We’re concluding the lead up to MLP week with the biggest storylines from the Premier division. There has been quite a bit of discussion about rally scoring vs. traditional scoring so we also thought we would share in the introduction a post from Ben at Real Clear Stats. Ben has done a thorough analysis of rally scoring vs. traditional scoring, with his conclusion differing from his initial point of view on the matter. Give it a read if you are interested in that discussion. Either way, make sure you check out the Premier storylines going into Daytona.
1. Who Will Make It Out of the Group of Death?
The consensus appears to be that Group B is the Group of Death for Daytona – Las Vegas Night Owls, New York Hustlers, SoCal Hard Eights and New Jersey 5’s. The Hustlers and 5’s both made the playoffs last time around while the Hard Eights get Riley Newman back and Las Vegas was right there in the mix as a balanced squad.
The game changer for the Hard Eights is how the addition of Riley Newman will impact the dynamics of this team. They were able to get one win against the listless Clean Cause team in Mesa, had a very competitive match against the Florida Smash, and a less competitive match to the champion Mad Drops. That they could win and be competitive without their best player is reason for optimism. This team will need to show out in men’s doubles and mixed to have a chance of making it to the playoffs, but they should be right in the mix.
The Hustlers were one of those 1-2 teams that found their way to the playoffs based on point differential. The 1-2 finish was not unexpected for a Hustlers team that was not highly touted after the draft but they energized and Dreambroke their way to the finals. They lost a Dreambreaker to Las Vegas in group play so it’s hard to know who the real Hustlers are. The wild card to this team was Lacy Schneemann and she is only getting better by the week, having reached her first Championship Sunday at the PPA Daytona. As long as NYC hides every Adidas paddle that Rafa Hewett owns, this team is not a fun matchup for anyone.
The 5’s were not as good as we expected but James Ignatowich’s game has gone up a notch or two in the past couple of months. That will be huge as Hayden Patriquin’s results have not been there in 2023 and his performance in Mesa was the most concerning aspect for this team. They can’t expect to Dreambreak their way to the finals, but it’s hard to bet against this team considering it felt like they underperformed in doubles collectively at the first event.
Finally, Las Vegas is one of those teams that doesn’t seem particularly scary but they should be competitive in any given match. Their performance went about as expected but they were a Kyle Yates/Lauren Stratman incredibly weird mixed loss against Gabe Tardio/Jade Kawamoto from being a playoff team. They won’t be favored to come out of this group, but no one should be surprised if they dig their way out.
If you want to focus on any group, turn your focus to group B. It should be a doozy.
2. Will the Mad Drops Repeat as Champions?
The Mad Drops were a surprising champion in Mesa, but they won’t be taking anyone by surprise in Daytona. Catherine Parenteau has been playing the best pickleball she has ever played over the last 3 months and there’s no reason to expect that will stop anytime soon. She is playing like a #1 female needs to for an MLP team and the firepower is there from the rest of the roster.
This is an intriguing group without any free wins that speaks to the depth of MLP. We had our questions about the St. Louis Shock after the draft, but they came together as a group to be a formidable opponent. At this point, there is no doubt that Allyce Jones was underrated in the draft, which provides this team with more punch than we might have expected. It means that the #2 mixed team with Erik Lange can hold up against anyone in this group. This is a veteran, chemistry team.
The Florida Smash and ATX Pickleballers are both flawed to some degree with quite a bit of upside. Jorja Johnson and Jessie Irvine have not fully clicked in 2023, and the Collin Johns/Travis Rettenmaier partnership went through some growing pains, even dabbling with Collin on the left. ATX is not an energy team and Gabe Tardio may be exhibit A for why you don’t let your best players draft their friends. We’re not sure Tardio gets drafted in Premier if the draft was re-done today.
Expect the Mad Drops to get out of this group and, until Irina Tereschenko loses in 2023, we may have to accept that she is the unquantifiable cheat code of MLP.
3. Which ‘Other’ Team Will Come Out of Group A?
Seattle has about as easy a path as it gets to the playoffs in their group with BLQK, Clean Cause and the Mashers. It will be a minor upset if the Pioneers don’t go 3-0. None of the other teams in this group had a record better than 1-2 at the last event, with Clean going 0 for 3, so who is going to separate themselves from the pack?
In spite of one recent gold medal, Callie Smith/Lucy Kovalova have not exactly inspired a great deal of confidence that they can be dominant women for the Mashers. Maggie Brascia is a question mark after pulling out from Mesa for unknown reasons. Clean Cause could be another dumpster fire.
It will likely come down to the Mashers vs. BLQK for that final spot. Federico Staksrud has been playing some really good pickleball as he is getting good wins in men’s and beating quality teams in mixed without high-end partners. The difference between the Mashers and BLQK is that the Mashers don’t have a clear wild card. They have 4 known quantities as we just haven’t seen much of Maggie Brascia this year, but she is the lynchpin for this entire Group A outside of the Seattle Pioneers.
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