Major League Pickleball (MLP) Season Two kicked off last month with MLP Atlanta, which saw the Hard Eights take home the gold in the Challenger Level and the Orlando Squeeze come out on top in the Premier Level. The next event, MLP Dallas, will be held at the Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas, running from November 2-5, leading into the USA Pickleball National Championships.
The MLP just announced the Group Stage lineup for MLP Dallas, meaning we know what the matchups will look like for the draws that lead to playoff seeding. Let’s jump right into them and point out which teams we think have the best chance at taking home the gold in Dallas!
Group A: Arizona Drive, Chicago Slice, Orlando Squeeze, Texas Ranchers
Starting off with the Premier Level, Group A will be home to the defending champs from MLP Atlanta, the Orlando Squeeze. Led by the top APP men’s player, Andrei Daescu, and PPA Tour favorite, Anna Bright, the Squeeze managed to make a stellar run through the playoffs before securing a gold medal finish against the D.C. Pickleball Team (3-2).
One of the most stunning stats from Atlanta is the fact that Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher didn’t drop a single game together until the finals, leaving us to believe that they will continue to be one of the top-performing women’s doubles teams in Dallas. Daescu and Zane Navratil also held it down in both gendered and mixed doubles, so be sure to watch out for the Squeeze – they’ll be top contenders yet again!
Our other favorite in Group A has to be the Chicago Slice. Obviously we’re all big Ben Johns fans here, and the rest of the Slice, consisting of Jessie Irvine, Lacy Schneeman, and Erik Lange, are all also standout players in MLP historically.
Johns and Lange found chemistry quickly and we think that they will continue to outperform other men’s teams. Irvine and Schneeman got off to a rocky start in Altlanta, only winning one of their games throughout the course of the tournament; however, if they can lock it in and start winning a couple games, the Slice definitely have the potential to make the playoff berth in Dallas.
Group B: Atlanta Bouncers, Bay Area Breakers, Columbus Sliders, D.C. Pickleball Team
Our favorites from Group B have to be the D.C. Pickleball Team and the AZ Drive. D.C. came away with a silver medal in Atlanta after a close finals loss to the Squeeze, so they’ll be out for redemption in this second event of Season Two.
A lot of our intrigue in D.C. boils down to their gendered doubles teams. Christian Alshon and Riley Newman are both known for their big personalities and partner up nicely with the Kawamoto sisters, Jade and Jackie, who are one of the best women’s doubles teams in the league, as they didn’t lose a single game in Atlanta.
The Drive made the semi-finals in Atlanta, led by Season One Champion, Julian Arnold. We’re eager to see him and Dekel Bar hit the courts in men’s doubles, as Julian was ranked number 1 overall in the league in Atlanta, with Dekel also being in the upper percentile at 16.
Group C: Brooklyn Aces, Dallas Pickleball Club, Miami Pickleball Club, Utah Black Diamonds
If Atlanta is any indication of how things will go down at MLP Dallas, then Miami will easily sweep Group C, as they managed to make it through to the semi-finals. The Aces, Dallas, and Black Diamonds all missed the playoffs last tournament, with only one match win each.
If any of these teams has a chance at redemption, making it to the playoffs with Miami, we think it will be the Utah Black Diamonds, led by none other than Anna Leigh Waters. In our initial Premier Level Team Rankings going into Season Two, we named the Black Diamonds as our number 1-ranked team… Right now, they’re sitting at 10 out of 12.
However, we still have faith in them! Their women’s doubles team in particular, ALW and Irina Tereschenko, is one of the strongest pairings on paper for the MLP. On top of that, they also managed to snag two of our favorite men’s players, AJ Koller and Thomas Wilson, who were instrumental to their teams’ successes in Season One. We expect a big bounce back from the Black Diamonds, maybe even seeing them reach the finals!
Group A: Florida Smash, Frisco Pandas, New Jersey 5s, St. Louis Shock
Onto the Challenger Level! Similar to Group C in the Premier Levels, the Challenger’s Group A only has one contender that made it to the playoffs: The New Jersey 5s. The 5s immediately stood out among the competition in Atlanta, led by D.C. Pickleball alumni from Season One, Shelby Bates and Stefan Auvergne.
If one another team is to break out of Group A, we would like to say that the Pandas have a shot at the playoffs. We like what Andre Mick and Bobbi Oshiro bring to the table, as the two have been tearing it up in the APP lately and have the potential to be solid team leaders. Martina Frantova and Ryler DeHeart shouldn’t be underestimated either, despite their low win-loss ratio in Atlanta.
Group B: Las Vegas Night Owls, Los Angeles Mad Drops, Milwaukee Mashers, New York Hustlers
Our two favorites in Group B are the MLP Atlanta silver medalists, the Las Vegas Night Owls, and the Milwaukee Mashers. The Night Owls obviously looked fantastic in event one of Season Two, led by two Season One Champions, Emily Ackerman and Susannah Barr, and backed up by the electrifying play of Yates Johnson and Spencer Smith.
The Mashers, on the other hand, made some big changes to their roster in the recent Challenger Level Shuffle Draft, that could make all the difference in Dallas. In round one, they picked up Callan Dawson, placing Pesa Teoni on waivers, and selected Riley Bohnert in round two, releasing Christa Gecheva.
In particular, the new partnership of DJ Young and Callan Dawson could make the Mashers a pretty big threat in men’s dubs. Keep an eye on them, as we think they’ll at least break through the group stage into the playoffs.
Group C: Austin Pickle Ballers, California BLQK Bears, Seattle Pioneers, SoCal Hard Eights
Capping off our analysis of the MLP Dallas group stage is Group C of the Challenger Level. Obviously, the defending champs, the SoCal Hard Eights, are expected to make it to the playoffs yet again. They played like a true team unit throughout the whole event, and everyone rallied around the young-gun tournament MVP, CJ Klinger, who helped put away the Dreambreaker win.
It will also be interesting to watch the Seattle Pioneers go up against the Hard Eights in a rematch at the group stage, as they lost to them in the semi-finals in Atlanta. They looked solid, with the duo of Megan Fudge and Lina Padegimaite being one of our favorite teams to watch! It feels like they’ve got gendered doubles on lock, as Patrick Smith and Wes Burrows also played well together; so, if they can lock it down in mixed, they have a good chance at making the playoffs again in Dallas.
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