17_BPT Rosarito - Women Semifinals LATvsBRA

Graudina's presence at the net produced 16 block points on Saturday

The first women’s gold medal match of an Elite 16 event on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour will reunite two young teams from Europe. Latvians Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka and Dutch pair Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam advanced to the final of the tournament held in Rosarito, Mexico, on Saturday.

The two teams, who will both be fighting for their first-ever international gold medals as partners, will clash for the title in Mexico on Sunday at 15.30 local time. The bronze medal match reuniting Brazilians Talita Antunes and Rebecca Cavalcanti and Americans Kelly Claes and Betsi Flint is scheduled to start at 12.45.

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The two finalist teams both represented their countries at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, and have met just once before at the semifinals of the 2021 European Championship, in Vienna, when the Dutch won in three sets.

Graudina and Kravcenoka’s march to the gold medal match in Rosarito marked the greatest turnaround of the event as the Latvians faced a serious risk of elimination after losing their first two pool play matches on Thursday. They won their final pool match the next day and only advanced because of their slightly superior point average in a three-way tie with teams from Germany and Brazil.

“We’re the kind of team that takes advantage of every opportunity,” Kravcenoka said. “We made it out of our pool on just a very few points, and since then we really had nothing to lose. We just entered the court in every match trying to do our absolute best, but also enjoying our game, with no pressure.”

Talita/Rebecca vs. Kravcenoka/Graudina - Match Highlights

The Tokyo Olympics semifinalists have not looked back since that match, defeating Americans April Ross and Emily Day 2-0 (21-12, 24-22) in the quarterfinals and coming from behind to take Talita and Rebecca down in their three-set (18-21, 21-14, 15-10) semifinal encounter.

“I don’t think we were very aggressive with our serves in the first set,” said the defender, who will be the oldest player in Sunday’s final at the age of 25. “We managed to put more pressure on them in the last two sets and that entirely changed the match. The Dutch are an excellent team and it will be fun to play them in the final.”

Tokyo Olympians, the 20-year-old Schoon and the 23-year-old Stam played in the final of the Tlaxcala Challenge tournament last Sunday, when they lost to Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado. They will be chasing their first victory in international beach volleyball as partners.

17_BPT Rosarito - Wome Semifinals USAvsNED

After taking silver in Tlaxcala, Stam and Schoon will go for gold in Rosarito

The Dutch arrive in the final with five wins and one loss, but dropping their last pool match on Friday didn’t hurt Schoon’s or Stam’s confidence. The Dutch entered the elimination round in a very strong rhythm and eliminated top-seeded Brazilians Eduarda ‘Duda’ Lisboa and Ana Patricia Ramos in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 (21-18, 12-21, 20-18) victory.

In the semifinals, the Europeans came from behind to win another three-setter (23-25, 22-20, 15-9), this time against Claes and Flint, to become the first team to qualify for consecutive finals on the Beach Pro Tour.

“It was a really mental game,” Schoon reflected. “It was really tough and I’m so proud that we did it. We just kept fighting for every point and never lost focus and that was really important and reflected on our play in the last two sets.”

Stam/Schoon vs. Flint/Claes - Match Highlights

After playing 13 matches and 32 sets in the last ten days, the Dutch just hope they have enough energy to continue their formidable run for one more day so they can celebrate their first international beach volleybal goldl medal as partners.

“We didn’t expect it at all,” Stam commented. “We came here and had to play in completely different circumstances. We had to adapt really well and I am proud of how we did it. We’ve been taking it day by day and have not had any rest in the last two weeks, but we’ll keep going for one more day.”