Paula Soria watches Liliana Fernandez pass in Poland/Volleyball World photo

This weekend’s Volleyball World Challenge event in Stare Jablonki, Poland, the penultimate tournament in the Olympic qualifying period, seemed, to many, to decide the beach volleyball Olympic race.

Nothing, however, has been officially decided.

Even with Americans Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner failing to make it out of pool play while Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, their rivals sitting 540 points ahead of them, finished fifth — nothing has been decided.

Even with Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot of the Netherlands taking a bronze medal, and their countrymen Matthew Immers and Steven van de Velde, and Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen claiming ninth and fifth, respectively, failing to add to their Olympic point totals — nothing has been decided.

Even with Spain’s Lili Fernandez and Paula Soria winning bronze, their first medal at a Challenge event or higher, jumping Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain for the final Olympic qualifying spot — nothing has been decided.

Even with the Grimalt cousins, Marco and Esteban, getting knocked out by Austrians Julian Horl and Alex Horst, the team with whom they’re tied for the final Olympic berth — nothing has been decided.

It all comes down to next week’s Ostrava Elite16 in the Czech Republic, the final tournament in a 17-month period.

Then, and only then, will this long and winding Olympic race be decided.

Below is what every team with a shot at qualifying for the Paris Olympics needs to do in order to qualify.

Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner

The task ahead of Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner in Ostrava is no small one: Make the finals of the Ostrava Elite16. In other words: Do something they haven’t done as a partnership.

Their best finish in an Elite16 as a team is a ninth, although their fourth at the World Championships is demonstrably more difficult. Possible? Yes. Easy? Not in the least. They will be coming out of Wednesday’s qualifier, as will Budinger and Evans.

Budinger and Evans, of course, can take matters into their own hands. Up 540 points, they need a fifth or better to add to the ledger. If they make the semifinals, they punch their ticket to Paris, regardless of what Crabb and Brunner do.

Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen

When I had my brother-in-law, a statistics major at BYU, calculate the probabilities of each team qualifying for Paris, he did so by running one million simulations of every event in 2024.

Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen qualified in 99.1 percent of those simulations.

They now find themselves ranked No. 12 in the world yet down 280 points to Steven van de Velde and Matthew Immers, and another 580 to Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot, who added 720 to their total with a bronze medal in Poland. Due to the Olympics limiting each federation to two teams, being the world No. 12 is, in this case, not good enough.

To add 280 points, Brouwer and Meeuwsen need to make the semifinals or better — and that’s without Immers and van de Velde gaining points. If Immers and van de Velde, who are straight into the main draw, take a ninth or better, they’ll add 300 points, pushing the figurative goal posts even further for Brouwer and Meeuwsen.

The only way for Boermans and de Groot to get pushed out of the Olympics is if Brouwer and Meeuwsen win gold in Ostrava.

Brouwer and Meeuwsen’s task is similar to that of Crabb and Brunner’s: Come out of the qualifier and make the podium.

Otherwise, it’ll be four new faces representing the Netherlands in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Esteban Grimalt and Marco Grimalt

One of the streakiest teams on the Beach Pro Tour has made an admirable effort in 2024, adding 820 points to their ledger to bring themselves to a tie with Austrians Julian Horl and Alex Horst for the final Olympic qualifying spot.

Horl and Horst, however, who have added only 200 points this year, have the tiebreaker, which comes down to total gross points throughout the qualifying period.

The Grimalts, then, need to add points in Ostrava. To do so, they need to emerge out of the qualifier and take a ninth, while also hoping Horl and Horst do not do the same. Should both teams qualify, the Grimalts need to finish ninth and also at least one place better than Horl and Horst.

The other men’s teams within striking distance of Austria and Chile — notably Australians Zachery Schubert and Thomas Hodges, and Cuba’s Jorge Alayo and Noslen Diaz — need, simply, for both the Grimalts and Horl and Horst to bow out prior to the semifinals.

Marco Grimalt-Esteban Grimalt
Marco Grimalt (left) and Esteban Grimalt (right) need a ninth or better in Ostrava to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games/Volleyball World photo

Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain

Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain have been holding the final Olympic qualifying spot for the entire 2024 season.

Until Stare Jablonki.

A ninth-place finish added to their total, but the bronze medal won by Lili Fernandez and Paula Soria pushed Spain ahead of the Canadians by 140 points.

The biggest obstacle facing Pavan and McBain is not any team, but that they are still on the reserve list for the Ostrava Elite16. They will need three teams to drop out of the tournament by Tuesday night, or their Olympic run will have come to an end in Poland. Should three teams drop out, Pavan and McBain will need to qualify and finish ninth or better, without Spain adding to their point total.

Many may be wondering: What about the Continental Cup? With only Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson currently qualifying for the Olympics via points, isn’t it possible for Pavan and McBain to punch their ticket via the NORCECA Continental Cup?

Short answer: No.

NORCECA shifted its rules this year so that each federation will send one team, not two, to compete in the Continental Cup. To decide which team competes in the Continental Cup, Canada established a policy that the team with the four best finishes in 2024 will compete for that Olympic spot. That team is Sophie Bukovec and Heather Bansley. So if Bukovec and Bansley, who finished fourth in Stare Jablonki after forfeiting their bronze medal match due to injury, do not pick up the necessary points in Ostrava next week (they need 520, which would require a top-four in the Czech Republic), they will be representing Canada at the Continental Cup.

Dorina Klinger and Ronja Klinger

Austria’s Klinger sisters have had a so-close-you-can-taste-it season. One near miss after the next. Three times they’ve made a quarterfinal but haven’t been able to crack the semis. Twice, they’ve lost in the final round of an Elite16 qualifier. Mathematically, they’re still in it, and unlike Pavan and McBain, they will at least get a crack at it, as they are seeded No. 15 in the Ostrava Elite16 qualifier.

Down 380 points to Lili Fernandez and Paula Soria, they will need to finish in the top four to jump Spain for the final Olympic spot.

Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Mader

The most fascinating battle in this Olympic race has been that of the Verge-Depre sisters, Anouk and Zoe. Anouk and Joana Mader, bronze medalists at the Tokyo Olympics, find themselves trailing younger sister Zoe and Esmee Bobner by 320 points. They will need to finish in the top four to make up that deficit.

Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger

While not a family affair like the Swiss women, the German women’s race has been an equally captivating civil war. Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger have flown up the rankings in 2024, adding 1,740 points to their total, drawing within 220 of Laura Ludwig and Louisa Lippmann. To catch Ludwig, a four-time Olympian already and a gold medalist in 2016, and Lippmann, Borger and Ittlinger will need a fifth or better in Ostrava.

Esmee Bobner-Zoe Verge-Depre
Zoe Verge-Depre, right, and Esmee Bobner


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