We kicked off MLP week with our Challenger preview yesterday. Today, it is the big dogs in Premier. Will Orlando repeat? Is this going to be the first time Ben Johns misses the playoffs at MLP? Will Anna Leigh Waters rebound? Lots of big questions and we will pretend to have the answers!
Group A – Orlando Squeeze, Chicago Slice, AZ Drive, Texas Ranchers
This looks like the group of death for Dallas, but we have to be careful about making sweeping conclusions from a few matches at one MLP event. The Texas Ranchers appear to be at the bottom of this group. However, for anyone that watched Texas, they were right there with Orlando and had their chances to push it to a Dreambreaker. We have to note that Jorja Johnson/Lauren Stratman did not win any women’s matches and that’s been a big problem for Jorja Johnson as a lead female at MLP. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Texas do better than last place in this group, but you have to put them there with the competition of the group.
Orlando won the last event and they could find their way out of the playoffs in this group, especially if they keep pushing their luck in Dreambreakers. Chicago has Ben Johns and, if their women’s team can steal a game or two for them, it makes them incredibly dangerous. AZ Drive took Orlando to a Dreambreaker, which is really anyone’s game. AZ’s men were dominant in Atlanta, and you have to ask whether that is sustainable for another event. The other question for AZ is their #2 mixed team of Dekel Bar/Vivian Glozman only won one match in Atlanta and that will likely have to turn around for them to make a run out of this group.
The Slice still have Ben Johns and, while he may be due to lose a match after playing some close ones in Atlanta, it seems like the women of the Slice have another level as a duo. It is hard to bet against Ben Johns. We’ll be curious to see how motivated Ben is without anything on the line and an MLP-PPA merger still in the works.
We’ll go with Orlando and Chicago making it out of this group, but this one is really anyone’s game. It hurts a little to go against Arizona once again.
Group B – Atlanta Bouncers, Bay Area Breakers, D.C. Pickleball Team, Columbus Sliders
We had to do a re-write on this group after news was announced on the suddenly active pickleballdotcom Instagram account that Etta Wright is sitting out of MLP Dallas due to being “under the weather”. As odd as it is to knowingly be out with an illness two days before the event starts, this group is now clearly the softest of the 3 Premier groups. Bay Area was going to be our pick to make it out of this group, but that will now very much depend on who is available for them to pick up.
The Atlanta Bouncers have become a laughingstock but they weren’t as bad as everyone is making them out to be at the first event. They had opportunities to get into a couple of Dreambreakers if a couple of very close games went the other way.
The problem with this Bouncers team is two-fold. One, we have no idea how healthy Simone Jardim is. She has recently withdrawn from APP events, but she also played with Allisson Harris in that recent Lone Palm pro showcase. Two, the KOTC guys reported Atlanta tried to trade Simone and she got mad so she and Parris are done as a partnership. If Simone is healthy and team chemistry isn’t an issue, this group showed they can be competitive enough to hang in matches. We definitely can’t pick them to make the playoffs but there is a world where they may not be the free win they have been made out to be.
DC is the class of MLP right now despite losing in the final to Orlando. From start to 95% of the finish, they were the strongest looking team in Atlanta. If you play that final back against Orlando 10 times after the gender doubles went DC’s way, you have to think DC wins that 8 times. The Kawamoto’s keep getting better and are the best women’s team in MLP. Riley Newman is still the 2nd best man in pro pickleball and Christian Alshon is playing above his 4th round billing. A big key to MLP has been knocking the 3rd and 4th round picks out of the park, and that is exactly what DC has done.
The 2nd spot in this group will still probably come down to Bay Area and Columbus. The problem for the recently named Sliders is Collin Johns. There’s enough evidence to conclude he is not a Premier MLP player in this landscape. He’s an awesome pickleball player that isn’t at his best playing men’s doubles with someone other than his little brother. He spent a lot of time on the right in mixed in Atlanta. Columbus needs to win all of their men’s matches with JW/Collin to have any chance. Columbus probably should have listened to the Johnson family and picked Gabe Tardio.
We’ll go with DC and tentatively have Columbus coming out of this group, which we may adjust depending on who Bay Area is able to pick up. Bay Area is holding open tryouts Thursday morning according to Rafa Hewett:
Group C – Brooklyn Aces, Dallas PC, Miami Pickleball Club, Utah Black Diamonds
There is nothing about this group that is settled. While Miami made the playoffs with Allison Harris, the return of Mary Brascia does not make this team a lock to go to the playoffs. Though not a lock, we have to think that Miami is well-positioned for a return to the playoffs. Staksrud and McGuffin looked very solid together and Tyra Black was a complete beast. The benefit that Mary Brascia provides for this Miami team is more steadiness. Expect Federico Staksrud to team up with Brascia as their mixed results together were quite strong on the PPA Tour. Furthermore, when Mary is your weakest singles player relative to gender, the Dreambreaker is not a place opponents want to go.
Dallas cleaned up in their final, meaningless round robin game against the Utah Black Diamonds. We believed in this Dallas team possibly a little too much after the draft with 2 pickleball veterans (Jay Devilliers, Callie Smith) and another player (Allyce Jones) who is good, but may have a limited ceiling. At the same time, they were in the group of death and now get the benefit of being in a softer group where their balance should be more beneficial in each matchup. In Vegas, James Ignatowich was hitting the living hell out of the ball and if he plays with that level, this team has a shot. Ignatowich and Jones have to figure out their mixed together.
Utah looked about how we thought they would after the draft, but they easily could play better. The main question is what level will Utah get from Irina and ALW in Dallas? Brooklyn is a TBD team after Hayden Patriquin struggled on day 1 of group play with an illness and then needed Gabe Tardio to substitute in. We are not bullish on Patriquin’s health moving the needle enough for this Brooklyn team that has limited firepower as a unit.
We are taking Miami and Dallas to go to the playoffs.
This season of MLP has far more parity across the 12 teams than we saw in season 1 for Premier. DC is the team that has to be taken to win it all this time around. Outside of that, it is anyone’s game. Let’s take a stab at Miami being the other team that makes the final to play DC (this is not an agreement between us).
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