Branagh, Youngs step up

Jen Kessy and April Ross had their fists all but closed around the Hermosa Beach Open title. Leading, 20-19, in the second game after winning the first game, 21-19, one point and the match was theirs.

But their opponents, top-seeded Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs, wriggled free. Ross' serve for the match hit the net, Youngs and Branagh won the second game, 23-21, and won the third game, 15-11, to win the Hermosa Beach Open championship Saturday.

"You never want to do it, but it happens, I've done it before," Youngs said of Ross' service error. "We bounced back, they didn't quite bounce back."

"We can't let that team come back to a third game," said Kessy, who with Ross was seeded second. "We have them on the ropes in the second game, we have to win that game."

Hermosa Beach marks the seventh Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour title this season for Branagh and Youngs. Youngs won her fifth Hermosa Beach Open with her fourth partner, and Branagh notched her first.

"I love playing with Nicole," Youngs said. "We have such a great friendship and partnership."

They are 20-9 against Kessy and Ross overall and 17-6 in AVP matches.

"I honestly think that we're able to execute at game time and make some aggressive, athletic plays. And I don't think they face a lot of teams like us," Youngs said.

Branagh and Youngs finished third the last two years in Hermosa Beach.

"This is where we train, so this is like our home beach," Branagh said. "All of our friends are here and family. It's amazing."

Branagh and Youngs beat Angie Akers and Tyra Turner earlier Saturday in a semifinal match. Kessy and Ross defeated Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan in the other semifinal.

Branagh and Youngs are 48-2 in AVP matches this season, with the losses coming against Kessy and Ross. They've been a part of the semifinals in 14 consecutive tournaments, winning eight, dating to last year.

"We want to keep getting better every weekend and I feel like we are getting better every weekend and it's awesome to see," Branagh said.

Branagh and Youngs have competed in Europe twice this season. There's no cure for jet lag, they said, and the fact that the women played four matches Friday didn't help.

Kessy and Ross need to improve their play at the end of matches, Ross said, something that can't be practiced.

Akers and Turner advanced to the final four by beating Kerri Walsh and Rachel Wacholder, 21-11, 21-10. This was the first time in 80 events Walsh did not reach the semifinals.

Top-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers advanced to the men's semifinals, as did second-seeded John Hyden and Sean Scott.

Brad Keenan and Nick Lucena will play Ty Loomis and Casey Patterson, and Matt Olson and Kevin Wong will face Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, in the contenders' bracket. The winners advance to the final four.

Play begins at 8:45 a.m. today north of the Hermosa Beach Pier.


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