USA Pickleball National Championships – Fantasy Draft Preview

It’s a bit of an anti-climactic end to the year with Nationals. I know there are a lot of factors that have gone into such small fields at this year’s Nationals but someone needs to figure out how to ensure we get the best players out to the major tournaments in the coming years. This should be a priority for the sport. Individual sports need majors. The vast majority of casual viewers for tennis and golf, the two biggest individual sports out there, tune in 4 times a year at the Majors. Not many people care about who wins the FedEx Cup in golf or who won the BNP Paribas in tennis. Sports are more and more becoming playoff/championship viewing only for the casual observer and the individual sports of golf and tennis thrive in spite of the fact that no one really knows what is happening outside of a few major events. Both tours are trying to create their own major events out of thin air. That’s not enough though. We need major events where all the best players show up year in and year out no matter what obligations they may have. The tours, sponsors, players and the events themselves should be doing everything they can to ensure these events, particularly the US Open and Nationals, are as grand as the sport needs. There are only 9 men’s pro teams and 7 women’s pro teams in their respective draws this year. It’s going to feel pretty empty to call a team “National Champions” with a field that is smaller than almost every pro tour tournament in 2021.  

Of course, we’ll still be watching. This will be the final fantasy draft preview for 2021 – we are not doing one for the APP event this weekend. It’s been a fun ride. Slim is 3 up on the year. Gritty won the toss for this draft and elected to pick first.

(1) Anna Leigh Waters (Gritty)

(2) Catherine Parenteau / Jessie Irvine (Slim) 

(3) Matt Wright / Dekel Bar (Slim) 

(4) Lucy Kovlaova / Matt Wright  (Gritty) 

(5) JW Johnson (Gritty) 

Gritty – With some weird partnerships that could be winning gold, I wanted to go first to get the surest thing in the field, which is Anna Leigh in singles. Jansen pulled out of singles last weekend in Casa Grande due to some low blood sugar issues so I’m concerned about her ability to compete at the highest level this weekend. With Lindsey Newman being 6 months pregnant, I went with Matt/Lucy in mixed after they narrowly defeated the Newman’s at the PPA Masters. This is a recency bias pick for men’s singles, but young JW was so impressive last weekend that there’s no way I couldn’t pick him over Zane and Tyson.

Slim – I am on the road with work this week, so my picks were made very quickly (not an excuse guy, still expect to win). Jessie and Catherine are the most consistent and proven team in the women’s field. I think Dekel and Matt are just too strong of a team for the rest of this mens field even if they have not played together before.

(6) Lindsey Newman / Riley Newman (Slim) 

(7) Zane Navratil (Slim) 

(8) Riley Newman / Tyson McGuffin (Gritty) 

(9) Catherine Parenteau (Gritty) 

(10) Lea Jansen (Slim) 

(11) Leigh Waters / Anna Leigh Waters (Slim) 

Gritty – I think Slim made the right pick (get it?) with Wright/Bar as the #1 men’s team, but I’m content with getting Riley/Tyson at #2. They are still going to grind as a partnership and they have the history together. With Jansen having health issues last weekend, I went with Catherine Parenteau in singles who has been seeing better results recently. It’s possible Jansen is 100% good to go this weekend, but I’m not taking that risk.

Slim – The Newman’s are super reliable, and always compete. It appeared that Lindsey tweaked something last week at Casa Grande in the final so hopefully that’s not too serious. I know Zane got smoked by JW at Casa Grande last week, but prior to that he had been on a real tear so hopefully he can regain his form here. Lea had to withdraw in Casa so hopefully she is healthy, and as long as she is, I like her for a top 2 finish. I had the Waters as my second best women’s team and they obviously have gold medal potential.

(12) Lucy Kovalova / Andrea Koop (Gritty) 

(13) Tyson McGuffin (Gritty) 

(14) JW Johnson / Callan Dawson (Slim) 

(15) Anna Leigh Waters / Tyson McGuffin (Slim)

(16) Catherine Parenteau / JW Johnson (Gritty) 

(17) Zane Navratil / Altaf Merchant (Gritty) 

Gritty – Lucy Kovalova and Andrea Koop are a first time pairing so it’s a bit of a wildcard to pick them. They are arguably the #2 team in the field and it’s an opportunity for Lucy to show what she can do as the lead dog. Slim is higher on Koop than I am overall but that doesn’t mean I don’t love this team for this draw. It started to get dicey here with picks, so I went with Tyson who has some upside to have a better result than bronze. More upside at #16 in the draft with Parenteau/JW Johnson. JW had a big win with Simone earlier in the year. Why not Parenteau too? The men’s field is really thin and it’s a sad indictment on the field when Zane/Altaf are the clear #4 team for a National title, but that’s where we are. Don’t get me wrong, the duo is solid and Altaf is probably my favorite guy on tour. It’s just, this is supposed to be Nationals.

