Class of 2023Active: 2004 - 2018
20 Open Victories
Nicole Branagh redefined women's beach volleyball. Her lethal jump serve, seemingly unlimited hitting range, precise hand setting, blocking and defensive skills made her one of the most versatile players ever. Branagh's versatility and fearsome, athletic six-foot frame inspired her and another six-footer, Elaine Youngs, to buck decades of conventional wisdom and partner together as tall players. It worked. With Branagh often playing as the primary defender, the pair won 15 tournaments between 2007-2009, reached the 2008 Olympics and won the 2009 Crocs Cup Championship as the Association of Volleyball Professionals' (AVP) top team after winning nine of 12 tournaments that season. Individually, Branagh was named the AVP's Most Valuable Player in 2009.
A multi-sport athlete growing up in Orinda, California, Branagh turned down basketball and track scholarships to play volleyball at the University of Minnesota, where she twice earned All-American honors and finished as the Big 10 conference's all-time leader in kills with 2,379. A successful professional indoor career followed, but at age 24 two former teammates from the United States indoor team encouraged Branagh to come out and try beach volleyball. Her legendary work ethic and unquenchable thirst for improvement launched her from footwork classes and CBVA events to an AVP Rookie of the Year Award in 2005.
As her beach career blossomed, Branagh packed her PT Cruiser and left her home in the San Francisco Bay Area for the fertile training grounds of Southern California and to play professionally indoor in the winter. But in 2006, then all-time wins leader Holly McPeak invited the neophyte to become her partner. From that day on, Branagh would focus solely on the beach game; she had arrived on the world volleyball stage.
Networking practice games with foreign teams at overseas events showed Branagh there was always something to learn. Her hunger to better her game drove her to win and unprecedented two AVP Most Improved awards (2006, 2008).
Branagh was ruthless and fearless on the court, but friendly off the court. She enjoyed casual chats with fans and often used AVP tournament as gatherings for family and friends. Giving back energized the outgoing Branagh and helped fuel her success on the court. Opponents, fans and teammates all appreciated her sense of humor, thoughtfulness and affable nature.
A great testament to Branagh's personality, drive and skill are the legendary partners she attracted. Over the course of her career, Branagh teamed with four of the greatest players ever: McPeak, Youngs, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings. Serving. Hitting. Setting. Blocking. Defending. Winning. Branagh truly was a player and partner extraordinaire.