2017-06-25 19:22:00 CET
Reunited duo aiming for success at Poreč…and beyond
Watch out beach volleyball world…Nicole Branagh and Kerri Walsh Jennings are back together and are on a mission!
The American duo return to the sand as teammates for the first time in five years after Nicole answered Kerri’s call to hook up at the beach for the 2017 summer season.
This week they aim to reach the main draw at the Poreč Major but have already secured a wildcard in Gstaad and their place at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships presented by A1 in Vienna.
Having twice won gold as a team on the World Tour back on 2008 and 2010, Branagh is enjoying being back on the international beach scene with her three-time Olympic champion partner and friend.
“We’re on a mission!” Nicole exclusively told swatchmajorseries.com. “It feels different, there’s an energy, it’s cool to be around Kerri and we have a great vibe but it’s been good so far – perhaps even better than it was before.
“We know how we want to get there, physically and mentally on court – we have that connection.
“We’ve played before and had our success – now we’ve had five kids between us. There’s some familiarity with her that feels good. I’m excited to see how well we do.
“We’re both parents and, yes, it’s hard leaving the family behind but we feel that we have some unfinished business. We’re both competitive people, we want to train and get better every day and not only do we want to be better individuals we want to be better as a team.”
When we spoke with Kerri back in May following the news that she had split with former teammate April Ross, the 38-year-old revealed that she had several players in mind to partner.
But, as Nicole explains, it was a chance meeting on the beach that led to the pair joining forces once again.
“I don’t think I was one of the two or three names to be honest!” she laughs. “I don’t think she ever thought of me and I don’t think I was on her radar.
“I was invited to a training session by Evie Mathews, who is the coach for the Canadians. He was my coach this pre-season so he called to ask if I could join them. I said I can, but please ask Marcio and Kerri if that's ok. He let me know that they needed fourth and they were happy I could come.
“I went to the practice and it was going well, Marcio, the coach, pulled me aside to ask my commitment level. I said I could commit to practicing twice a week to help out, and he said ‘no, no, no, I mean to be Kerri's partner’.
“I was surprised. I said I was willing to make a full-time commitment with the right situation or partner. Then later in the practice, Kerri asked me a few questions about playing on the FIVB World Tour. Come the end of the practice, Marcio and Kerri spoke to me and asked if I could come to practice the next week as well.
“I left the beach thinking let's see what happens. I didn't want to get ahead of myself but it felt good to play at that level again and be pushed. The three of us had worked together years before, so it was a good feeling to be back again with Kerri and Marcio, so the thought of that possibility did make me very excited.
“I’m looking forward to it. Kerri has this infectious fire and Marcio’s training is so intense it’s great. I’ve missed the competitiveness and the constantly pushing and hard work.
“But it will be worth it, we believe in this team, and I believe in her. She’s an amazing person and we’re both very excited.”
Nicole and Kerri’s second debut as a team is not yet fixed – first they will have to play a country quota match before they can think about entering the Poreč Major qualification round. But should the pair be successful, it will be the first time Kerri will have played at the qualification stage in her career.
“I’ve been in some country quota matches before but I’m not sure about Kerri!” says Nicole. “But we’re focused on this game. We’ve got one game to play and we have to win it. Kerri and I have been in plenty of these kinds of do or die situations many times before.
“It will be our first match together and with that comes pressure. The key is not to let the pressure get too much. We need to be patient.”
Kerri and Nicole explained:
Thank you from the heart!
Read the third installment of Ben Saxton's Swatch Major Series blog
Gold medalists have to get ready for Gstaad
Stunning comeback gives Brazilian qualifiers gold