Branagh second ever Gopher to win Big Ten player of year award

by Josh Linehan

When the season ends for the Minnesota volleyball team, Nicole Branagh and company might need an extra room to hold all their awards.
Branagh, a 6-1 senior outside hitter, was named co-Big Ten player of the year Monday. She shared the award with Wisconsin junior Sherisa Livingston.
The Orinda, California, native said winning the award was a tribute to her career as a Gopher.
“I’m really excited. I had a big smile on my face. It’s fun,” Branagh said. “It feels good to know that coaches around the conference feel I deserve the honor. I look at it as a four-year accomplishment.”
Branagh became the Big Ten’s all-time kills leader in the next-to-last regular season game of her career last week against Iowa. She now has 2,236 in her four years, 26 more than former Gopher Katrien DeDecker.
Livingston’s Badgers (27-3, 18-2 Big Ten) won the conference, largely on the strength of their sweep over Minnesota (28-3, 17-3), who finished second. She had 39 kills against the Gophers in October.
Branagh had nothing but praise for the border-battle rival who shared the award.
“She is a great player. She’s fun to play against and it says a lot to be honored with her.”
Branagh is just the second Minnesota volleyball player in history to receive the award. Middle blocker Martie Larsen won it in 1983.
Branagh also made the 2000 All-Big Ten team as a unanimous selection along with junior Stephanie Hagen. Junior Lindsey Berg also made the team.
Branagh was named a member of the AVCA all-America second team last Spring. She is now a three-time all-Big Ten selection.
She helped lead Minnesota to its best-ever regular season and conference records in school history.
The Gophers will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament this weekend at the Sports Pavilion, and are seeded second in the Western regional, their highest seeding ever.
Minnesota faces Robert Morris (21-15) in the first round on Friday at 8 p.m. The winner of that match will face the winner of the 6 p.m. match pitting Duke (21-12) with Arizona State (17-11). The final game of the regional is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets for the NCAAs are now on sale at the Mariucci Arena box office and are available by calling 1-800-UGOPHER. The games will be broadcast on WDGY AM-630.

— Brian Stensaas contributed to this report.