Major League Pickleball (MLP) was back for round two of its new format’s inaugural season, and the competition has never been more exciting. Last weekend’s MLP Daytona Beach event saw it all; from defending champs to the rise of a new winner in the Premier Level, Daytona really turned up the intensity!
The tournament ran from March 23-26 and was hosted at Pictona at Holly Hill, one of the premier pickleball facilities in the nation. Pictona’s 49-court campus was home to four days straight of high-energy pro pickleball competitions, and the results were incredible.
Despite being one of the newest pro pickleball leagues, the MLP has really taken the spotlight for the pickleball world this year. Their team competition format has breathed life into the competitive spirit of the game, and the electric atmosphere of MLP Daytona really displayed just how hype pickleball can be as a professional sport.
Steve Kuhn, the founder of the MLP, believes that pickleball will soon become a top-5 spectator sport, rivaling the likes of the NHL, MLB, and MLS. After witnessing the results of last weekend’s tournament, it’s easy to see the reasoning for such a claim.
Following the success of the first event at MLP Mesa, MLP Daytona turned it up a notch and the competition brought next-level energy to pro pickleball. Let’s take a look at last weekend’s championship matchups and break down each team’s road to the finals.
Premier Level Finals – Seattle Pioneers vs. California BLQK Bears
The Premier Level was full of surprises at MLP Daytona. Going into the weekend, I think all MLP fans had multiple different playoff brackets filled for a variety of different scenarios.
I think most of us expected the defending champs, the Los Angeles Mad Drops, to show up, dominate, and be seeded number 1 or 2. Their team took over at MLP Mesa, going 9-0 in the group stage and defeating the New York Hustlers in the finals, 3-1. At MLP Daytona however, they unfortunately got knocked out in the semi-finals after struggling in the group stage.
MLP Daytona saw two new teams take to the championship court at yesterday’s finals: The 2-seed Seattle Pioneers and the 1-seed California BLQK Bears.
The BLQK Bears and Pioneers duked it out through the Group A division before reaching the playoffs. The BLQK Bears won all three of their matches at the group stage, including a victory over the Pioneers in an incredibly heated match on Saturday, which foreshadowed the type of games we would eventually see at the championship match.
Seattle had a strong showing in the group stage as well. Even though they lost in a close match against the BLQK Bears, they completely swept the Milwaukee Mashers and Frisco Clean Cause, going 4-0 in both matches. The Women’s Doubles duo of Etta Wright and Meghan Dizon were instrumental in both of those victories, and they continued to bring that energy moving into the playoffs.
The BLQK Bears were able to take down Anna Leigh Waters and the New Jersey 5’s, 3-1, and the Pioneers were able to sweep the defending champs, the Mad Drops, 3-0. Heading into the finals, it was difficult to say which team was going to have the advantage.
In Women’s Doubles, Meghan Dizon and Etta Wright led the charge, winning game one, 21-15. The game went back and forth throughout the match, but the Pioneers maintained the lead consistently.
Game two was in men’s doubles, where the BLQK Bears’ Federico Staksrud and Dylan Frazier took on the Pioneers’ Ben Johns and Tyler Loong. Both teams showed incredibly high energy throughout, with the Pioneers barely holding onto a lead for the entire game.
After the Pioneers reached game point, 20-16, BLQK turned up the heat and were able to slowly fight their way back to tie it all up 20-20. Ben Johns was able to go on the attack, scoring a point after going head-to-head against Dylan Frazier at the net. Now at game point, Tyler Loong was able to finish it out with a powerful drive, winning game two, 22-20
With everything on the line in game three, BLQK Bears’ Maggie Brascia and Dylan Frazier had a tough match-up against Meghan Dizon and Tyler Loong. Loong and Dizon were coming off of back-to-back victories in games one and two, and Frazier and Brascia were looking for their first taste of victory for the day.
Pioneers started game three strong with an 11-8 lead, but BLQK were able to make some adjustments to bring the lead back into their favor at game point, 20-16. The Pioneers weren’t down for the count though and even looked like they might make a come back to win it all at 18-20.
However, Brascia was able to execute a textbook third-shot drop that Loong couldn’t respond to. BLQK clutched the victory 21-18, keeping them in the competition.
