Summer might be over, but school is back in session – and by school, we mean Major League Pickleball! After a three-month break, the MLP returns with the highly anticipated Season Two of 2023.
Lately, much of the focus has been on the ongoing battles between the PPA and MLP over who will be the predominant organization in professional pickleball. After a lot of back-and-forth of each of them signing on pros to exclusive contracts, the leagues have decided to make peace with a merger.
With the pro pickleball organizations unified, we can hopefully go back to focusing on what really matters: pro pickleball. This week, the MLP quietly released the groups for MLP Atlanta, the first tournament for Season Two, which takes place next weekend, September 21st-24th.
The Challenger Level kicks things off on Thursday, the 21st, and then we get to see the Premier Level start their group stage matches on Friday, the 22nd. Today, we’ll look at the Premier Level groups and highlight a few of our favorite matchups going into the tournament!
Atlanta Bouncers – Parris Todd, Simone Jardim, Pablo Tellez, Hunter Johnson
Bay Area Breakers – Lea Jansen, Etta Wright, Rafa Hewett, Connor Garnett
Orlando Squeeze – Anna Bright, Andrei Daescu, Zane Navratil, Rachel Rohrabacher
Texas Ranchers – Dylan Frazier, Jorja Johnson, Lauren Stratman, Travis Rettenmaier
At first glance, Group A feels like the hardest one to pin down as far as who is likely to come out on top. In our rankings, we named the Orlando Squeeze as the fifth member of our top 5 in the Premier Level, and we think they have a good chance at proving that.
The deciding factor for the Squeeze will be MLP newcomer Rachel Rohrabacher who is just getting started with her pickleball career. Going into this season, Rohrabacher felt like a total wildcard; however, she just earned herself a bronze medal at the PPA Cincinnati Open in women’s singles as the 22-seed. She’ll be playing alongside three of the biggest names in pro pickleball: Anna Bright of PPA fame; Andrei Daescu, the goat of the APP; and Zane Navratil, a ProXR Pickleball Athlete.
The Squeeze will take on the Atlanta Bouncers in the first round, aka Team APP (+Pablo Tellez). Hunter Johnson, Parris Todd, and Simone Jardim are three of the APP’s top-performing athletes, all of which have earned multiple gold medals this year. We’ve already seen them keep up with PPA players in recent tournaments, so it’ll be interesting to see how they perform fully integrated amongst them in the MLP.
Meanwhile, the Texas Ranchers will go up against the Bay Area Breakers on Grandstand. If the Squeeze are the number one team in this group, we think that the Breakers are a close second, and we mean CLOSE. Every single player on the Breakers has proved their worth on both the PPA tour and MLP Season One. Jansen and Wright will be a force to be reckoned with in women’s doubles, and we think all of the Breakers will hold their own if a match goes to a Dreambreaker.
The Ranchers have Dylan Frazier and Jorja Johnson, who train together and have multiple medals under their belt this year – you can expect big things from these two in the MLP if they play mixed together. Stratman and Rettenmaier are both MLP vets who will take on leadership roles within their team, so the Ranchers will be able to build chemistry quickly and might lock in for this first event before other teams do.
D.C. Pickleball Team – Riley Newman, Jackie Kawamoto, Jade Kawamoto, Christian Alshon
Utah Black Diamonds – Anna Leigh Waters, Irina Tereschenko, Thomas Wilson, AJ Koller
Chicago Slice – Ben Johns, Jessie Irvine, Lacy Schneemann, Erik Lange
Dallas Pickleball Club – James Ignatowich, Callie Jo Smith, Allyce Jones, Jay Devilliers
Group B is STACKED! In our initial draft rankings, all four of these teams compose our top four favorites going into Season Two. This is the group to watch, as every single match is going to be a total barn burner!
Our number 1-ranked team going into this season is the Utah Black Diamonds. They’ve got the top women’s player in the world, Anna Leigh Waters, Irina Tereschenko and Thomas Wilson, who won the Season One Super Finals, and AJ Koller, who has been dominating men’s doubles in the PPA lately.
Right out of the gates on Friday, the first day of the Premier Level group stage, the Black Diamonds are taking on D.C. Pickleball Team, our second favorite team coming out of the draft. They’ve got Riley Newman and Christian Alshon, an unexpected pairing but one we think could have legs this season, and Jade and Jackie Kawamoto, who proved to be an incredible asset to the ATX Pickleballers in Season One.
The other round-one match will see the Chicago Slice take on the Dallas Pickleball Club. In this matchup, we look forward to seeing Ben Johns and Jessie Irvine partner up for the first time to take on the likely pair of James Ignatowich and Callie Jo Smith.
We think this is the group to watch out for most and expect many of the matchups within this group to produce highlight reels for days!
Miami Pickleball Club – Federico Staksrud, Tyson McGuffin, Hurricane Tyra Black, Mary Brascia
Brooklyn Aces – Catherine Parenteau, Andrea Koop, Hayden Patriquin, Tyler Loong
AZ Drive – Julian Arnold, Vivienne David, Dekel Barr, Vivian Glozman
Columbus Pickleball Club – JW Johnson, Meghan Dizon, Maggie Brascia, Collin Johns
Kicking things off bright and early at 10 am ET on Championship Court, we get to see the Miami Pickleball Club take on the Brooklyn Aces, both of which are our favorites within this group. Both teams have star-studded lineups, and we’ll get to see the battle of the podcasts we’ve all been waiting for: Tyler Loong vs. Tyson McGuffin.
We’re eager to see how Miami splits into teams for mixed. Tyson and Tyra feel like a strong pairing, and according to Johnny Goldberg, who led Miami in their draft picks, he’s labeled them the “King and Queen of Miami.” Staksrud and Brascia will then be the backbone of the team as their second mixed duo, and we think they have the potential to be just as much of a threat in the MLP.
On the Grandstand court, we see the AZ Drive battle it out against the Columbus Pickleball Club. The Drive are led by Julian Arnold, who helped lead the Los Angeles Mad Drops to victory in the Season One Premier Level Super Finals.
In this match, we think that men’s doubles will take the spotlight as Arnold teams up with Dekel Barr to take on Columbus’ JW Johnson and Collin Johns. Four strong men’s doubles players will duke it out – this game will be a pivotal moment in the match.
Stay tuned here at Pickleball Union for more updates going into MLP Atlanta this week. We are just as stoked as you are to see how things unfold at the tournament following the recent news of the MLP/PPA merger!
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