The 2010 AVP season marks the fifth for Nicole Branagh, who has been racking up the awards since her first season on the beach when she was named Rookie of the Year. The 2009 season saw her named MVP and Best Offensive Player, and she and partner Elaine Youngs were named Team of the Year.
Branagh grew up in Orinda, California, where her 6’2″ athletic frame made her a standout in basketball and track and field in addition to volleyball. It was clear where her passion was, and she continued playing volleyball at the University of Minnesota where she was a named two-time All-American Second Team player. After graduation Branagh joined the U.S. National Team and played with them from 2001 to 2003. Following a bronze medal finish at the 2003 Pan Am games Branagh left the national team, and spent the next few years playing professional in Italy and Japan as well as coaching at Cal State-Fullerton.
In 2004 it was clear that it was time for a change, so Branagh took a chance on the beach. “I just really took a chance on the beach,” said Branagh on her website. “You only have two people. You’re dealing with the elements. There’s a lot more strategy and planning in beach volleyball, and I love to be outside.” She followed up her Rookie of the Year Award with a Most Improved Player Award, which she earned for her play with former Olympian and volleyball legend Holly McPeak.
In 2006 Branagh split from McPeak in favor of Elaine Youngs, a taller player who is also a former partner of McPeak’s. Youngs and Branagh earned numerous medals on the FIVB and AVP circuits between 2006 and 2008, which gave them enough points to go to the Beijing Olympics as the #2-ranked US women’s team. Despite a strong start the pair failed to medal, falling to Chinese team Chen Xue and Xi Zhang in the quarterfinals.
Upon returning home Branagh and Youngs rebounded from the loss quickly, ending the 112-game winning streak of gold medalists Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings at the AVP tournament in Cincinnati.
The next chapter in Branagh’s storied career should be an interesting one, as she begins the 2010 season partnered with Misty May-Traenor. May is one of the most celebrated beach athletes ever, and Branagh has a solid history of outstanding performances, so they should be a force to be reckoned with in the coming months.
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