Former Minnesota volleyball standout Nicole Branagh continues to team with Elaine Youngs to form one of the top beach women’s volleyball teams on the AVP tour. Branagh and Youngs entered this week’s Long Beach Open (July 19-22), coming off winning the last tournament (Seaside Heights Open in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 5-8).
Branagh and Youngs have played in nine of the 10 AVP events this year, and have finished second or better in six of the tournaments. They are the only team on the AVP women’s tour to have won an event other than Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. May-Treanor and Walsh have won eight of the events on the tour this year, while Branagh and Youngs have won two tournaments.
In the first event of the year in Miami, Fla. on Apr. 13-15, Branagh and Youngs knocked off May-Treanor and Walsh in the semifinals and went on to win their first AVP tournament as a team. It was only the second time in 46 events (at the time) that May-Treanor and Walsh had been knocked out before the championship.
Branagh and Youngs also won the Season Heights Open on July 5-8. That was the only event of the year that May-Treanor and Walsh did not compete in this summer. The team of Branagh and Youngs has also finished second four times this year, and has claimed a pair of second-place finishes and a first-place finish in their last three tournaments.
Entering this week, Branagh and Youngs are third in the overall Crocs Cup standings, which determines the best overall teams on the AVP tour. Through 10 AVP tournaments, Branagh and Youngs have played one less event than the second place team of Tyra Turner and Rachel Wacholder.
This week’s event in Long Beach is the first event with a double point total in the standings. That event along with the Manahattan Beach event, the Chicago Open, the Boston Open and the Brooklyn Open are all worth double points. The Cincinnati Open is worth a triple point total.
Branagh, who played for Minnesota from 1997 to 2000, is the Golden Gophers all-time kill leader with 2,379. She held the Big Ten record for kills until 2004 when it was broken by Stacey Gordon.