Hey, we know there has been lots of news but there is pickleball to be played this weekend. We’ve been doing these before our MLP events in lieu of a traditional previews because, well, we don’t like traditional previews. Hopefully these are enjoyable for you as a reader too. This will be our final MLP event with this team format as the sole focus so let’s enjoy it while we can. Here are 5 Big Questions that we felt should be answered heading into the final MLP event of the year in beautiful Columbus, Ohio.
1. Which Team is Most Likely to Disrupt another BLQK-Ranchers Final?
The Bus. Susannah Barr and Lauren Stratman may not quite be the force that Jackie Kawamoto and Anna Bright are as a women’s team, but they are capable of beating any team on any given day. Barr/Stratman could lack some consistency as we saw with Jorja Johson/Barr in their elimination match against the Ranchers. However, Parris Todd has vaulted herself into borderline top 10 in pickleball status so it seems like the key to knocking off one of the two top teams will be having two high-end women. Erik Lange is the question mark for the Bus in mixed.
The Mad Drops are another scary team with Julian Arnold and AJ Koller together, but without the higher end females, can they get it done? If Julian and AJ figure out the two left-sided guys thing, they will be scary as their women should hold up more than well enough to split at the very worst in mixed. Anna Bright and James Ignatowich separately pegged the Mad Drops as their biggest competition in their appearances on the Pickleball Studio podcast (by the way, Chris Olson and Will Ching did a great job interviewing Ignatowich and Bright). We like the Bus slightly more than the Mad Drops, but it is close, and could change once we see how Arnold and Koller are.
As good as the Ranchers looked in Newport, they are not invincible, especially in this rally scoring to 21 format where anything can happen. James Ignatowich is going to be an improved player from Newport. His mixed results have been very strong recently, but Anna Bright and DJ Young were double dipped by Maggie Brascia and Hayden Patriquin at the APP Sacramento Open. That’s a number 1 mixed team being taken down by a #2 MLP female and an alternate MLP male. That’s not to say Anna and DJ won’t roll like they did in Newport, but it shows they are not unbeatable.
2. Which Teams that Missed the Top 6 in Newport are Most Likely to Make the Top 6 in Columbus?
The answer to the first question gives a partial answer, at least. We’re going to say the Bus and the Mad Drops with the caveat that one of these teams will likely be excluded from the playoff format as they are in what we labelled the group of death with the Ranchers. It puts the Ranchers in a really tough position to have drawn this group along with the Chimeras, who are by no means a free win either.
If we’re looking for a team outside of Group B that missed the playoff round in Newport, you have to look to Group C. Group C is wide open with the Hard Eights, the 5s, Clean Cause and ATX Pickleballers. It seems like a team with Dylan Frazier and Jade Kawamoto is more likely to figure their stuff out but the addition of Staksrud to Clean Cause could be the upgrade they need to maximize Dekel Bar as a lead dog. The Hard Eights and the 5s both made significant changes to their rosters, but we are not convinced either of the teams made changes for the better.
Outside of the Mad Drops and the Bus, we’ll give the nod to Clean Cause as the team most likeley to find their way to the playoffs for the first time in 2022.
3. Which Teams that Made the Top 6 are Most Likely to Miss the Top 6?
These questions all tie into each other a bit. We alluded to the changes of the Hard Eights and the 5s above. In a pretty even-Steven group, those are two teams that seem most likely to miss the playoff this time around. Nunnery’s only pickleball tournament since getting hurt at the end of May was the Newport event and he gets no high level pickleball in Hawaii. Moreover, it sounds like Ben Newell could be less than 100% going into Columbus as well, according to his Instagram post after the PPA Championships. On top of that, we are still very concerned for the Nunnery/Jardim mixed partnership, which will be very dependent on how well Nunnery is moving these days.
With the Hard Eights, they swapped out Susannah Barr and John Cincola for Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Kyle Yates. The most concerning switch is the Gaytan-Leach as her results since she was picked up have been pretty middling. To optimize Jorja Johnson, you want someone steady with her as we saw with Bobbi Oshiro in Alabama. Can Gaytan-Leach be that steadying force for Jorja? You add into the equation that the Kyle Yates mixed experience has continued to trend down and it is unclear where this team sits in the entire landscape. The Hard Eights may be the only team to have flown members of their team to one location to practice, which is great that their owners are that invested in the process. But a few days of practice isn’t going to be the difference maker if the team is not good enough.
We’ll be very surprised if either the Jackrabbits or Lions find a way to disrupt the top 2 of BLQK and Florida Smash in Group A. Otherwise, the Ranchers are a dark horse team to miss the elimination bracket simply because of their tough group.
4. Will There Be Another Breakout Performance from an Alternate?
Most likely not. There are two reasons for this. The main reason being the new rule changes that MLP has put in place after the Rob Nunnery-Gabe Tardio controversy from Newport. First off, teams are not allowed to use alternates during the middle of a match, which means if a player gets injured a team will forfeit all the doubles games and the Dreambreaker points that player would play. Teams are only able to use alternates between matches. If a team chooses to use an alternate, the alternate is on that team for the remainder of the event and the original player may not play – this would not allow the situation we saw in Newport where BLQK went with Rachel Rettger, then Lacy Schneemann and then back to Parris Todd for the final.
The other reason we don’t expect another breakout performance is that the alternate list does not lend itself in the same way to a breakout group this time around. The women are all more known commodities in pro pickleball – Alix Truong, Corrine Carr and Milan Rane. For the men, Hayden Patriquin has played MLP and, if he has to step in, it won’t be a surprise to see him perform well. Auvergne has had a plateau in his results the last few months while Klinger continues to slowly rise, but there will likely have to be a couple of men injured before they get the call over Hayden Patrqiuin.
As mentioned above, Ben Newell on the 5s may not be 100% right now so who knows what happens over the weekend. The rules create major opportunity if an alternate is required, so we can’t rule out a breakout performance completely from an alternate, which should go without saying.
Additional Note: Another rule change is that players are only allowed to switch sides during timeouts or on end changes. Once the player’s sides are confirmed after said timeout or end change, the only way a team can switch positions is if they call a timeout. There has not been much switching positions in previous MLP’s this year and this makes it even more unlikely as teams only have one timeout per game to 21.
5. Who is going to be MVP?
Gritty: Lee Whitwell…just kidding. Let’s continue the Parris Todd hype train rolling. Clearly, she is back in form with a couple of tournaments under her belt since her injury at the Newport MLP event. Todd is much improved since BLQK’s win in Austin too. She almost took down the Waters with Anna Bright and had a nice run with Dylan Frazier in the backdraw at the PPA Championships. In my mind, she is the #1 female on her team. Irina and Parris are formidable and, if Zane and Parris continue to play against #2 mixed teams, there is a world where Parris Todd goes undefeated for an entire tournament.
Slim: Riding our Bus prediction, I will go with Lauren Stratman. She and Susannah Barr have played together in tournaments before and been successful, so I think they are likely to pile up wins in women’s doubles. In mixed, Stratman and Wes Burrows have shown they can be a successful mixed team at MLP. My only concern with this pick is both the mixed and women’s pairings here can lack some consistency so can they stay consistent enough? I also would not be shocked to see Jackie Kawamoto pick up another MVP. Wins and losses seem to matter a lot for the MVP pick and as a number one female playing in the number two spot on her team, she is in the perfect position to rack up the wins again.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too!