Major League Pickleball (MLP) completed their group stage draw on Tuesday for the Columbus, Ohio event. The draw happened before the bug LeBron and company MLP news, so we held off on posting thos until today. Nevertheless, the importance of the random, group draw is something that has probably been overlooked by us this year. There is a reason the FIFA World Cup and Euro Cup draws are such a big deal. With only 3 matches and 2 teams making it out of each division in MLP, there is such little room for error with the 2022 MLP format so who is in your group could easily be the difference between getting out of the group stage or going home early.
The way it works is that the top 3 teams from the previous event (BLQK, Ranchers, Hard 8s) are all drawn to separate divisions and then the rest of the teams are drawn randomly. The results are in the photo above and we thought it’d be fun to give some quick hits on the group dynamics.
Group A – BLQK, Jackrabbits, Lions, Florida Smash
BLQK is the clear favorite in this group with Parris Todd being healthy again and having demonstrated she is back to playing some very high level pickleball. This may be the weakest group out there too. The Smash swapped Lee Whitwell out for Lacy Schneemann and, although we thought the wrong player was swapped out, anytime you have JW Johnson out there, you have to be a threat. The Smash came 2nd at the first MLP event of the year and it looks like they are going to benefit from a soft group outside of BLQK. The only thing that may upend BLQK and the Smash getting out of Group A is the Smash’s vulnerability of JW having to carry such a heavy load for the team.
We think it will be a big surprise if the Jackrabbits or the Lions find their way out of the group stage. The Jackrabbits have been the weirdest transaction team and will be going to battle with Vivienne David, Maggie Brascia, Adam Stone and Hunter Johnson. Brascia is showing we may have underrated her overall, and she is comfortable on the left side in women’s, but it’s hard to see enough talent across the board for the Jackrabbits to make a run. The Lions didn’t make any moves after Austin, and there really wasn’t much they could do to significantly improve their chances. An improvement in team chemistry for the Lions by running it back almost certainly won’t be enough.
Group B – Ranchers, Chimeras, The Bus, Mad Drops
We are pegging group B as the “group of death”. The Chimeras are the odd team out of the fold in our view, but they have not been walkovers at all, despite not getting out of the group stage of either event. Gabe Tardio is In for Rob Cassidy, and they still have two strong women in Andrea Koop and Megan Fudge.
The Bus and Mad Drops now form arguably the two most interesting teams going into the Columbus event. The Bus have overhauled their team with Susannah Barr in for Milan Rane and Erik Lange in for Kyle Yates. That is a formidable squad with Stratman and Burrows rounding out the 4-some. The Mad Drops feature Julian Arnold and AJ Koller together, with Lee Whitwell now in the mix to be a steady force with the dynamic male duo.
As good as the Ranchers are, it would not be completely shocking to see them miss the elimination round altogether given the quality of the group they are in. Anna Bright and DJ Young are not immune as a #1 mixed team as we saw in Sacramento over the weekend and, if things aren’t all sunshine and roses, it is always up in the air how DJ Young responds.
Group C – Hard Eights, The 5s, ATX Pickleballers, Clean Cause
Group A has the most variance top to bottom, Group B is the deepest but Group C is the most equal out of all the groups. The group of equality some might say! The Hard 8s have made some changes with Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Kyle Yates being added to the fold. Gaytan-Leach is the wild card add here as the player with the least body of work. We have been pro-Gaytan-Leach on this blog, but her recent results have been somewhat disappointing. The jury is also still out on the recent eye tests for Cierra’s game. Nevertheless, the Bus are an interesting team with some upside.
The 5s went upside with exchanging Ben Newell for Erik Lange. Newell, who had an up and down recent appearance at a PPA event with AJ Koller, can be scary when he gets hot. We’ll have to see what that consistency looks like over the course of the group stage matches for Newell. Clean Cause also went with the upside pick in Federico Staksrud, which is another jury is still out on pick for MLP.
ATX is the only team in this group that stood pat, keeping Pablo Tellez and hoping that Dylan Frazier can find better chemistry with both Tellez and Jade Kawamoto. Adam Stone ranked Jade 8 spots below her sister, Jackie, in his recent women’s doubles rankings. We’ll have to see if that perceived disparity holds true for Jade Kawamoto in her partnership with Frazier in their last MLP event together.
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