The duo made headlines last year when they put an end to Walsh/May-Treanor's record-smashing 112-match win streak last summer.
With the AVP juggernaut out of the picture, Branagh and Youngs have won eight of this season's 12 tournaments, amassing $266,000 in prize money. They're in Chicago this week where they'll go for yet another win at Oak Street and North Avenue beaches.
While Treanor is still nursing the Achilles tendon she ruptured while dancing with the stars, Walsh makes her return to the AVP after having a baby. She'll be matched up with 2008 bronze medalist Holly McPeak -- and will likely present the toughest barrier to a Branagh/Youngs victory in Chicago.
We caught up with Branagh after a stroll down Michigan Avenue to find out what to expect from this year's team to beat:
Nicole Branagh: This tournament is always such a fun one. It's such a great city and I love where they have the tournament set up. The fans are great. I think they have a great volleyball community here, so there's always a lot of support from the city. It's just fun. We just got back from walking around Michigan Avenue and shopping a bit. Being able to be in a city where you can walk to the site -- it's great.
SP: You've had a phenomenal season so far, what's been the key to your success?
NB: We have been having a great year, and we've been having a lot of fun. That's one thing that's definitely helped us. In that past two years with the Olympics and having to travel around the world can be stressful, so we don't have that pressure on us. EY and I are just enjoying each other and we really respect each other a lot as athletes. Also, we're very good friends, so we've been having a blast. We've been bringing that on the court with us and keeping things light and staying calm. We really want to get better every week so we're doing our best to do that.
SP: You turned 30 earlier this year. I turn 30 in about a month -- any advice on hitting that milestone?
NB: Nothing to worry about. As far as advice -- just live it up. I don't feel any older .. maybe a little wiser.
SP: What makes your partnership with EY so productive -- is it the fact you guys are such good friends?
NB: Yeah. There have been partnerships where people aren't best friends. But chemistry is important in any partnership. Fortunately, EY and I have been friends for many years. We were friends before we played together so I think that brought a different side, and not just the business side. We've shared a lot of experiences and memories together. We've been down and come back so we've pulled through together. She's a phenomenal athlete and someone I've learned so much from.
SP: What's next for you in the foreseeable future. Do you and EY plan to stick together for 2010?
NB: I don't know what's going to happen. She's taking things one year at a time so I'm doing the same. I'm not sure what's going to happen next year with international play or AVP. We haven't really discussed that. We've just really been enjoying this year and we'll just worry about that later.
SP: Do you have any pre-match rituals or superstitions?
NB: We always like to have this special salad at one of our favorite restaurants [in Los Angeles] before we leave on the road.
SP: You've had some pretty epic matches against Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor in the past. What's been the key to beating them in the past?
NB: Never giving up. That team is the best in the world. They bring everything to the court every time they play. Every time we play them we have it in our heads that we can win, and we never give up against them. We've had some crazy matches where we've come back in the third. EY is a winner. I've learned that from her. She never gives up. You never know what can happen. Sometimes you go after that ball that you don't think you can get and you actually get it up and the momentum changes. Keeping your errors down and leaving everything on the court -- having no regrets. Any time you can beat a time like that it's a great day.
SP: Do you see the AVP as being more popular than it's ever been?
NB: I think it's definitely growing. This year we've hit some new spots on the tour and they've been popular. We went back to Muskegon last weekend and the finals were sold out I heard. So I think it's been doing well. Especially after the Olympics. We had two gold medals there and I think a lot of the beach volleyball was on during prime time so people were able to see it. It's exciting to see and exciting to see younger players come out here and give it a try. We're so fortunate to do what we're doing and I hope it just continues to grow and get bigger and bigger.