Game four saw the second round of Mixed Doubles, with BLQK’s Andrea Koop and Federico Staksrud going up against Pioneers’ Etta Wright and Ben Johns. Everything was on the line: BLQK needs to win in order to take the match to a Dreambreaker, and Johns and Wright were looking to win it all.
As the final game of a pro tournament should be, this match-up was an all-out firefight. The first half of the match, both teams put on an incredible offensive, quickly racking up the points to be all tied up, 9-9.
Pioneers were able to get the edge at the end change, leading 11-9, and were able to keep that momentum going into the second half of the match. From then on, Wright and Johns were able to work together to maintain that lead for the rest of the match, keeping the BLQK Bears on their heels.
Wright was able to battle for match point at the line with a powerful drive into Andrea Koop, setting them up for victory at 20-14. For the final point of the match, Johns was able to send an incredible backhand shot right between Staksrud and Koop, making the Seattle Pioneers the MLP Daytona Premier Level Champions.
Challenger Level Finals – Bay Area Breakers vs. Dallas Pickleball Club (DPC)
At the Challenger level, the 1-seed Bay Area Breakers were able to come back and defend their title as MLP Champions, going up against the play off newcomers, 2-seed Dallas Pickleball Club.
Unlike the Premier Level who saw many new faces at the Championship, everyone was expecting to see the return of the Bay Area Breakers in the Challenger Level Championship. They won all three of their matches in Group A and took down the Chicago Slice in an exhilarating Dreambreaker match in the semi-finals, 21-18.
The Dallas Pickleball Club on the other hand was definitely seen as the underdog going into MLP Daytona. At MLP Mesa, Dallas went 1-2 in the main stage and missed the playoffs. This time around, they proved their value in Group A, going 2-1, only losing to the Bay Area Breakers in a Dreambreaker. In the semi-finals, they took down the Miami Pickleball Club, 3-1, after four incredibly close matches (21-16, 21-18, 16-21, 22-20).
The Challenger Level finals didn’t disappoint, as each game felt just as close as the last. Game one saw Breakers’ Ewa Radzikowska and Rachel Summers take on DPC’s Christa Gecheva and Jillian Braverman in Women’s Doubles.
The Breakers took a commanding 17-12 lead, but DPC wasn’t down for the count. Gecheva and Braverman were able to rally and tie the game up, 18-18. The end of the match heated up from hear, with both teams going back and forth, keeping the game tied at 19-19.
However, Radzikowska and Summers were able to benefit off of a couple misplays by Gecheva at the line, winning game one, 21-19.
In Men’s Doubles, DPC’s Daniel De La Rosa and Brandon French took on Christian Alshon and Pablo Tellez of the Breakers. This might’ve been the most explosive performance seen in Men’s Doubles all weekend, as all four players showed their power at the kitchen all game long.
DPC and the Breakers traded the lead back and forth through the first end change, with DPC being on top 11-10. De La Rosa and French kept their intensity into the second half of the game, and didn’t give up the lead once, winning 21-15.
Bay Area had Christian Alshon and Rachel Summers take on Daniel De Las Rosa and Christa Gecheva in the first round of Mixed Doubles. The first half of the game was close, with the Breakers taking the lead at the end change.
The Breakers took a strong 5-point lead at game point, 20-15, but DPC were able to respond. After 4 points in a row by DPC, the Breakers were able to clutch victory off of a missed drive shot by De La Rosa, 21-19.
DPC sent Brandon French and Jillian Braverman to take on Pablo Tellez and Ewa Radzikowska in game four. Competition got HEATED.
The first half saw plenty of chirping from French and Braverman, who taunted several out calls hit by Tellez. Halfway through the game, Tellez was given a blue card technical warning for excessively foul language. DPC’s plan to get into the heads of the Breakers was working, and they went into the end change on top, 11-9.
DPC were able to maintain their lead throughout most of the second half and seemed to be on their way to pushing the finals to a Dreambreaker at 18-16. However, the Breakers had other plans.
In one of the best doubles performances seen at the MLP so far, Tellez and Radzikowska came back to win it, 21-18, by scoring 5 points in a row. The Bay Area Breakers are now back-to-back MLP Challenger Level Champions.
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