Following the mid-season break in August and the recent merger between the PPA and MLP, the vibe for Atlanta was uncertain going into the weekend. Fortunately, MLP Atlanta ended up being one of the most exciting weekends for pro pickleball so far this year.
We’ve gone over the results of the Challenger Level at MLP Atlanta; now, it’s time to talk about how things went in the Premier Level. Much like the Hard Eight’s clean sweep of the tournament, the Orlando Squeeze also went undefeated and came out on top as the MLP Atlanta Premier Level Champions!
Let’s take a look at how each group faired through the competition and point to which teams made a name for themselves at the first event of MLP Season Two.
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
The two teams from Group A to make it to the playoffs were the Orlando Squeeze and the Bay Area Breakers, who both had very different experiences in the playoffs in Atlanta. Of course, the Squeeze made a huge playoff run and went 3-2 over the D.C. Pickleball Team in the finals, and the Breakers were unfortunately knocked out in round one of the playoffs by the AZ Drive (2-3).
Going into Season Two, the Squeeze were in our personal top 5 teams. Anna Bright and Andrei Daescu are at the top of their game right now in the PPA and APP, respectively, Zane Navratil is a pro pickleball vet who will continue to be a team leader, and Rachel Rohrabacher was a wildcard going into this event but now should be considered one of the best women’s doubles players in the league.
Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher didn’t drop a single game together until the finals, where they lost a close one against D.C.’s Kawamoto sisters (16-21). Rachel and Zane also battled through some tough matches on the road to the finals and came up with a huge game-4 win against the formidable team of Riley Newman and Jade Kawamoto, pushing the final match to a Dreambreaker.
While we were initially uncertain if the Squeeze would be able to find their footing in the first event of Season Two, I think they proved to the whole pro pickleball world that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Despite getting knocked out in the first round, the Bay Area Breakers looked solid together. Lea Jansen and Etta Wright did their thing, winning all but one game that they played in, which was against the Squeeze, and we think that they’re shaping up to be another fantastic women’s team to watch out for.
Rafa Hewett and Connor Garnett also brought an incredible level of energy to the court, and breaking into doubles, the Hewett/Jansen and Wright/Garnett pairings simply just work. While this first event didn’t exactly go their way, there’s a reason why the Breakers managed to make it to the playoffs, and we expect to see them there again in LA.
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
The D.C. Pickleball Team and Chicago Slice made it out of Group B to the playoffs, and their performances mirrored that of the Breakers and Squeeze from Group A. D.C. managed to make it all the way to the finals, and the Slice got knocked out in round 1 against the Miami Pickleball Club.
Jade and Jackie Kawamoto proved to be the most dominant women’s doubles team in the entire tournament, as they didn’t lose a single time. Drafting them alongside Christian Alshon and Riley Newman felt like a huge power play by the D.C. Pickleball Team. Creating two powerful mixed teams as well as securing strong gendered teams was impressive coming out of the draft, and it turns out our initial ranking of them being the number two team was spot on.
Watching the “Tweener King” and Newman play together was just as entertaining as expected: Two big personalities in pickleball, both with serious drives to win. They only dropped one game the entire tournament, which was, of course, against the Chicago Slice’s Ben Johns and Erik Lange, who didn’t lose a game all tournament.
Speaking of Johns and Lange, let’s talk about the Slice real quick. As the overall number 1 draft pick for Season Two, we all knew Ben Johns would be a force in the MLP no matter what team he ended up on, but wow, did the pairing with Erik Lange really take off!
After locking in a male player as their first-round pick, it made sense for the Slice to take two female players back-to-back in rounds two and three, leaving the round-four pick a bit of a toss-up. Luckily, they managed to land Erik Lange with the very last pick of the draft, who earlier this year announced that he was leaving his corporate job to go all-in as a pro pickleball player.
Jessie Irvine and Lacy Schneeman also proved solid picks for the Slice at MLP Atlanta. Despite only winning one game together, all of their games went ot multiple game-points, so they were always on the cusp of victory. If Schneeman and Irvine manage to start locking in wins in those extremely close games, the Slice will definitely be contenders at MLP Los Angeles.
Miami Pickleball Club – Federico Staksrud, Tyson McGuffin, Hurricane Tyra Black, Allison Harris (Subbing for Mary Brascia)
Brooklyn Aces – Catherine Parenteau, Andrea Koop, Hayden Patriquin/Gabe Tardio, Tyler Loong
AZ Drive – Julian Arnold, Vivienne David, Dekel Barr, Vivian Glozman
Columbus Pickleball Club – JW Johnson, Meghan Dizon, Maggie Brascia, Collin Johns
Group C ended up going down just how we expected in our tournament preview, except with Allison Harris taking the place of Mary Brascia for the Miami Pickleball Club, who was out due to illness. Both Miami and the AZ Drive managed to make it to the semi-finals after making it out of the group stage.
Looking at the standings after MLP Atlanta, the AZ Drive takes third place with 447 points won, and the Miami Pickleball Club in fourth place with 398 points – both holding a 3-2 match win/loss record. Both teams played well, but AZ came out with the edge thanks to MLP’s current 1-ranked player, Julian Arnold.
Arnold won 11 games, the most of any player, with 236 points won. He clearly took his Season One Super Finals win to heart and is pushing for another championship victory in Season Two!
Of course, Julian’s leadership was also backed by the star power of Vivienne David, Dekel Bar, and Vivian Glozman. Bar in particular looks like he could also push his way into the top 10-ranked players in the league – don’t underestimate the Drive’s potential as the top men’s doubles team!
Finally, let’s talk about Miami – There was a lot of hype behind this team going into the event, thanks to the new “King of Miami,” Tyson McGuffin. From the first match being the “Battle of the Podcasts” against the Brooklyn Aces to a wild Dreambreaker win in the playoffs against the Slice, it’s safe to say that they might’ve even exceeded expectations.
McGuffin brought the hype, and the duo of Federico Staksrud and Tyra Black brought the heat to back it all up. In our eyes, they are the strongest mixed doubles team in the Premier League right now.
Both Staksrud and Black are currently ranked in the top 10 MLP players, largely thanks to the fact that they won every single game that they played together. While they definitely got lucky in who they were matched up against throughout the tournament, they still managed to lock in and find the chemistry needed to be the most dominant mixed team in Group C.
Allison Harris was brought up to the big leagues when Mary Brascia had to step away this weekend, and she played incredibly well. She managed to come away with a couple of wins under her belt and helped keep MPC in their run through the playoffs. We wouldn’t be surprised to see her again called up to the Premier Level this season.
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