Kerri Walsh Jennings said earlier this month her first tournament of the 2017 pro beach season would be the FIVB Porec Major in Croatia June 27 to July 1.
Now we know with whom she’ll be playing, because the tournament pairs have been listed. Walsh Jennings, the three-time Olympic beach gold-medalist who took bronze last summer in Rio with April Ross, will be playing with Nicole Branagh.
“Nicole is really a wonderful person and a fantastic competitor,” Walsh Jennings told VBM. “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.”
Branagh, like Walsh Jennings, is 38. They have played together both internationally and domestically at different times from 2008 to 2012. Branagh played in the 2008 Olympics with Elaine Youngs. She posted a video on her Facebook page on Sunday with her working out with Walsh Jennings.
“This is a great opportunity and I’m excited,” Branagh said. “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.”
Walsh Jennings said her coach, Marcio Sicoli, invited Branagh to a recent practice.
“I was quickly reminded of how rad she is. 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,” she said. “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.”
They said the goal is to play Porec, the FIVB Gstaad Major 5 Star from July 4-9, World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach July 12-16 and the FIVB World Championships in Vienna from July 28-August 6. “And hopefully Hamburg (Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals August 22-27) as well,” Walsh Jennings added.
They had outstanding success as partners. In 2008, they won in Dubai. In 2010, they took a fifth in Sanya, China and first in Phuket, Thailand. And then in 2012 they played two times in America, taking second in AVP Cincinnati and second in AVP Santa Barbara. Also in 2012, they placed ninth in FIVB Stare Jablonski, Poland.
There are six other American pairs set for Porec, including Ross, who will be playing with Lauren Fendrick. Also in the field are Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, Kimberly DiCello and Emily Stockman, Caitlin Ledoux and Lane Carico, Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar, and Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat.
Walsh Jennings, who is not playing the AVP tour this season while April Ross is, told VolleyballMag.com while visiting the NCAA beach tournament in Gulf Shores, Ala., that Porec would be her first stop but was not prepared then to announce her partner.
Branagh is a 17-time winner on the AVP tour and has captured gold three times in FIVB events. She played at the University of Minnesota, was on the USA national team from 2001-03, and started on the beach in 2004. At the AVP Huntington Beach May 4-7, she teamed with Xi Zhang and finished tied for ninth. Branagh did not play in Austin this past weekend.
There are also seven American men’s teams competing in Porec: Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson, John Mayer and Jeremy Casebeer, Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb, and Ryan Doherty and John Hyden.
Before that is another FIVB event, the Moscow 3 Star, May 30-June 4. The American contingent includes April Ross and Fendrick, Claes and Hughes, Carico and Ledoux, Day and Hochevar and Summer Ross and Sweat.
The Moscow men’s list shows five USA teams, Dalhausser and Lucena, Brunner and Patterson, Allen and Slick, Gibb and Taylor Crabb and Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb.