies this spring, where McNamara’s only two singles losses have come to Pequea Valley senior Brady Burns and Lancaster Country Day freshman phenom Nile Abadir. Burns also topped McNamara in the 2018 L-L 2A singles title when both were freshmen. In other words, McNamara will likely have to overcome either Burns or Abadir, or both, to win this year’s L-L 2A singles championship.
“You’re going to have to work for every single ball and go after every shot,” McNamara said of potential rematches with Burns or Abadir. “If you’re going to go for big shots, do it in a time that will actually work and not just make dumb mistakes. Also, staying positive. The belief that I can hang with them and do whatever they can do.”
By the way, McNamara will be focusing on academics in college, which means the coming weeks will likely be his last in official tennis competition.
No matter what happens in singles matches, though, a deep Lancaster Catholic squad has a good shot at competing for a team championship in the league, district and state tournaments, with McNamara leading the charge as the Crusaders’ No. 1 singles player and team captain.
“I’ve been on teams where the captain is fifth-best on the team,” Cannon said. “To me, it’s more impressive with your No. 1 being team captain, facing the opposing team’s best player, handling the pressure and leading by example.”
McNamara is doing that on and off the court.
“People look to him as the example,” Cannon said. “He’s doing it the right way.”