Volleyball Coach Michelle Brazil Reflects on Branson's State Title

Branson Volleyball: State Champs
It’s just over two weeks since Branson Girls’ Varsity Volleyball claimed its fourth straight state title, a ‘4peat’ that assumed an air of inevitability after the fact. Yet, Head Coach Michelle Brazil recalls that not everyone picked this year’s Bulls to be so dominant.

A very good Redwood High School team certainly believed they’d be the class of Marin in 2012, but Branson beat the Giants three times en route to sweeping the MCAL, NCS, NorCal and State championships.

“I think some people thought we we’re down after last year,” said Brazil. “To go back and do what we did is all the more special because it wasn’t universally expected.”

However, she adds, the players themselves never doubted their capability – a faith that helped propel Branson into the books as one of only four California schools to win a quartet of consecutive CIF championships.

That’s not to say the 2012 season offered no challenges, perhaps none greater than when the Bulls fell behind a determined Notre Dame of Salinas squad in the NorCal semifinals. Playing with five sick girls, Branson persevered to win the next three games and advance.

“It was the first time we’d ever been down 0-1,” coach Brazil said. “To come back and say, ‘this is not happening’ — I thought that was really awesome.”

Branson Volleyball also had to integrate five new players—an unprecedented number during Brazil’s four-year Branson tenure—but a preseason tournament trip to Hawaii, as well as a culture that prized unity and hard work, brought the team together.

For MCAL player of the year Gaby Steiner, forging that camaraderie made this year’s experience truly memorable.

“Of course it was amazing to help win the titles and such, but the best part by far was playing with the girls on the team,” said the senior setter. “I will always remember each girl for her friendship and work ethic—playing with my teammates drove me to be better.”

Gaby’s strides as a defender and server brought her game to another level, according to coaches, but her attitude made her invaluable. “She’s incredibly positive and really does whatever it takes to help the team succeed,” Brazil said. “When things aren’t going well it can become a vicious cycle, so having someone that positive can really help you get out of the rut.”

In addition to seeing Gaby graduate, Branson Volleyball will say ‘goodbye’ to two more outstanding, veteran contributors, Whitney Hansen and McKenna Becker.

Brazil called Whitney “the heart of the Bulls’ defense,” a major compliment given the team’s reputation for keeping the ball off the ground.

“She’s obviously fiery and feisty, and her tenacity sets her apart,” Brazil said of the senior libero. “When people were on the fence, her confidence helped them believe.”

As for Mckenna, the coach described her as an instrumental voice and presence. “She might not get the big numbers, but the reality is we couldn’t have done anything we did without her,” Brazil said. “She’s a selfless player, a leader in every sense of the term.”

Replacing 2012’s senior trio will prove a considerable task, but one that the Bulls have faced before.

“Every year an amazing group of seniors leave, but someone is willing to step up and pick up the slack,” Brazil said. “That’s what so amazing about Branson teams and that’s why we’ve been so successful.”

Brazil’s own hard work has done plenty to help the team’s chances. During a celebratory trip to Disneyland on the day her squad won the state championship victory in Southern California, Brazil and assistant Coach Brooke Swingle had already begun discussing strategy and personnel for 2013.

With 10 girls returning to the team, Branson has every reason to expect continuing success, but that doesn’t mean they’ll overlook anyone or take their reigning-champ status for granted.

“We’ve always made a point of never thinking too far ahead or speaking about our goals like we already achieved them,” Gaby Stenier said. “I can promise, thought, that (next year’s team) will put the work in during practice to continue succeeding, and always put a show on for the fans.”
(Photos by Katie Vogelheim)