Slim – JW and Callan haven’t quite had the results I’ve expected from them when they play together but they seemed to be finding their stride last week, and their styles theoretically should pair so well together. Anna Leigh and Tyson were solidly the third best mixed team in my mind, and have upside to outperform that ranking.

(18) Lea Jansen / Irina Tereschenko (Slim) 

(19) Andrea Koop / Zane Navratil (Slim)

(20) Jack Foster (Gritty) 

(21) Irina Tereschenko (Gritty) 

(22) Erik Lange / Wes Gabrielsen (Slim) 

(23) Jillian Braverman (Slim) 

Gritty – After last week’s error in passing on Foster in the draft, I’m going with him as the #4 men’s singles player here. He seems to play better when there aren’t as much in the way of expectations on him. Right now, he’s not favored for a podium spot and that should be good for Jack’s psyche. Irina is playing with a ton of confidence right now and is coming off a gold in Casa Grande – a gold that was buoyed by a Jansen withdrawal though. There’s no doubt she is the pick here considering the rest of the field.

Slim – Lea and Irina haven’t had great results playing together, but Irina has had a bit of a resurgence the last couple of weeks, so hopefully they can keep that momentum going for me. Zane and Andrea are a dangerous team, when Zane has his serve going in mixed he can go for big runs. We have talked previously about our belief that Erik Lange is an elite mens doubles player, but it will be interesting to see how Erik does playing with his buddy Wes Gabrielsen this week, as I think Erik may need to try and find ways to insert himself more than he has in other recent partnerships. Jill Braverman doesn’t play singles regularly but her big serve, ground strokes and court coverage make her a legitimate podium threat – notably she has not had much in the way of singles results since her infamous serve controversy.

(24) Jessie Irvine / Jeff Warnick (Gritty) 

(25) Mary Brascia / Maggie Brascia (Gritty) 

(26) Dekel Bar (Slim) 

(27) John Cincola (Slim) 

(28) Brandon French / John Cincola (Gritty)

(29) Susannah Barr / Tracie DeJager (Gritty) 

(30) Annica Cooper (Slim)

Gritty – Jessie Irvine/Jeff Warnick. Throwback? This pick was an NML policy decision of no Dekel Bar in mixed until he proves it. I already made that mistake last week when I thought I was getting good value with him in mixed. I choose to bet on a team that has actually reached podiums in the past even if their 2021 results have been sub-par to put it mildly. The picks start to get grim at this point with major talent disparity. The Brascia sisters are my #5 team with no podium expectations from what I see. I also don’t see any chance for the senior pros of Weinbach/Gingrich to make noise in this men’s field. There is an argument for them as the #6 team in this field but if I’m betting on them coming top 5 vs. 0-2, I’m putting my money on 0-2. Susannah Barr is coming off a nice silver last weekend. However, a partnership with Tracie DeJager puts them in a very possible 0-2 spot as well.

Slim – I have been bitten by choosing Dekel in singles a number of times and having him withdraw, but I am hoping the small field will be attractive to him. John Cincola gets results in singles and the small field is likely helpful for him as a 40 plus guy. I was surprised that Annica Cooper missed the podium in singles at Casa Grande, but she is generally pretty reliable in the singles. She could do something in this smaller field too.

Update: I forgot to note that Ryan Sherry was left off the board because of a possible injury. We don’t know his status and he pulled out of Casa Grande last weekend.

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments or email us at

5 thoughts on “USA Pickleball National Championships – Fantasy Draft Preview

  • December 8, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Very interesting that some top players are not doing Nationals. #1 Ben Johns is an obvious one. Did he give any reason why he’s not doing it? Not enough $$$ for the purse? Is it school finals week for him? Vaccine mandate a factor? Politics between PPA and USA Pickleball/APP? I really don’t blame him for blowing it off for any of the factors I listed…I’m just curious if he gave a reason or not given the tradition of this tournament. Kind of embarrassing that a “major” won’t have the clear #1 all-around player in PB.

    • December 8, 2021 at 2:21 pm

      We believe it is a vaccine thing. He previously was pro vaccine but the most recent podcast indicates that is not the case anymore. Not sure for the switch but not good he’s not there

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