They won their first-ever title together at King of the Court Hamburg, Dutch Emi van Driel and Pleun Ypma. The pairing of the 22- and 24-your-old was the first women’s team from the Netherlands, the place of origin for King of the Court, to be crowned at an international event. How did they do this? We recently spoke with them and talked about their journey in Hamburg, their first season as a couple and the upcoming Queen & King of the Court European Finals 2022 in Utrecht.
Emi was close to winning an international King of the Court event before, in 2020 she was the runner-up together with her sister Mexime. The siblings went on to become the 2021 Dutch Queens, Emi has earned her stripes in the fast and furious beach volleyball format.
Pleun played her fourth King of the Court tournament in Hamburg. In 2021 she played Hamburg together with Swiss defender Laura Caluori, the other two previous outings in King of the Court were alongside Marleen van Iersel. Including the Utrecht tournament in 2021, where Van Iersel bade farewell from the international stage.
“Just enjoy playing King of the Court”
“In King of the Court everything can happen”, Emi says. “You mainly have to go all-in all the time. And enjoy the time you have on the court. I think everyone kind of goes into it that way.”
In the first round of the opening match, it went fantastic immediately. They took the first place with 15 points. In the second round, they only scored 1 point, which meant they had to play a play-off. Pleun explains how such a thing is possible: “With the whole King of the Court phenomenon, you tend to get stressed very quickly. You feel the time pressure. I noticed that the moment we arrived on the Queen's side, we still rushed our plays. In fact, we hardly made any points at all. We had a narrow escape on a few occasions.”
That’s entirely correct, Emi and Pleun had to play in both the group stage and quarterfinal play-offs. That’s where they changed their approach. “We discussed that it would be useful to get more rest, because we were rushing ourselves. We didn’t realize that we could set the pace. We took a lot more time when we got to the Queen's side. It was much better then. You could see it in our game, and we also had more fun, because we took the time to enjoy a point that we scored.”
Emi and Pleun only form a team from the beginning of this season. Until the tournament in Hamburg, fifth place in the Future (third international level, ed.) in Cervia, Italy, was the best result. Pleun tells how they experienced their season up to that point. “I think we both noticed that we were investing a lot, but that it didn't quite work out yet. Hamburg was one of the first moments that it manifested itself. It gives a lot of confidence, especially in the side-out.”
Emi adds: “I do think that King of the Court and regular beach volleyball are very difficult to compare. There are many differences. But it is like Pleun said: if something pays off at King of the Court, then you can also use it for regular beach volleyball. We since have used the same strategy in tournaments.”
The first tournament they played after Hamburg was the Nightwatch Eredivisie Beach in Nijmegen, where they immediately took the title.
In their first season together, Emi and Pleun are still discovering each other. They did not have much preparation for the first tournaments, they get to know each other 'on the road'. “I think we are both quite relaxed people off court,” Pleun says. “I always like that. You are of course on the road a lot. We're both just really doing our own thing and I've never had a moment where I thought: ‘you're driving me crazy!’. Precisely because we respect each other. On court, I think it's coming more and more. It was just a bit of a search in the beginning, we didn't really know each other at all.”
“Beach volleyball has so many parts, there are so many things that have to fall into place and puzzle pieces that have to come together before you finally see everything,” Emi tells. “I do think there is improvement in every tournament, or even every match. Tactically and technically, but also how we communicate with each other. We are very open. We can more easily share how we feel on court. I notice from things like that that we grow as a team.”
Yin and Yang
Although Emi and Pleun are both quite relaxed off court, they still are two different people. In this way they influence each other in their sporting experience. “I played with Marleen for a year to reclaim fun in the sport. I think that's very important to pursue. That we also enjoy what we are able to do. I think that's something I pass on to Emi. On the other hand, I have great admiration for Emi's drive and discipline. She shows up every day, always wanting more. I think that's very nice. I think I have that too, but I think it’s sometimes good to be forced to focus sometimes."
Queen & King of the Court European Finals 2022
The next big tournament in the King of the Court Crown Series is just around the corner. Emi and Pleun start as royalty at the CEV-supported Queen & King of the Court European Finals. Pleun immediately tempers the expectations that the title might entail. “You can't really have any expectations at King of the Court. It can happen that you are out in the first round. That’s just the way it is, if you serve in the net a few times you might be out right away."
It's a reality Emi knows all too well. In 2020 she knew royal fame with the second place, the following year she was out in the first round. She is aware of that. “It's really round by round. It also starts for us at the first 15 minutes, you have to be ready. And if you get through, you battle for the next 15 minutes. All-in every time.”
She is looking forward to the tournament in the BetCity Arena on Jaarbeursplein. “King of the Court in Utrecht is always a big party. We know that the tournaments are well organised, that many people visit and that it is always great fun in Utrecht. It's great that we play in our home country. Pleun lives in Utrecht, for example, so many acquaintances will come to watch.
Check out the Group Stage line-up here.
The now familiar question for King of the Court is: if your own partner were unavailable, with which international player would you want to play a King of the Court tournament? Emi has never seriously thought about it, but knows a nice option. “With Mexime, Megan and Nicole McNamara we once said that it would be fun to swap sisters.”
Pleun is looking for a partner in Brazil. “Barbara (Seixas, ed.), that wouldn’t be too shabby.”