It’s time to really start getting hyped for MLP Atlanta. It doesn’t sound like players are going to be boycotting so each team should have their full squad out on the courts. Even though Premier and Challenger won’t be a thing for next year and the rally scoring situation is changing once again, we have pickleball to watch and the stakes are still high with how much money is on the line for the players in Premier. Moreover, there remains substantial incentive for the players to keep showing out at these MLP events.
Lea Jansen talked about the 2024 free agency model for MLP on our most recent podcast with her understanding that teams would be able to sign players above whatever amount they are currently signed for. How well players perform at MLP matters because teams will directly correlate that to their ability to perform in the MLP pressure cooker. With all that said, let’s get into the Premier division group previews for Atlanta.
Group A – Atlanta Bouncers, Bay Area Breakers, Orlando Squeeze, Texas Ranchers
This is a relatively balanced group outside of the Atlanta Bouncers. Parris Todd withdrew from singles part way through the day and did not play mixed or women’s after that at the last APP event in New Jersey. Even if she is healthy, this Atlanta team is shaping up to be the worst team in MLP with Hunter Johnson, Simone Jardim and Pablo Tellez. Simone and Pablo are the only two players that have shown recently they can compete at the top level in doubles.
We’ll have to see what type of roster prevails with the rest of this division. Bay Area has the two strong women in Lea Jansen and Etta Wright while Orlando has a more balanced team with Anna Bright as the foundation of their team. Texas has to be worried about what Jorja Johnson is going to bring to MLP. Her mixed game is generally her strongest doubles event, but she has been flat out poor in women’s doubles for the entirety of 2023. Jorja was one of the biggest risers heading into the year, and not enough of it has come to fruition so far. We’ll also see how the Texas team handles the target that comes with being possibly the highest paid 2024 team at MLP with Dylan Frazier, Jorja Johnson and Lauren Stratman on the roster.
Orlando is very balanced with their top 3 players and Rachel Rohrabacher has been playing well recently. We’ll have to see what a team with Andrei Daescu and Zane Navratil gets you. We could see all 3 of Texas, Orlando and Bay Area making the playoff round, but we’ll give a slight edge to Orlando and Bay Area. Round ‘em up for MLP Rafa!
Update: With Lauren Stratman missing, Texas could be in trouble if they don’t get a top 4 female from Challenger. If they do, the loss of Stratman could be minimized.
Group B – Chicago Slice, Dallas Pickleball Club, DC Pickleball Team, Utah Black Diamonds
The alleged group of death for this Atlanta event, Group B features Anna Leigh Waters, Ben Johns and Riley Newman. Even though we don’t see a clearly dominant team at MLP, we’re on board with a group consisting of the 3 best players in pickleball being considered the group of death. Chicago has a flawed roster on paper with the up and down Schneemann, declining Irvine and men’s specialist Erik Lang surrounding Ben Johns. This will be a great test for how good Ben is.
Utah will have a fill-in for AJ Koller on Saturday* but this roster consisting of ALW, Irina and Thomas Wilson will go as far as AJ Koller wants to take them. DC may be the frontrunner going into the event with how well the Kawamotos are playing. Christian Alshon’s doubles game has elevated since the draft and Riley Newman is still Riley Newman.
We also can’t sleep on the Dallas team in this group. They might be the most balanced team in Premier. Hopefully we get to see Jay Devilliers with right side Jimmy Ignatowich as a souped up Pat Smith. Callie Smith and Allyce Jones have proven they can compete at the top level together in their recent PPA partnership. There is nothing dominant about this team, but there’s no free wins against them either. Group of death it is!
We probably like Utah and DC to come out of this group, but there hasn’t been a time in MLP history where Ben Johns hasn’t made the playoffs.
Update: AJ Koller will miss the entire event so we’ll see what Utah decides to do and who is available. It makes them a bigger question going into the weekend.
Group C – Arizona Drive, Brooklyn Aces, Miami PC, Columbus PC
While the teams are just more balanced this year in Premier, group C appears to be the weakest group out of the 3 in Atlanta. but top to bottom this is the softest group. We also don’t see a clear favorite anywhere in this group either. Arizona is flawed in its construction with two left-side guys in Julian Arnold/Dekel Bar. What does this team get building around Vivienne David? The fit with Vivian Glozman makes sense on paper, but it’s hard to believe in Glozman’s mixed game with the results she has been getting recently.
Brooklyn is probably the most proven team of this group. Catherine Parenteau is a legitimate anchor for an MLP team but the two biggest questions are whether Andrea Koop still warrants that 2nd round pick and if Hayden Patriquin is good enough to be the lead male on an MLP team. Tyler Loong is a steady Eddy but he’s also a slight stock down for season 2 despite being fine enough value at the end of the draft.
Miami is in a better spot than we thought they would be right after the draft. Tyra Black has proven she is a legitimate Premier player since and both Tyson and Federico are playing very good pickleball. Our big question was about Mary Brascia but we understand she will be missing this event. That means Miami will be relying on a fill-in from one of the non-playoff Challenger teams. There are 4 players that could be considered neutral, or an upgrade, on Mary Brascia in our view – Jill Braverman, Susannah Barr, Yana Newell and Tina Pisnik. If none of those 4 players are available, Mary’s loss could be a major issue.
Columbus is the weirdest personality mix with JW, Megan Dizon, Maggie Brascia and Collin Johns. The all-energy team! Kidding, obviously. If there’s one team we are not betting on to make the playoffs in this group, it has to be Columbus. Collin Johns is not a Premier mixed player and we still don’t know if he can win men’s matches with anyone other than Ben.
Brooklyn is the safest team to pick to come out of this group. Miami weirdly might be the next safest team depending on their pick up. Until we see what happens with Miami, we’ll reluctantly go with Arizona as the 2nd team out of this group.
Update: With Julian Arnold missing, we’ll go with Miami even sans Mary Brascia as the 2nd team. Banking they can pick up one of Pisnik, Barr, Newell or Braverman.
*This article has been edited to reflect that AJ Koller was initially set to miss Saturday, not Friday.
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