Colorado Springs, Colo., May 27, 2017 - Less than a month after her split with Rio Olympic bronze medal partner April Ross, three-time Olympic and two-time FIVB world champion Kerri Walsh Jennings has announced that she and Nicole Branagh have entered a FIVB World Tour event in Croatia next month followed by scheduled stops in Switzerland and Austria.
The Walsh-Jennings/Branagh partnership is not new, but the two women have not played together since 2012 after the London Olympic Games when they teamed for two domestic events and a FIVB World Tour stop in Poland. Walsh Jennings and Branagh were 11-3 in those three events with two domestic seconds and a FIVB ninth.
Both AVP setbacks were to Ross and Jen Kessy, who dropped the London 2012 Summer Games gold medal match to Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in the All-American finale. The Olympic match marked the final time that Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor appeared on the same side of the net in a Beach Volleyball match. The following April, Walsh Jennings gave birth to her third child and first daughter (Scout).
Prior to the 2012 events, Walsh Jennings and Branagh had played in three FIVB World Tour events starting with a first-place finish at the 2008 Dubai Open. It was Walsh Jennings’ first event following her Olympic gold medal placement with May-Treanor at the Beijing Summer Games. The following May, Walsh Jennings gave birth to her first child and son (Joey).
After giving birth to her second son (Sundance) in May 2010, Walsh Jennings returned to international competition five months later with Branagh as the pair teamed to place fifth in China (Sanya) and first in Thailand (Phukett). Overall, the pair has a 28-6 match mark together with a 20-4 FIVB World Tour record.
A 2010 Phukett gold medal finish for Nicole Branagh (right) and Kerry Walsh Jennings
“Nicole is really a wonderful person and a fantastic competitor,” the 38-year old Walsh Jennings told Volleyball Magazine, an American publication. “I’ve played with her various times over the years and it was always a great experience. She is committed, driven, extremely physical and has a great instinct for the game. In short, she’s rad and she bring so much to the partnership. I feel so much appreciation for this opportunity.”
The 38-year old Branagh competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where she and Elaine Youngs placed fifth after being eliminated by eventual bronze medal winners Chen Xue and Xi Zhang of China 2-0 (21-17, 21-14) in a 40-minutes quarter-final match. Ironically, Branagh returned to action this season after taking the 2015 season off by playing with Zhang in an American domestic event where the pair placed ninth after being eliminated by Kim DiCello/Emily Stockman 2-1 (16-21, 21-16, 15-11) in 60 minutes.
“This is a great opportunity and I’m excited,” Branagh said in the Volleyball Magazine article. “I know we’ve played together and had success. I know it’s been several kids and years later, but we’re both working hard and training hard, so it feels good. It’s great.”
In the article, Walsh Jennings said her coach (Marcio Sicoli) had invited Branagh to a practice. “I was quickly reminded of how rad she is,” Walsh Jennings noted. “I spoke with Marcio, talked to my husband (Casey Jennings), slept on it and it was really clear to me how I felt about Nicole and I together. I’m so excited and we’re ready to take on the challenges together.”
“A couple of weeks ago, I had a practice (with Walsh Jennings) against the Canadians and then she called me to be a fourth,” Branagh said. “Marcio was there, Marcio and Kerri were talking about it, and then they talked to me, about my commitment level, and I joked to Marcio, ‘To be Kerri’s practice player?’ and Marcio said ‘No, to be Kerri’s partner.’
“I replied, ‘Yeah, I’m committed. With the right partner, I’m ready and able to do this.’ I want to work hard and compete at a high level, win tournaments, and have fun.”
Depending on their entry points, the goal for the Walsh Jennings/Branagh partnership is to play in FIVB World Tour events in Croatia (Porec, July 27-July 1) and Switzerland (Gstaad, July 4-9) along with the 2017 FIVB World Championships in Vienna, Austria (July 28-August 6). “And hopefully Hamburg (SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals August 22-27) as well,” Walsh Jennings added.