BPT Challenge Itapema - NEDvsUSA_9301

Ranked first in the world, the Dutch will play a duo from Lithuania in their opening match in Doha

World ranking leaders Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon are set for a challenging debut at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Doha, Qatar, as the Dutch will start their campaign at the Al Gharafa Beach Courts against Lithuanians Erika Kliokmanaite and Monika Paulikiene on Friday.

Stam, 23, and Schoon, 20, have made it to the gold medal match at each of the three Challenge and Elite16 Beach Pro Tour events to date, taking gold at the Rosarito Elite16 and silver at the Tlaxcala and Itapema Challenge tournaments. Their excellent run of form has taken them to the top of the FIVB World Rankings.

Partnering for the first time in international beach volleyball in Doha, Kliokmanaite, 37, and Paulikiene, 27, were the sensations of Thursday’s qualifier. Ranked 23rd, the two players defied the odds to make it to the main draw after a two-set (24-22, 25-23) win over Austrian sisters Dorina and Ronja Klinger and a three-set (19-21, 22-20, 15-13) victory against French pair Aline Chamereau and Clemence Vieira.

The two other teams in Pool A are Americans Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn and Polish pair Kinga Wojtasik and Katarzyna Kociolek, who after splitting at the end of last season decided to reunite again for a few weeks and try to qualify for next month’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship in Rome.

· All the matches in Doha are available to watch live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Tokyo bronze medallists Joana Heidrich/Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland will play another team coming from the qualifier, Canadians Alina Dormann and Amanda Harnett, while Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho of Australia will face Anouk’s younger sister Zoe and her partner Esmee Bobner.

Several women’s teams will be making their first appearances in the main draw of a Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Doha. Among them are Spanish pair Paula Soria and Sofia Gonzalez, who joined forces ahead of the 2022 season and advanced with a 2-1 (21-12, 26-28, 15-11) victory over Danish team Sofia Bisgaard and Clara Windeleff after failing to progress in Tlaxcala in March.

Soria González vs. Windeleff Bisgaard - Match Highlights

Playing together for the first time, Finnish team Taru Lathi and Niina Ahtiainen also moved forward, as did Chile’s Francisca Rivas/Chris Vorpahl, Norway’s Sunniva Helland-Hansen/Emilie Olimstad, Slovenia’s Tjasa Kotnik/Tajda Lovsin and France’s Lezana Placette/Alexia Richard.

Home heroes Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan will face one of the players they met in the bronze medal match of last year's Tokyo Olympics, Edgars Tocs, in their first match in the Doha Challenge. The 33-year-old Latvian and his new partner Kristians Fokerots were one of the eight teams that advanced from Thursday's qualifier in Qatar. To get through, they had to down Austrians Florian Schnetzer and Laurenc Grossig 2-0 (21-15, 21-14) and Swiss team Adrian Heidrich and Leo Dillier in three sets (21-19, 17-21, 15-12).

BPT Challenge Doha Qualification Men - LATvsSUI_01

The young Fokerots spikes against Heidrich's block

The top-seeded duo in the qualifier, Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga are also in Pool A. The Dutch, who had a remarkable run in Itapema last month, starting the tournament in the qualifier and ending it on the podium with the bronze medals around their necks, were another duo to advance from Thursday’s qualifier. The Europeans kept their momentum and were dominant against the French brothers Quincy and Calvin Aye, winning in straight sets (21-11, 21-11). Spanish veterans Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira are the fourth team in the group.

The other six teams to make it through Thursday's qualifier were France’s Youssef Krou/Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, Australia’s Izac Carracher/Mark Nicolaidis, Canada’s Sam Schachter/Dan Dearing, Poland's Pawel Lewandowski/Jakub Zdybek, Chile's Marco Grimalt/Esteban Grimalt and Austria's Julian Horl/Alexander Horst.