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Nicole Branagh, Elaine Youngs win one for the aged

The beach volleyball veterans win their opener at the Manhattan Beach Open against a pair of San Diego area teenagers.

July 18, 2009|Bill Brink

Nicole Branagh is 30. Her playing partner on the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour, Elaine Youngs, is 39.

Youngs won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and has won 35 domestic tournaments. Branagh was the tour's rookie of the year in 2005 and has twice been named its most improved player.

So, naturally, their first match Friday at the Manhattan Beach Open was against a couple of teenagers.

Natalie Hagglund, 17, and Summer Ross, 16, earned the last spot in qualifying Thursday, only to face top-seeded Branagh and Youngs on Friday morning.

"For me, personally, I think it's awesome because the combined age of the two of them is six years less than my age," Youngs said. "It's crazy."

Hagglund and Ross lost, 21-12, 21-8, but they battled -- they took a 4-0 lead and trailed only 12-11 in the first game before Branagh and Youngs pulled away.

"We didn't really have a strategy because who are you going to serve it to? They're both professional players," Hagglund said.

Hagglund and Ross, who both play for San Diego-area high schools, met through their parents and play together at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. It was Ross who suggested that they attempt to qualify for the Manhattan Beach Open.

"I was nervous, but playing [Branagh and Youngs], those are my heroes," Hagglund said.

Ross and Hagglund played an elimination match later Friday, losing, 21-14, 17-21, 18-16, to Cindie Boosin and Tealle Hunkus.

"What was going through our heads was, 'If we can win that would be the most amazing experience ever, but if we can't we're just having fun,' " Hagglund said.

Youngs and Branagh went on to win against Lynne Brinkman and Carol Hamilton, 21-11, 21-8, to advance to third-round play today. They recently returned from the FIVB World Championships in Stavanger, Norway, where they reached the quarterfinals, and the 1 to 1 Energy Grand Slam in Gstaad, Switzerland, where they made the semifinals.

Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, who won the men's beach volleyball gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, also returned to the U.S. after international competition. They finished third in Norway and made it to the third round in Switzerland.

"There's positives and negatives," Rogers said of the trip. "It's fun being over there and seeing new places, seeing people that you don't see as much. [But] it's tough to be away. You're living out of a hotel basically, out of a bag, and I've got family back home."

In their first match Friday, Dalhausser and Rogers defeated Corin Bemus and Fernando Sabla, 21-14, 21-10. In their next match, they defeated Mike Bruning and Dana Camacho, 21-15, 21-13, to advance to the third round.

Top-seeded John Hyden and Sean Scott got to the third round, as did third-seeded Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal.

In other women's competition, third-seeded Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan advanced to the third round, as did fourth-seeded Brooke Hanson and Lisa Rutledge. Play resumes today at 8:30 a.m. on the south side of the Manhattan Beach pier.


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