The partnership of Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh is so new that they don't even have matching swimsuits.
That didn't seem to be an issue when the two started out; May-Treanor, 32, has two Olympic gold medals and 106 first-place finishes to her name and Branagh, 31, has 15 AVP championships. The pairing of two veterans worked well, as they won at Fort Lauderdale, the first AVP event of the season, on April 18. It was the first time a pair had won their first domestic event together since 2002.
Since then, however, it's been a little rocky.
"You know, chemistry doesn't happen overnight," May-Treanor said. "As with every sporting team, we're growing. We grow together."
May-Treanor returned to beach volleyball this season after a torn Achilles' tendon sidelined her for nearly all of 2009. Her longtime partner, Kerri Walsh, was not active because of the birth of her second son, Sundance, so May-Treanor turned to Branagh. But she considered not returning to the sport at all.
"I did, yeah," May-Treanor said. "That type of injury can be career-ending, but I thought I'm going to push and see how I feel, and now I go tournament to tournament, year to year."
May-Treanor and Branagh won their first two matches at the Hermosa Beach Open on Saturday before falling to Angela Lewis and Priscilla Lima in their third match. The loss forced them into the consolation bracket, where they had to win one more match to make it to Sunday.
They did, defeating Jenny Kropp and Whitney Pavlik, 21-16, 21-14, to advance.
"Some days, like today: survival," May-Treanor said. "You come back with a vengeance tomorrow."
May-Treanor and Branagh have not won a tournament since Fort Lauderdale but the have made it to the semifinals in the other four AVP tournaments they've played in this season and advanced to the finals twice.
"We're just learning about each other as we go, and I think we're doing extremely well for a new team," May-Treanor said. "I can't imagine another new team being in the position that we are at this point."
Coming back was an adjustment in itself.
"I sat out a whole year, didn't touch a volleyball or even watch volleyball," she said.
Branagh had to adjust as well. She had nearly all of her success with former partner Elaine Youngs, and in 2009 the pair was named AVP team of the year. Youngs now plays with Rachel Scott, and they are still in the winner's bracket at Hermosa. The two teams played each other at Santa Barbara, with May-Treanor and Branagh getting the victory.
"We got that out of the way," Branagh said.
The two expect to improve and begin winning tournaments again; May-Treanor pointed out that she and Walsh won only one title in the first year of their partnership. After fighting to continue at Hermosa Beach, the new team has a chance to win starting Sunday.
"It takes time to build these things, and I feel like we get stronger but we haven't got all the pieces together," May-Treanor said. "One match we'll be strong in one aspect and the next match we'll lack in one area. The time that we'll be at our best is when we can combine all those together. You see sparks of greatness."