Major League Pickleball hosted its second event of Season Two last weekend: MLP Dallas! We got to see a team win back-to-back championships for the first time in 2023, and a new team took the podium for the first time.
Let’s jump right in and look at the highlights for each group in both the Premier and Challenger Levels at MLP Dallas!
Group A saw the battle between the Chicago Slice and the Orlando Squeeze. The Squeeze, who won at MLP Atlanta, were our favorites going into the weekend, and we also had the Slice as the team we expected to improve most from Atlanta.
In the group stage, the Slice went 1-2 but managed to get more game wins than the AZ Drive, which pushed them into the playoffs. Despite the rough start in the group stage, they heated up in the playoffs with a 3-0 sweep over the Miami Pickleball Club. Things really started to fall into place for Ben Johns, both in mixed with Jessie Irvine and in men’s dubs with Erik Lange.
The Squeeze played as expected in the group stage: 3-0. Rachel Rohrabacher and Anna Bright have quickly become our favorite women’s dubs team to watch, as they won every single game they played before the finals against D.C., where they lost in a close game against the Kawamotos (15-21).
The Squeeze took down the Slice in the semifinals with a quick 3-0 sweep, but then unfortunately fell short in the finals against D.C. (15-21, 10-21, 22-24). We are big Daescu fans around here, and he and Zane Navratil played well together all tournament going into the finals, so the fact that Alshon and Newman took control and came out on top 10-21 says a lot about how strong of a team they will continue to be moving forward.
Right off the bat, we have to talk about the MLP Dallas Premier Level Champions: The D.C. Pickleball Team. Not only did D.C. manage to dominate in the group stage and lock a bye into the semi-finals, but they also brought an even greater energy to the playoffs.
D.C. went 3-0 in their group stage matches, with their closest match being up against the Bay Area Breakers, which went to an incredibly close Dreambreaker that they ended up winning 21-19. It’s no surprise that Jade and Jackie Kawamoto played a key role in holding it down in women’s dubs all tournament long, winning four out of the five games they played.
The standout team for us was definitely that of Christian Alshon and Jackie Kawamoto, even though Jade and Riley Newman also played incredibly well and even won the championship-winning game. Christian and Jackie didn’t drop a single game all weekend long and had some lights-out performances when it mattered in the playoffs: 21-13 against the Brooklyn Aces in the semis, which set the momentum for the rest of their playoff run.
Alshon went on to earn the Premier Level MVP award, which was well-deserved for how hard he fought in both gendered and mixed dubs. He and Newman are going to continue to grow stronger together – expect big things in next month’s MLP SoCal.
The Brooklyn Aces and Miami Pickleball Club had the best runs out of the Group C teams, with the Aces even making the semi-finals match against the D.C. Pickleball Team. In the group stage, both teams went 2-1 but had some difficulties with what seemed like gimme matchups. This made reading Group C probably the most difficult of the Premier Level groups.
Brooklyn is our most-improved team in Dallas. After missing the playoffs at MLP Atlanta, the Aces made it their mission to bounce back and make an impressive run through the playoffs at last weekend’s tournament. In our preview, we pointed to Hayden Patriquin’s reactivation to the Aces’ roster being an asset, and indeed he was! He teamed up well with Tyler Loong, especially in their 21-13 win over the Sliders in the playoffs, in which they faced off against two of pro pickleball’s best men’s dubs players: JW Johnson and Collin Johns.
Miami had a lot of ups and downs in Dallas, making them a little more volatile than they were in Atlanta. They went 0-4 to the Dallas Pickleball Club, who didn’t play that well, but then went 4-0 over the Utah Black Diamonds, who are led by pickleball’s number one pro, Anna Leigh Waters.
Unfortunately, MPC just couldn’t keep it together in the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Slice, 0-3. While all three games felt really close, there was clearly something missing in their equation. We expect them to maybe switch things up in mixed for the next tournament, with Tyson McGuffin partnering with Hurricane Tyra Black and Federico Staksrud teaming up with Mary Brascia.
The Frisco Pandas almost had a Cinderella-story finish in Dallas, making them our most improved team in the Challenger Level. They went from going 0-3 in the group stage at MLP Atlanta to making it all the way to the finals in Dallas!
One of the best things about the Pandas is that it felt like a true team effort throughout the whole tournament. They played to their strengths in both gendered and mixed dubs, with Andre Mick and Bobbi Oshiro taking on leadership roles for the team. They won every single game they played together going into the finals but unfortunately came up just short when facing off against the Hard Eights in the finals.
Ryler DeHeart and Martina Frantova also played a huge part in the Pandas’ success. Oshiro and Frantova are one of the top-performing women’s dubs teams in the Challenger Level, and it was fun to watch DeHeart and Mick continue to build upon their chemistry in Dallas.
The Los Angeles Mad Drops had the best showing of any team in the Challenger Level’s Group B, making it all the way to the semi-finals after going 2-1 in the group stage. After making two big moves in the Challenger Level Shuffle Draft by picking up Allison Harris and Andreas Sjilestrom, the Mad Drops looked and played like a whole new team in Dallas.
Harris’ standout performance in Atlanta as a substitute for Mary Brascia in the Premier Level made her the number one overall pick in the shuffle draft, and she didn’t disappoint in Dallas! She paired nicely with teammate Cierra Gaytan-Leach in women’s dubs and Gabe Tardio in mixed.
Sjilestrom and Tardio won four out of the five games they played together, narrowly losing to CJ Klinger and Todd Fought in the semis (19-21). Sjilestrom was a wild card going into this weekend for us, but the ATP Tour pro brought his tennis skills to the pickleball court and immediately made an impact for the Mad Drops! He and Tardio will be one of our favorite teams to watch for going into December’s event.
Wrapping up the Challenger Level is Group C, which is home to the back-to-back champions: The SoCal Hard Eights! Winning at one event during an MLP season is a major feat, but winning two in a row?? That’s seriously impressive, and the Hard Eights seriously earned it.
In the group stage, the Hard Eights went 3-0, earning themselves the 2-seed and a bye in the playoffs. CJ Klinger also earned himself back-to-back MVP awards, which he earned alongside Todd Fought in men’s doubles and Ewa Radikowska in mixed.
The Radikowska/Klinger duo, in particular, was the highlight of the tournament for us, as they won all five games they played together, each of them being a match-winner! That’s gotta be one of the coolest feelings in pro pickleball – not only did you win every game with your doubles partner, but each of those games also won the match for your entire 4-player team.
Klinger’s experience and chance to achieve MVP by winning all those matches alongside Radikowska is exactly why MLP’s team format is so special. Congrats Hard Eights, we’ll see you in the finals again next month for the three-peat!
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