Never would we have thought we’d be referring to a pro pickleball hot stove, but right now the stove is scalding as we have two trades to talk about that both included the Las Vegas Night Owls.
Florida Smash Receive: Vivienne David and Kyle Yates
Las Vegas Night Owls Receive: Collin Johns and Jessie Irvine
There was no wasting time on the transaction front with only one event left to go before the teams swap their teams and divisions. With a spot in Premier on the line for 2024, teams that have not had the results they were hoping for must be feeling the pressure to salvage something from the last event of the year. With there not being much to lose in the final event, the first trade of the Premier division was announced on Monday afternoon. The Florida Smash and Las Vegas Night Owls swapped their 1st and 4th round picks. Jessie Irvine and Collin Johns will now join Dekel Bar and Mary Brascia (see below) while Kyle Yates and Vivienne David will team up with Jorja Johnson and player/part-owner, Travis Rettenmaier.
It has been evident that Las Vegas and Florida were not getting it done. Even though Las Vegas was a Stratman/Yates tight as can get mixed win away from going to the playoffs in Mesa, there hasn’t really been anything to indicate this group was a title contending team as constructed. The balanced overall team meant that there were no sure fire wins that Las Vegas could count on. The only match win they got in Daytona was a whacky wind game where their women’s team somehow lost to the Hard Eights and their men somehow got the best of the Hard Eights’ men.
Jessie Irvine and Collin Johns played well together in mixed, and Johns should pair very well with his good buddy, Dekel Bar. We also wondered about the chemistry situation with Las Vegas after the draft and have to think things could not have been great with some down results. It is possible Irvine and Johns bring in some renewed energy. At the same time, Irvine and Johns’ best attributes are not exactly their team spirit.
We thought Florida had done a bang up job after the draft as everything fit about as nicely as it could with a team that essentially had to select its team owner. Surprisingly, the gender partnerships did not work for whatever reason. Jorja Johnson and Jessie Irvine could not get wins consistently together, and neither could Rettenmaeir/Johns. The mixed is what has salvaged the Smash as they went 0-3 in Daytona. We have not taken Travis to be the most patient man, at least when it comes to running a team, so you had to think he would want to change something.
The move probably had to be made for Florida but we question where this will get them. They swapped right-sided women and there is no question that David will be a better fit with Jorja Johnson. There’s something about Jorja where she seems to play better in partnerships where she is comfortable and David is as positive as they come for Jorja. We really don’t mean to doubt Kyle Yates every time in MLP but will Kyle Yates and Vivienne David be able to win mixed matches together? Rettenmaier and Yates appear to be friends, and it is possible that allows this team to flourish, but on paper Johns is a better right side player. The one area they are clearly better is in Dreambreakers with David in for Irvine so they only need to hold steady to have a chance in this ultra competitive Premier division.
The swap of these teams emphasizes the dangers of building a Premier team around a right-side female. Catherine Parenteau was considered a right-side female but she is playing far above the level she was showing at the time of the draft. We have not seen a team at MLP in 2023 make the final four without at least one strong female. It is a small sample size with limited data to pull from, but both teams have conceded in this trade their right-sided women did not get it done. There are limited options in Premier in 2023 and when things are not going well you are basically forced to call another team that also been having a rough go.
With how competitive the Premier division is, it does not take that much to turn an 0-3 or 1-2, into a 2-1 and a playoff appearance.
Las Vegas Night Owls Receive: Mary Brascia:
SoCal Hard Eights Receive: Lauren Stratman
On the heels of Las Vegas’ two player swap on Monday, it was announced on Wednesday that they made another trade. It is abundantly clear that Las Vegas was not happy with their previously constructed team. While GM, Kaitlyn Kerr, was excited about the trade for Johns and Irvine, it was evident from one of her Instagram stories (see above photo) that she was still looking to make a move because there was zero mention of Lauren Stratman as part of their future plans. She had even mentioned in her Instagram story that Irvine can play the left, which was noteworthy because that’s where Stratman likes to play. Lolo and behold, Stratman has also been shipped out in exchange for Mary Brascia of the Hard Eights.
It is hard to understand the straight up Stratman for Brascia swap for LV so you really have to wonder how Kerr has felt about the effort and chemistry from her team. She was on the Pickle Juice podcast about a month ago back and made some comments about the general lack of athleticism from female players in pro pickleball outside of Anna Leigh Waters. It sounds like Kerr was a serious grinder herself back in her college soccer days and we have seen one of her Night Owls co-owners, Callie Simpkins, has to grind workouts about as hard as anyone for someone who is not a pro athlete.
How much did it grate at Kerr that her team did not consist of like-minded grinders, at least from our outsider’s perspective? The other aspect of this that were the possible team chemistry issues that we speculated about after the draft. Whether chemistry played a part in the near complete overhaul of the team is unknown but what we do know is that Jessie Irvine, Mary Brascia and Collin Johns looked to be having a grand ol’ time together the day before this trade went down:
Ultimately, it was the results that weren’t there across the board for Vegas as Stratman had 2 wins total with the team. This Night Owls team now might be our most interesting team to watch in San Clemente because we have no idea what to expect. We’ll likely see Collin Johns/Jessie Irvine stick together as a 1(a) pair with their success in mixed across two events. That would leave Dekel Bar and Mary Brascia to attempt to form a 1(b) mixed team. A hot Dekel bar is a scary Dekel Bar, and he’ll have to be a demon on the court to make this a 1(b) pairing, which is not totally out of the realm. Mary Brascia went 1-5 in women’s with Lindsey Newman so the Jessie Irvine partnership is an upgrade, with Jessie likely on that left side now. Is that enough to get this team to the playoffs? We have our doubts but this team will be competitive in every match as constructed.
For the Hard Eights, getting off Mary Brascia, who has also only won 2 doubles game across 2 events, is a major triumph. The move should create a stronger women’s pairing with Stratman/Newman forming a cleaner fire and ice combo. Mary Brascia and AJ Koller went 1-4 in 2 events together, including 0-3 in Daytona, so things can’t get much worse for SoCal’s #2 mixed team. They played 3 Dreambreakers in Daytona, going 1-2, so if Stratman can give just a little bit more than Brascia, this Hard Eights group will not be a team anyone wants to see in their group.
SoCal is not going to be favored in most Dreambreakers but this trade does not change the fact they are still a capable of beating anyone in a Dreambreaker. The Hard Eights may not suddenly be favorites to win either but this team could be just as likely to finish with a title in San Clemente as they are to finish out of the playoffs altogether for the third straight event.
Two trades less than a week removed from Daytona? We have to expect that more wheeling and dealing could happen as these Premier teams feel they have to do something before flipping to Challenger mode for the 2nd half of the year.
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