That’s a wrap on Season One of Major League Pickleball (MLP) for 2023. Yesterday’s Super Finals championship matches showcased the best four teams from the league’s two levels: The Bay Area Breakers and Chicago Slice from the Challenger Level, and the Seattle Pioneers and Los Angeles Mad Drops from the Premier Level.
The Super Finals immediately followed the third and final regular-season event, MLP San Clemente, where the league’s 24 teams competed for one last chance at fighting their way into the Season One Championships. While several teams had a shot at sneaking their way into the finals, we ultimately saw the top two ranked teams going into San Clemente from each level make their way to the Super Finals.
Challenger Level – Bay Area Breakers vs. Chicago Slice
The Super Finals kicked off with the Challenger Level, seeing the Bay Area Breakers take on the Chicago Slice. The top two teams have been going back and forth all season long, with the Breakers winning the first two events at MLP Mesa and MLP Daytona and the Slice earning second place in San Clemente, leading into the finals.
The Slice’s Emily Ackerman had the first serve of the match in women’s doubles alongside partner Susannah Barr. Vivian Glozman and Ewa Radzikowska represented the Breakers in game one, and it was the first of five incredibly close games.
The first half was back and forth between the two teams, with the Breakers having a narrow advantage at the end change, 11-10. Glozman and Radzikowska maintained that lead in the second half, reaching match point at 20-16.
However, Ackerman and Barr made a comeback with some impressive drives from Barr and an ATP from Ackerman, bringing the game to 19-20. The Breakers were able to hold onto their lead though, with Glozman finishing up game one with a powerful two-handed backhand, 21-19.
In men’s doubles, we saw the Breakers’ Christian Alshon and Pablo Tellez take on Connor Garnett and Ryler DeHeart of the Slice. All four players are known for the strength of their forehand shots, which made this one of the most electric games of the match.
Alshon and Tellez went into the end change with the lead, 11-7; but Garnett and DeHeart came out of the end change fast, tying it up at 11-11. The rest of the match was neck-and-neck, remaining tied up through 19-19, until Garnett came through with two huge plays, including a game-winning overhead smash.
“I think [DeHeart] and I just kind of got down and made it physical – just got really gritty and went out there and left it all on the court for a great outcome.”Connor Garnett
Glozman and Alshon hit the court for the first round of mixed doubles against Susannah Barr and Connor Garnett, and to no one’s surprise, we had another close one! Barr and Garnett came out strong, earning a strong 11-6 lead going into the end change.
They maintained that lead all the way to game point, 20-14, but Alshon and Glozman crept back into the game, keeping the winning serve away from the Slice, 20-19. Garnett was able to seal the deal with an impressive lunging backhand, let cord, 21-19.
The Slice, up 2-1, went into game four with their second mixed doubles team of DeHeart and Ackerman, who faced off against Tellez and Radzikowska. The Slice took the lead going into the end change, 11-9, but the Breakers didn’t let up and regained the lead quickly in the second half.
The Breakers’ game point was textbook: Strong serve from Tellez, quick responses at the kitchen by Radzikowska, and a huge finishing smash by Tellez. Now tied at two games a piece, the Challenger Level finals went to a Dreambreaker.
The first singles match-up saw Alshon go up against Garnett. While a close matchup, Alshon couldn’t reign it in, allowing Garnett to earn the first three of four points, putting the Slice in the lead, 3-1.
Tellez versus DeHeart saw opposite results, with Tellez gaining three of the four points, tying it up 4-4. Ackerman then went up against Radzikowska, where the two went point for point, keeping it tied at 6-6.
The final of the four matchups saw Glozman versus Barr, who also kept the game tied up, 8-8, rotating the action back to Garnett versus Alshon. From there, both teams went back and forth until DeHeart and Tellez took the court with the Slice on top, 19-17, with DeHeart serving first.
DeHeart earned point one with a masterful third shot drive down the line that Tellez expected to go out, putting the Slice at match point, 20-17. Match point was earned on a missed second shot by Tellez, making the Chicago Slice the Season One Challenger Level Champions.
“I think having the confidence to know that if we get into a Dreambreaker, we’re all going to play hard. We are solid and trust our shots – hopefully they land in.”Emily Ackerman
Premier Level – Seattle Pioneers vs. Los Angeles Mad Drops
In the Premier Level, we saw a rematch from the MLP Daytona semifinals: The Seattle Pioneers vs. Los Angeles Mad Drops. This is the matchup everyone was expecting to see, as the Mad Drops took home the gold in Mesa, and the Pioneers won back-to-back at Daytona and San Clemente.
Before we break down the Mad Drops’ sweep of the Pioneers, there’s one interesting thing to note about this finals format. Because the Mad Drops were eliminated in San Clemente’s semifinals on Saturday, they had all of Sunday to rest and strategize while the Pioneers had to play in the finals.
In nearly every other sport, a season’s championship match is isolated to its own weekend, not stapled to the day immediately following the semifinals. It could be because of how MLP structured this inaugural season as a test run, but this feels like a considerable oversight that could lead to situations like what happened with the Season One Super Finals.
Hopefully, we’ll see an adjustment next year, or potentially even for Season Two of 2023. While this might seem like a minor factor to some, giving one team an extra day of rest leading into a championship match feels like a significant advantage.
I digress. Both teams still brought their A-game to the table at the Super Finals; I’m just curious how big of a factor it was in the Mad Drops’ win.
Game one of the Premier Level Super Finals saw Catherine Parenteau and Irina Tereschenko of the Mad Drops take on the Pioneers’ Meghan Dizon and Etta Wright. The first few points went back and forth until the Mad Drops completely took over and shut down Dizon and Wright, winning game one 21-6.
The Pioneers then had Ben Johns and Tyler Loong face off against the duo of Thomas Wilson and Julian Arnold. At the end change, Johns and Loong were up, 11-7, but Arnold and Wilson would challenge that lead for the rest of the game.
The Mad Drops finally took the lead when it mattered the most: at game point, 20-19. Arnold led with a serve at game point, and Wilson closed it out with a quick forehand straight into Ben Johns, 21-19.
Up 2-0, the Mad Drops sent out the A-team of Parenteau and Arnold to face off against Johns and Wright. This game was close, but the Mad Drops maintained a strong lead throughout its entirety.
CP and Arnold hit their stride in a big way in the second half, with Arnold sneaking a quick forehand past Ben Johns to claim match point, 21-17. With that, the Los Angeles Mad Drops are your MLP Season One Premier Level champs!
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