The Challenger Shuffle Draft is upon us once again for the final event before the division swap for all of these teams. The deadline for players to apply was April 27th and MLP published the list of new, eligible players on the 28th. We asked for MLP to make the player pool publicly available and they have delivered! While there is still way more that we think MLP should be doing to push way more draft content forward to the public, making the player pool publicly available is a step in the right direction. The Shuffle Draft will occur on Wednesday, May 3rd and the selections will be made public on May 4th. When time permits, we like to accompany a Shuffle Draft with our breakdown on the options available for the Challenger teams. So that’s what we will do, except this time we’ll go reverse order starting with the worst team from Daytona and ending with the best – this is the order teams will select for those who choose to drop a player.
(Update 10:10 am EST, May 3: Apparently we did not read close enough and the Draft will be based on season long standings so we have updated the post based on that for the order of picks)
#1 – Arizona Drive
AZ was the worst team at MLP Daytona after they had to sub in Pesa Teoni for Andreas SIljestrom and dropped Sarah Burr for Heather Nobler. Without a Jillian Braverman level player in this Shuffle Draft, all bets are off in terms of options. It is dangerous to take too much away from one event, but we did not like the Nobler pick to begin with, and there was nothing about her performance to indicate she is safe from being dropped. So much depends on the available player pool. If AZ is thinking about dropping Nobler, it should be for a Hurricane Tyra Black type of upside play.
A contrarian move could be to look to drop Andreas Siljestrom for someone with more mixed prowess and match experience. Chuck Taylor had come to mind as a safer option with some upside, but he looks to be dealing with an injury issue and is not in the player pool. Another guy that came to mind is the suddenly rising William Sobek, who offers some upside as a match experienced but untested player. But Sobek is not in the available player pool as well. The contrarian men’s move may not be a great option with what is available, but AZ needs to do something.
#2 – D.C. Pickleball Team
Oh D.C., they are back here again. The only realistic move this team has available is dropping Amanda Hendry. They could choose to do that for an upside play, but it is more risky to do that for the last event when some familiarity and chemistry has been built at the last MLP. Sam Querrey has noted on multiple podcasts that he and Hendry went 1-2 in Daytona and had match points in their 2 losses. Overall, this D.C. team has been close to better results in both events so they may want to run it back and see what they can accomplish with some continuity. Upside vs. continuity will be a theme for a lot of these more desperate teams heading into the final event.
#3 – Columbus P.C.
Columbus experienced a significant bump in results despite the fact that their pick-up of Braverman, traded for Megan Fudge, did not pan out that well. This team will likely stand pat and hope that Megan Fudge can find her game with Yates Johnson and Milan Rane. If Fudge can find even a couple more wins, Columbus won’t need an all-world performance from CJ Klinger to make the playoffs.
#4 – Orlando Squeeze
We don’t have much to say about the Squeeze that is different from our last Shuffle Draft preview. Their #2 gender spots both could both use upgrades but the selections in the player pool will be key. Fought looked decent in Daytona and Rettger has streaks where she looks like a better than average Challenger female and streaks where she looks more lower end. This team is solid, but it is hard to expect anything more than an early playoff exit given their current roster construction. We don’t expect them to make a move but making a move should be in serious consideration for Orlando. There is room to improve and there are other women available in this pool that can move the needle.
#5 – Brooklyn Aces
The Brooklyn Aces have to make a move as Corrine Carr will be giving birth very soon. The difficulty for the Aces is finding a female that can be a steady force to pair with Tyra Black. Black is still so new to the game that Carr was a perfect foil for her as a first-time MLP partner. Brooklyn may simply decide to swing for the fences with one of the higher upside females in the player pool once again and see if they can power their way to some wins in San Clemente. It worked last time. Why not try to go 2 for 2? That’s probably the strategy we would opt for.
6. Miami P.C.
Brendon Long vaulted Miami from laughing stock to contender, and his stock has only risen since Daytona. Jeff Warnick is the spot where Miami could look to move on from but that seems doubtful from a team chemistry perspective after their semi-final finish. Even though they aren’t staples on the pro tour, Warnick and Brandon French are the two sort of oddly fitting Challenger players that are weird to face in doubles. Their weird styles and endless trash talk make them a very scary opponent. Miami avoided playing a Dreambreaker in event #2, and that’s where the Warnick thing could look more problematic. At this level, Warnick’s arsenal of junk works, and his lack of consistency is less of a problem. This Maimi team will, and should, keep its squad together for the final event of the year.
#7 – Texas Ranchers
The Ranchers made the playoffs after making the swap from Steve Deakin to Scott Doerner. The difference in their improved results were, in part, due to Pat Smith somehow playing like a Dreambreaker beast. This team cannot rely on any Dreambreakers, though. Maybe if the Johnson twins go against Lee Whitwell in a Dreambreaker again they will eventually realize that a first ball approach to the net is not an optimal strategy. In any event, after making the playoffs with the change-up, we don’t see the Ranchers making another move before the final event.
#8 – Atlanta Bouncers
The Atlanta Bouncers do not have the same desperation as other bottom feeding post-Daytona teams after they made the semis in Mesa. Still, their results in Daytona could not have been more predictable after they chose the conservative, no transaction route in the previous Shuffle Draft. The most pressing need for them is to find an upgrade for Christine ‘don’t call me McGrath’ Trifunovic.
Trifunovic is currently the not ideal combination of low upside, low floor. Considering the increasing depth of the female pool in the last Shuffle Draft, the only thing Trifunovic offers over these other players is big-match pressure experience in pickleball. What you might lose with Trifunovic seems like it is definitely worth the gamble with what is available in the Challenger player pool.
#9 – Dallas Pickleball Club
Dallas made its big moves before Daytona and they were the 2nd best team out there. There’s no chance this team is looking to make a move.
#10 – Utah Black Diamonds
Utah was unlucky not to make the playoffs in Daytona as they went 2-1 in pool play. Considering they came 2nd in Mesa, it doesn’t seem like a move should be mdae. They have 4 solid players, and they can easily be a semi-final team if things don’t go off the rails.
#11 – Chicago Slice
With a shot at Premier on the line, there is no reason for the Slice to make any change. This team is one of the few teams that can win a Challenger title, but theirs is an outside shot. Before Ryler DeHeart’s recent results, we might have said that, if every win didn’t matter so much, this would be a team in a position to make a change, roll the dice and hope for the best. However, this team is constructed in a way where they should be able to make the playoffs and add some more wins to their season long total. We don’t see any change coming here.
#12 – Bay Area Breakers
Bay Area is in a unique position as they will have to pick up a female replacement for Rahcel Summers, who had disclosed prior to the draft she was not available for the final event due to military/medical career. Bay Area is going for a three-peat and would have been heavy favorites to do so. There isn’t much pressure on ownership to get results with two titles already in the bag, but the player that is selected will unavoidably feel an immense amount of pressure to get results.
By our count, there should be a minimum of 3 teams that will draft a female prior to Bay Area – Arizona, Atlanta and Brooklyn – with two other teams that are in a position to drop a female – D.C. and Orlando. Even though the female player pool is getting deeper, having anywhere from the 4th to 6th selection of women is not an enviable position for Bay Area to find themselves in. Regardless, there should be someone available that is good enough to keep this team in contention.
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