Following all of the recent drama in the pro pickleball world regarding the big pro league merger, last weekend’s MLP Atlanta was a breath of fresh air for pro pickleball fans. The league’s Premier and Challenger Level Teams showed up and truly put on one of the best pro tournaments we’ve seen so far this year.
The Challenger Level kicked things off last Thursday with the group stage, followed up with an exciting round of playoffs on Friday, and then wrapped the event up with the championship match on Saturday. The SoCal Hard Eights went undefeated throughout the whole tournament, claiming the title of champions at MLP Atlanta.
Let’s take a look at a few of the standout moments from each group leading up to the finals!
Frisco Pandas – Andre Mick, Bobbi Oshiro, Martina Frantova, Ryler DeHeart
Milwaukee Mashers – DJ Young, Rianna Valdes, Christa Gecheva, Pesa Teoni
New Jersey 5’s – Alli Phillips, Stefan Auvergne, Shelby Bates, John Cincola
New York Hustlers – Jaume Martinez Vich, Jill Braverman, Kyle Yates, Sarah Ansboury
Of the Challenger Level teams in Group A, the New Jersey 5’s quickly set themselves apart as the group’s top contender. In their first match of Season Two, the 5’s took on the Frisco Pandas, where the event was pushed to a Dreambreaker they completely dominated in (21-9).
It was interesting to see the Pandas start up 2-0 after two close matches in gendered doubles and then get swept in mixed and singles. The 5’s are lucky to have the duo of Shelby Bates and Stefan Auvergne, who have built-in chemistry from their time in Season One with the D.C. Pickleball Team.
The one other team in Group A that we thought showed up was the Milwaukee Mashers. Despite getting barely pushed out of the playoffs by the New York Hustlers, the Mashers had two huge wins in the group stage, including one over the 5’s who ended up fighting their way to the semis.
The Mashers battled through all their matches, with almost every game going down to the wire. One of the best games we saw was Pesa Teoni and Christa Gecheva’s win over the 5’s duo of Bates/Auvergne. We expect them to continue to push hard in the next event: MLP Los Angeles in November.
Austin Pickle Ballers – Tamaryn Emmrich, Daniel De La Rosa, Milan Rane, Ben Newell
California BLQK Bears – Marshall Brown, Alix Truong, Tina Pisnik, Anderson Scarpa
Florida Smash – Dominique Schaefer, Collin Shick, Brendon Long, Michelle Esquivel
Las Vegas Night Owls – Susannah Barr, Emily Ackerman, Spencer Smith, Yates Johnson
The Las Vegas Night Owls were one of our favorites going into this weekend, and they did not disappoint in Group B. They won every single match in the group stage and made their way to the finals match in the playoffs.
Their first match was against the Florida Smash, who unfortunately had the weakest showing in MLP Atlanta, going 0-3. The Night Owls defeated the Smash 3-1, with some impressive performances by Emily Ackerman and Susannah Barr, who are also MLP Season One Champions.
The Semifinals Dreambreaker between the Night Owls and the 5’s was one of the most exciting matches of the whole tournament. Going game-for-game, the match was pushed to a Dreambreaker won by none other than Emily Ackerman.
Despite being knocked out in round one of the playoffs against the 5’s, the California BLQK Bears went 2-1 in the group stage and only narrowly lost their match against the Night Owls in a Dreambreaker. Tina Pisnik and Alix Truong are our new favorite team in women’s doubles and won all three of their games together in the group stage.
Together, Pisnik and Truong went an incredible 21-5 against the Smash and 21-10 over the Night Owls, whose women’s team of Susannah Barr and Emily Ackerman is a force to be reckoned with. Expect to see more incredible games to come out of the Pisnik/Truong duo in upcoming MLP events!
Los Angeles Mad Drops – Jordan Kinney, Gabe Tardio, Brooke Buckner, Olivia McMillan
Seattle Pioneers – Patrick Smith, Lina Padegimaite, Megan Fudge, Wes Burrows
So Cal Hard Eights – Ewa Radzikowska, CJ Klinger, Yana Grechkina, Todd Fought
St. Louis Shock – Martin Emmrich, Rob Nunnery, Judit Castillo, Genie Erokhina
Of course, in Group C, we have our MLP Atlanta Challenger Level Champions: The So Cal Hard Eights. In the group stage, the Hard Eights were barely contested, winning all three of their matches: 3-1 over the Pioneers, 3-1 over the Shock, and an impressive 4-0 against the Mad Drops.
It was in the Semifinals against the Seattle Pioneers that MLP came to realize that CJ Klinger has got that DAWG in him. He and Todd Fought dominated in men’s doubles, winning 21-15, and then he and Ewa Radikowska had one of the most dominant performances in mixed against the duo of Megan Fudge and Wes Burrows, winning 21-6.
In the Dreambreaker of that match, Klinger was paired up against Megan Fudge, one of the top-ranked singles players on the APP Tour. Their battles were exciting to watch on both ends, and Klinger proved himself to be instrumental in Dreambreakers by keeping the score pretty even.
In the finals match, the Hard Eights once again found themselves in another Dreambreaker scenario. The Night Owls took women’s doubles and the first game of mixed thanks to leadership demonstrated by Susannah Barr, but Klinger and Fought took men’s doubles for the Hard Eights, and then Fought partnered up with Newell to just barely take the second mixed game, 23-21.
The Finals Dreambreaker was as exciting as it gets! Yates Johnson and Klinger went head to head in the first matchup, with Yates granting the Night Owls a quick lead, 3-1. Todd Fought faced off against Pablo Tellez, and had an incredible 4-0 run, bringing the score to 5-3 in the Hard Eights’ favor.
Yana Newell faced off against Emily Ackerman, where they went 2-2, allowing the Hard Eights to retain their lead at 7-5. Ewa Radzikowska then went 3-1 against Simone Jardim, which gave the Hard Eights a big 10-6 lead.
Klinger bounced back after his first bout with Johnson, flipping the script with a huge 3-1 run, putting them at a 13-7 advantage. The Hard Eights continued to push forth with their lead, with Radzikowska putting the match win on the shoulders of 17-year-old Klinger at 19-13.
Johnson came out hot with two points, but Klinger locked it in with a huge line drive, putting the score at 20-15 with match point in Klinger’s hands. After a well-placed third shot drop, putting Johnson in an awkward off-court position, Klinger hit a tournament-winning dink down the middle to seal the deal.
“I love this team. I’m so glad they drafted me.”CJ Klinger on winning MLP Atlanta
Stay tuned here at Pickleball Union for more info and updates regarding MLP. We highly recommend that you also go check out the MLP’s YouTube channel to rewatch all of the matches from Atlanta!
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