Volleyball, a family

Despite their loss against West Valley High School in the NorCal semifinals Saturday that ended their historic season, the Bruins still have lots to celebrate for. 


Ranked 73 in California, it’s easy to argue that Branham’s volleyball program is one of the best in the region. This season’s CCS division II win and the fact that they are again league champions will further cement their reputation.


Head coach Heather Cooper credits the program’s success to the community of athletes, family and supporters that she’s helped build. Even without the built-in culture of larger programs such as football, they’ve found a way to bring attention to themselves, and often pack the gyms for home games.


She’s called the girls team that she’s helped build a sisterhood, saying that she saw something special with the current history-making squad. 


“I knew my gut was telling me the way we’ve been winning this season, there was something truly special about it,” she said. “And I used that to my advantage and created the culture that I wanted it to be. And it worked, and here we are.”


The wider Branham community has also embraced the team. The Bagel Bar in Campbell, owned by senior Taylor Boehner’s family, donates proceeds from its a blue-and-white swirled Branham Bruin Volleyball bagel to the team.


Among the satellite of supporters is professional photographer Tony Carason, Cooper’s longtime friend whom she describes as a blessing to have. 


Carson, who has been involved with Branham Volleyball for the past 12 years, helps promote the program through the social media pages he manages.


In-between and during matches, he helps keep engagement with the program high. For their recent NorCal round two win over Buchanan High School, the Branham Volleyball Instagram account posted frequently, with immediate set results of the close game with videos of gameplay and reactions.


He also shares moments off the volleyball court, including Simpsonized caricatures of each athlete, drawing embarrassed reactions from the players themselves.


Carason says that his favorite part about the volleyball program is the family and the people. But it’s Cooper who is the heart of the girls and boys programs, which she took over in 2008 and 2013, respectively. 


“It starts with the coach,” Carason said. “She puts her heart and soul into this, and she’s been doing it for so long. And that’s what keeps me coming back. That’s what keeps coaches coming back. That’s what keeps the parents who are 10 years removed come in. That love.”


Although Cooper describes her coaching style as “hard and critical at times,” she knows that the girls understand that it’s because she wants them to accomplish great things. 


“We just kept going and it’s just the culture that we bring in here,” said Cooper. “The dedication and the passion and it’s blood sweat and tears at times, but it’s worth it.”


Players like Junior Ava Medina treasure the environment of their team that they’ve created.


“It’s like a place for me and my teammates to escape,” said Medina.


Despite the team’s great season, Cooper said that she wishes the team weren’t always overshadowed by the other dominant fall sport: football, which consistently draws the largest crowds, win or lose.


“I’ll be honest, there’s been times when we’ve been really successful where we’ve had some important games that we wish we would have had more students at.” said Cooper. “Or, just   more recognition and not always having to ask, and just having that support around it, but you know it but you take it and you just kind of run with it.” 


Nevertheless, the championship winning program has also focused on their own community first and playing for each other.


“We’ve also grown as a family as a sisterhood with the wins but even with those losses we’ve grown.” said Cooper as she described the team this year. “I knew something special when I walked into this team and had this group of 12 girls and I just said we’re gonna we’re gonna do it.”