Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon

A dream is usually a distant vision of something so fabulous and unreal that it will always remain just that: a dream. That is, unless you believe in even the smallest chance of making it a reality. Young Dutch beach volleyballers Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam always had faith in their Olympic dream, and chased it tirelessly until they made it come true.

On Sunday afternoon, a day after the Netherlands won the last European ticket to the women’s beach volleyball tournament at Tokyo 2020 via the CEV Continental Cup Finals in The Hague, Schoon and Stam had to take on their compatriots and teammates Marleen Ramond-van Iersel and Pleun Ypma to decide which of the two teams would put their names on the boarding pass to Japan.

The Dutch team celebrate in The Hague

The Dutch team celebrate in The Hague

For the record, Schoon and Stam hammered out an emphatic 2-0 (21-11, 21-13) victory in the crucial Olympic playoff match, but their race with Van Iersel and Ypma for that spot at the Games started way back, in March, when the two newly formed Dutch pairs took to the courts on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.

The Netherlands’ national federation, which hosted the CEV Continental Cup Finals in The Hague, had decided that the Dutch pair with the best result at a 4-star World Tour event would be rewarded with the ticket to Tokyo 2020, should the country’s national team win the Continental Cup event.

Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon had won four World Tour medals each with different partners at 1-star events when they teamed up with each other. Raisa, daughter of two-time beach volleyball Olympian Debora Schoon Kadijk, had also earned a 2018 FIVB U19 World Championship silver. The 22-year-old Stam and 19-year-old Schoon made their first Word Tour appearance together at the 2021 4-star season opener in Doha.

So did another new Dutch pair, that of 33-year-old two-time Olympian Marleen Ramond-van Iersel and 23-year-old Pleun Ypma, who replaced Joy Stubbe as Marleen’s partner after Joy took a maternity leave.

And the quiet race for that hypothetical Dutch Olympic spot began...

Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink were also in it, but it was already pretty clear that they would make it to Tokyo through the Olympic ranking.

Schoon and Stam finished 33rd in Doha. Van Iersel and Ypma did better, 17th. Neither pair performed as well at the next 4-star event, the first of three consecutive Cancun tournaments. At the second event in Cancun, however, Schoon and Stam took the lead with an impressive ninth place finish, upsetting some future Olympians like Australia’s Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy and USA’s Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil along the way.

Van Iersel and Ypma reacted immediately. At the third event in Cancun, they edged ahead with a fifth place, something Schoon and Stam failed to match at the next tournament, in Sochi.

So it was all down to Ostrava, the last one that counted towards Olympic qualification. While many teams were calculating points to see who could make it through via the ranking, Katja and Raisa had their own goal, fifth or better to keep their Olympic dream alive.

While Van Iersel and Ypma failed in the qualifiers, Schoon and Stam sensationally knocked out the US pair of Brooke Sweat and legendary Kerri Walsh Jennings, which put an end to the Americans' Olympic aspirations, and to advance to the main draw. In pool play, the Dutch duo took a set off of world champs Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Canada, and progressed to the elimination rounds after a win over Italian Olympians Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth. Shutting out another tough Canadian opponent, Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara, Schoon and Stam secured a ninth place. The final obstacle between the Dutch pair and a coveted fifth place were none other than defending Ostrava champions, top-seeded Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Santos Lisboa. With Tokyo 2020 on the distant horizon, Schoon and Stam did not shy away from stunning their formidable opponents with another emphatic shutout.

“A match always starts at 0-0 and when we get our own job done I believe we are strong enough to beat the big teams. In the game against Brazil, we did that. We did our job, we stayed focused, and we made it!” Raisa Schoon told Volleyball World after what was a huge win.

They again took a set off of Pavan and Melissa in the quarterfinals after that, but stopped short of progressing further in the tournament to maintain the suspense in the Dutch Olympic race through to the end of the process. With both Dutch teams reaching the same best result on the World Tour, it meant that they would have to play a deciding match against each other. But first, they had to win Europe’s Continental Cup… together.

And they did! They defeated all four of their opponents in The Hague and in three of their ties, when a golden match was needed, it was Schoon and Stam who took to the court to claim the victories. Even after they had just lost to a Norwegian pair in the semifinal, they went up against that same Norwegian pair and beat them in the golden match.

On the day after the Netherlands won the Tokyo ticket via the Continental Cup, Katja and Raisa outplayed Marleen and Pleun and officially earned the boarding pass.

They were chasing their Olympic dream and had faith they could make a dream come true.