The Challenger Shuffle Draft transactions were announced on Sunday. We got some expected as well as unexpected moves happening across the league. Unsurprisingly, no team that finished top 5 in Mesa decided to make a move. It partially speaks to the risk averse nature of teams and the premium they are putting on ensuring wins to try to make it to Premier for 2024. These top 5 teams felt like they did well and did not want to rock the boat as a top half finisher in the first event. On the flip side, every team outside of the top 5 made a transaction. It was probably a good thing for those top 5 teams not to have made a move as they may have been left looking at their 4 or 5th option depending on how they valued the player pool. For the teams that made moves, there’s a lot of urgency in a 3-event season to get results fast so let’s take a look at how each team did.
#1 Pick – Columbus Pickleball Club – Drop: Becky Ryan, Add: Jillian Braverman TRADED for Megan Fudge from Dallas Pickleball Club
We highlighted that this was the obvious move in our Shuffle Draft Preview and probably didn’t go hard enough on what a bad pick Becky Ryan was at #13 overall. What was less obvious was the trade for Megan Fudge. Fudge is a top female in this league, and this makes Columbus a very interesting team as they now have one number 1 female and another 1-ish Challenger female with Milan Rane.
They are suddenly a frisky team and it’s another team added to the mix of possible contenders. The question for Fudge in Challenger is whether her game is suited to carrying a team or is she more suited to be an end of the draft Premier player. Fudge had some solid results with Vivienne David the last couple of tournaments and she would go in the first round of a Challenger re-draft. For GM of the team, CJ Klinger’s Dad, this team may now go as far as CJ Klinger takes them, which is a bit of a scary proposition.
#2 Pick – Miami Pickleball Club – Drop: Matt Manasse, Add: Brendon Long
This one was surprising. Clearly, someone came to their senses in Miami. It is unclear if Manasse is still the GM but we have to think that is not the case as he did not appear to see this coming. This team is still trying to make up for Manasse’s nepotism filled draft in taking two men who should not have been drafted men in the back half of the draft. However, Jeff Warnick now looks more palatable as the #2 male next to Brendon Long rather than the #1. Warnick isn’t playing as much pro pickleball these days and he was never really a grinder. At this Challenger level though, Warnick is a weird matchup for most anyone. Miami will probably need one more move to truly be competitive but this is no longer a team that is the most relished matchup for opponents in MLP.
#3 Pick – Dallas Pickleball Club – Drop: Chuck Taylor, Add: Daniel De La Rosa; Trade Megan Fudge for Jillian Braverman
Surprising moves here. Does Dallas think Brandon French is the better player or is French just getting the nepotism bump? We are not huge Chuck Taylor fans with his roller coaster consistency, but this is not the right move in our view. Taylor has shown he can get high end wins on a semi-consistent basis in the right partnership, which cannot be said for French. In terms of De La Rosa, he’s definitely a Challenger player, but does he move the needle at all in comparison with Chuck Taylor?
The Braverman acquisition looks to be prudent from an upside perspective as her alpha game is better as a #1 female than Fudge in theory. The big question for Braverman is her lack of recent play. She has not been grinding tournaments and who knows how much she has been grinding on the practice court. She’s going all-in on pro pickleball for the time being and that dedication might be what held her back previously. Is there enough time before Daytona to get in tournament shape? She has played 4 tournaments in the last 12 months and 3 of those came in October/November 2022.
Also, it appears Dave Fleming is GM for the Dallas Pickleball Club, which is noteworthy because he is also the GM of the Seattle Pioneers in the Premier division. It very much makes sense that French would stick around because of his ties to Tom Dundon and Mark Cuban, and Fleming’s close relationship to Dundon as part of the PPA. How a person can be a GM for two teams in one league is a testament to the start-up nature of MLP.
#4 Pick – Arizona Drive – Drop: Sarah Burr, Add: Heather Nobler
We finally get an expected move at the #4 pick. Burr getting dropped was a no-brainer as AZ got its choice of any female in the pool behind Jillian Braverman. This is a weirdly interesting team with Wes Burrows able to create chaos alongside the improving Andreas Siljestrom who brings a whole different type of chaos with his 6’9 length. Sarah Ansboury is a solid player, but she ideally is paired with someone who can take a little bit of extra court. Heather Nobler is undoubtedly an upgrade on Sarah Burr, but this is a low upside type of move in our view. We are not sure who is pulling the strings for AZ as GM. Nobler does not move the needle for winning and is a pick that says we just want to make sure we get something better than what we already have.
#5 Pick – D.C. Pickleball Team – Drop: Monica Paolicelli, Add: Amanda Hendry
It’s almost as if D.C. traded in Monica Paolicelli for another Monica Paolicelli with more singles ability. Hendry, another lefty, has slowly improved her game as a non-racquet sports background athlete, but this move screams safety first. Although Hendry has had some better results as of late, this move came from out of nowhere for us. D.C. needed more punch to assist with Sam Querrey on a #2 mixed team and it is hard to see how Hendry provides much extra punch in that regard.
Querrey hasn’t played a tournament since Mesa and this was always the concern about picking him. He might be getting better as he plays more but not at the rate he could be improving. It will be an interesting team to monitor nonetheless. Shelby Bates has partnered with Amanda Hendry in the past so you wonder if she had any influence on GM, DJ Howard’s, decision to pick up Hendry. D.C. was not terrible in Mesa so there is no reason to think they can’t compete for a playoff spot. It just seems like they could have swung for more than a slap single.
#6 Pick – Texas Ranchers – Drop: Steve Deakin, Add: Scott Doerner
We thought the Ranchers may drop a guy, but our choice would have been Pat Smith. Deakin is 49 years old, but Pat Smith plays older than he looks. We can’t help but think this switch may not be made if Deakin/Erokhina don’t blow a giant lead to Emily Ackerman/Ryler DeHeart in their final round robin match. Either way, owner, Tim Klitch, needed to find a way to get his aging team more mobile and that’s what they have done.
Scott Doerner himself is a quality upside selection. Doerner may not be well known but he’s absolutely a Challenger player right now in our opinion. He’s had some strong men’s results and his talent is without question when you watch him play. The only thing for new guys like Doerner is that he has not played much pickleball, especially mixed, and has limited big game tournament reps under his belt. We really like when teams take chances like this but, considering Doerner’s lack of experience and style of game, keeping the steadier Steve Deakin may have been the savvier move.
#7 Pick – Brooklyn Aces – Drop: Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Add: Hurricane Tyra Black
What a brutal situation for the Aces. Gaytan-Leach pulled out of Daytona, which left them no choice but to drop their first-round pick. It put the Aces in a terrible spot, so they take a big swing in Tyra Black. We’re not sure whether she prefers to go by Hurricane or Tyra as, according to one 2013 article, her parents attempted to make Tyra and her sister more marketable as pro tennis players by naming them Hurricane and Tornado respectively.
Black played some pro tennis and appears to have literally only played one pickleball tournament, which is not even registered on Pickleball Tournaments. We’d have to expect there is some insider knowledge here from either the GM, Samin Odhwani, or one of his players on Black’s ability. James Ignatowich talked up Black’s ability on his podcast with Lea Jansen and it sounds like Black’s singles game should be better than most women at Challenger based on his comments.
We really like this move. There are a number of players we have not seen any video of that will be playing at the Florida PPA this week and Black is one of them. With their backs against the wall, the Aces figured they might as well go for broke as picking up anyone else in that pool probably ends up doing nothing for them. This move could blow up in their face, but there was no good reason for the Aces to play it safe, assuming they have done their homework on Black. Credit should be given regardless of how this turns out.
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