Beach volley shooting stars: Katja Stam and Raïsa Schoon

Published on 10 June 2022

By Catiana Rettenberger

Katja Stam and Raïsa Schoon are the shooting stars of beach volleyball. The Dutch duo was the youngest team at the Tokyo Olympics at just 22 and 19. Mere weeks later the pair won silver at the CEV EuroBeachVolley in Vienna. The once rising stars are no longer up and coming, but new fixed stars on the beach volleyball horizon. At the start of the 2022 season the unlike duo snatched up the world lead, and they don’t plan on letting it go. But there is more to these Dutch women than the want for shiny objects: In our exclusive interview we learned all on what makes them a great team, their strengths and best jokes on court.

At first glance Schoon, standing at 1.74 metres, seems like the complete opposite of Stam. But the 1.92 metre tall Brunette and her blond companion are two sides of a coin. The two actually have the same birthday too, 3 October, seemingly just to prove how alike they truly are, when it comes to what matters most. The pair think having their birthday in common is pretty cool and especially funny whenever their passports are checked alongside one another, as it seems like too much of a coincidence to be true.

And jokes are just their thing. “Privately we are totally different personalities,” explains Stam. “What I like a lot about Raïsa is that we have the same humour, and that’s really important on and off the court.” “I can make a joke, if …”, “… something is not going well,” they finish the sentence in unison and grin. Humour is their way of staying calm, focused and relaxed in moments of pressure. And it has paid off so far.

Rising stars

Rising stars

Schoon and Stam were the youngest duo in Tokyo, with Schoon being the youngest to ever qualify, and held their own. Knowing that makes the now 20-year-old Schoon proud, but “there is still a lot of time to grow.” Her 23-year-old counterpart is proud as well, “proud of the results we got over the last couple of weeks and also last year. So, in that way I think we are rising right now.”

Both of their faces light up when speaking about last year’s European Championships in Vienna. They started out with a loss against Switzerland’s third team, and didn’t think they’d make it far. “I was like, okay, we just got the Olympics, we’re tired. Fuck beach volleyball, I didn’t like that we lost,” the tall blocker recalls. The Dutch team told each other about their frustrations and then they “just played free”. The duo played some of their best beach volleyball and landed square in the finale, in which they lost against an even higher ranked Swiss’ pair. Nevertheless, they were delighted.

Their laid back attitude meshed with simply having fun, has since catapulted them to number one in the FIVB World Rank. But the level of the international top 16 is even enough to have it go in anyone’s favour, says Stam. “We are now number one in the world, but if we have one or two bad results we will drop immediately.” The challenge will be to cling onto their position throughout the season.

Before the cosmic rise to stardom

The light speed rise to the top started when they teamed up in early 2020. Both were searching for new partners at the time, and found their match at a trainings camp for the national team. Schoon and Stam asked each other, both thinking they’d make for a great pair. And how right they were!

Neither started their sport career on the beach, but both paths were very linear. Initially Stam played indoor volleyball, and joined the youth national team. Later she took the opportunity of a beach training: “That was actually the moment, that I immediately fell in love with the sport.”

Schoon tried loads of sports as a child, including swimming and tennis, but stuck with indoor volleyball at the tender age of seven. That she would go to play volleyball on sand was written in the stars.

Family constellation of Olympic stars

Her mother Debora Schoon-Kadijk played beach volleyball and is a two-time Olympian. After Atlanta 1996 she teamed up with her younger sister Rebekka Kadijk for Sydney 2000, who went on to become a three-time Olympian (Sydney, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008). With Raïsa Schoon competing in Tokyo her family has been present at five out of the seven Olympic Games beach volleyball has been included in the programme.

“So, I grew up in the sand, and would go with her [Debora] on tournaments.” Going into the sport, she never felt and pressure, however: “Yes, my mother played on a high level, but for me she was just my mother,” and her parent told her to just have fun and explained how she could quit anytime, but that just wasn’t in the cards: “I like it too much.”

Radiating positivity

Schoon isn’t actively trying to outshine her mother, but is looking to get better still: “That’s what makes it fun, that we can still grow. [There are] a lot of weaknesses we can improve on.” The young trailblazers definitely haven’t reached the zenith yet. Until they do, there will be many a game to play and many a joke to say.

Let me tell you about one of their latest favourite insiders: At the semifinals of the World Beach Pro Tour 2022 Stam managed a tricky block touch by reaching out for the ball and just barely getting to it in time. When she turned around to celebrate with her teammate, they both grinned, laughed and yelled “Go Go Gadget Arms” and just like that they were jinxed - like we all once were at school – and had to be mute. This totally logical quiet stretched over the entire technical timeout their opponents took, and might have seemed odd to the viewer, who wasn’t in on their joke. But even during the interview they both howled with laughter at the recent memory and giggled.

Protostars in training

Protostars in training

Their stellar sporting performances don’t just fall out of the sky, however. The two both live and train in Den Haag full-time. Twice a day they train for about two hours, and repeat the process 5-6 times per week. The Dutch duo is working on the physical part of the sport, and is content with the progress thus far: “We are getting the best out of the persons we are right now,” observes Stam. “We work hard on getting better for ourselves, but also as a team,” adds Schoon.

Additionally, the defence player travels home in the evening to stack on another practice. “I still play indoor. Not a lot of beach volleyball players still play indoor. And I think it’s a different way to improve myself.”

Fixed stars in the beach volleyball universe

Internationally the United States and Brazil usually are some of the top contenders for podium spots, but Europe can totally hold its own with Germany, Switzerland, Latvia and the Netherlands. Stam is certain that “there are a lot of European teams that are doing great.”

19 of the 48 teams competing at the world championships this year are European, on the men’s side it’s even 21 pairs. Those include the Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, who will be going for a five-peat in Munich! More on them here in our exclusive interview and feature.

Star-studded Munich 2022

But the BeachVolley Vikings and the binary stars Stam and Schoon won’t be the only tidal forces in Bavaria’s capital in August. 177 gold medals up for grabs in nine Olympic sports, making these European championships one of a kind and the atmosphere as well. Stam can’t wait for Munich 2022: “I am really looking forward to be at such an event.”

And the Dutch pair‘s goal for when they arrive is clear. “We want to improve […] on last year. For me the only goal is gold,” stats Stam matter-of-factly. Not an unreasonable aim looking at their recent track record. The beach volleyball universe is there for the taking, and their supernova won’t come any time soon.

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Munich 2022European ChampionshipsBeach Volleyball