Season 2 for Major League Pickleball (MLP) this year has been full of twists and turns on the back end, seeing the league fall apart with Steve Kuhn’s resignation and the merger with the PPA. However, things looked pretty solid on the front end in the regular season events – we can’t complain about high-level pro pickleball!
The one thing MLP excelled in this year was creating an electric atmosphere through its team competition format. Pickleball’s top pros were drafted into teams of 4, and watching those teams unify and navigate the Premier and Challenger Levels has been a wild ride.
Unfortunately, Season 2 was cut short from its three regular-season events and a Super Finals to just two regular events and a Season 2 Playoffs. With tension in the air over player contracts for the PPA-MLP’s 2024 season, MLP’s choice to cut this season short left us with an awkward playoff event that wasn’t very palatable, let alone comprehensive on paper.
Match 1: D.C. Pickleball Team vs. Orlando Squeeze
Match 2: Chicago Slice vs. Miami Pickleball Club
Match 3: Match 1 Losing Team (D.C.) vs. Match 3 Winning Team (Chicago)
Finals: Match 1 Winner (Orlando) vs. Match 3 Winner (Chicago)
What a mess. Because we didn’t have a third event to base team points on, the playoffs were slapped together based on the top-ranked teams in each division. However, there wasn’t a proper playoff bracket, like a best-of-8 scenario; instead, three matches on day one determined the finals on day two.
Four teams, three playoff matches, one finals match. For the “main draw,” the top two teams battled it out in round one for the number 1 spot (securing a place in the finals), the third and fourth-seeded teams played in a pseudo-quarterfinals second match, and then the runner-up of match one (the number two team) got to play the winner of match two (third place team) for the second spot in the finals.
If we have to do a middle-school-level logic puzzle to determine who gets to play in the finals, the system might be just a little bit convoluted. Your audience needs to know what’s going on in order to feel invested in the outcome. I could go on a huge tangent about what’s happening with the NCAA College Football Playoffs right now, but we’ll save that for another day…
Basically, the Premier Level playoffs bracket makes sense when you break it down, but the reduced pool of teams made for a bizarre format that was far less entertaining to watch. Here’s how it all went down:
Despite the D.C. Pickleball Team and the Orlando Squeeze having an equal amount of event points going into the finals, the Squeeze managed to 3-0 them in the first match of the event, locking them into the finals. Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher once again led the charge for the Squeeze with an impressive 21-18 win over the Kawamotos in women’s dubs.
Match 2 saw the 3-seed Chicago Slice take on the 4-seed Miami Pickleball Club. Despite Erik Lange and Ben Johns coming up short against Federico Staksrud and Tyson McGuffin in the first game (20-22), the Slice rallied for three consecutive wins in women’s and mixed doubles, which locked the Slice into the semi-finals match against the D.C. Pickleball Team.
The Premier Level semis was arguably the closest match of the event, as nearly every game had a 2-point differential! D.C. took gendered dubs, while the Slice came out on top in mixed, which pushed the match to a Dreambreaker.
D.C. had a 20-16 lead in the Dreambreaker, but fell apart, eventually allowing Premier Level MVP Lacy Schneeman to clutch three points in a row for the Slice and win the game 22-20, sending the Slice to the finals!
The Premier Level finals match itself was just as entertaining as the semis! The Orlando Squeeze, the MLP Atlanta Champions, take on the Chicago Slice, Season One Challenger Level Champs.
Not only did the energy in the finals match that of the semis, but the stat line did, too! The Squeeze came out on top in gendered doubles, but the Slice excelled in mixed, which pushed the match to yet another Dreambreaker. Once again, it came down to Schneeman at match point, and she nailed it – making the Slice the Season 2 Premier Level Champions!
Day One: SoCal Hard Eights Locked Into Finals Slot 1
Day One Match: 2-Seed California BLQK Bears vs. 3-Seed St. Louis Shock
Day Two Finals: Hard Eights and Winner Of Day One Match (Shock)
The Challenger Level’s bracket was somehow even smaller than the Premier’s. Because the Hard Eights won at both MLP Dallas and MLP Atlanta, they were locked into the finals. The Shock managed to beat the BLQK Bears in the semis, which pushed them into the finals, but wait a minute…
According to the Season Two Challenger Level standings as presented by the MLP, the St. Louis Shock was the number 5-ranked team. Huh? What about the number 3 Las Vegas Night Owls and the number 4 Frisco Pandas, both of which had 17 total event points, more than the Shock’s 16?
We can’t say it for sure had to do with player contracts or team ownership, but it almost certainly had something to do with player contracts or team ownership. Regardless, the Shock managed to upset the BLQK Bears in four incredibly close games, allowing them into the finals match against the Hard Eights.
The Challenger Level Finals started with a high-scoring women’s doubles matchup between the Shock’s Genie Erokhina and Judit Castillo versus the Hard Eights’ Yana Newell and Ewa Radzikowska, which the Hard Eights managed to take, 27-25. CJ Klinger and Todd Fought then took game two for the Hard Eights by clutching a close game against Rob Nunnery and Martin Emmrich, 21-17.
Yana Newell then came back out onto the court to join Challenger Level MVP Todd Fought for the first game of mixed doubles. This was the Hard Eights’ best performance of the finals, as Newell and Fought clutched a 21-12 win over Genie Erokhina and Martin Emmrich, earning the Hard Eights the title of Season 2 Champions!
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