Major League Pickleball (MLP) Columbus – 5 Takeaways – Irina and Parris Reign Supreme
The final MLP event of 2022 took place in Columbus, Ohio over the weekend. MLP is a reminder to us that just because something has not been done before, does not mean it cannot be done. Team formats are not a constant in any individual sport, but MLP has a formula that shows it can be viable from an excitement and watchability standpoint. This 2022 event will be the final iteration of MLP as the sole focus of the event and it will be interesting to see how much intrigue next year’s individual events garner from fans in comparison with the team events. There is so much unknown as we head into 2023 and it is really anyone’s guess as to how the pro landscape plays out in the immediate future, including those intimately involved in the sport. We’re here to enjoy all the action and, of course, we must give our most important takeaways from MLP Columbus.
1. Irina Tereschenko and Parris Todd’s Supremacy (Slim) – Parris Todd won the MVP at this weekend’s MLP event, and really there was no one close to being as valuable as she was, as she went 9-1 in her matches this weekend – she was the obvious pre-tournament pick too. BLQK getting Parris with the 19th pick in the MLP draft, was basically a cheat code for the season. If Parris had not of gotten injured at the Newport event, it seems almost certain that BLQK never loses in MLP this season. Given when the draft occurred, it was not egregious that Parris was drafted where she was, but with her rapid improvement and ascension to where she was, easily a top 5 female at MLP, it just made things too easy for BLQK. The rest of the pieces also fit well for BLQK. Irina Tereschenko is a very solid woman in the MLP field, but when she suddenly becomes your second best female, the other teams are in trouble. Zane Navratil and Rafa Hewett as hard serving players, who are probably a little more dominant in mixed then men’s doubles, made for dynamic pairings in mixed with Parris and Irina.
It should also be noted that Irina Tereschenko is the early GOAT of Major League Pickleball, as her teams have won 3 of the 4 MLP titles awarded to date. Perhaps she has gotten lucky with her situations, as getting Ben Johns in season 1 and Parris with the 19th pick in season 2 has certainly helped, but you do have to give credit where credit is due. To date, pretty much all Irina has done at MLP is win. So she definitely has some bragging rights as the winningest player in MLP history.
The BLQK owners, also have the same bragging rights as winners of three of the four MLP championships. Can anyone knock BLQK off of the throne next year? I am sure there are numbers of owners, a competitive group in their own right, who want to make sure BLQK are the champs again next year. It will be very interesting to see what happens with player franchising and draft order next year (it sounds unlikely to be a clean slate draft again), as that could have a large effect on who ends up holding the trophy at the end of the season.
2. Dreambreaker Revaluation (Slim) – One area where we were obviously wrong (I know, I know we are wrong about a lot of things) is the importance of the Dreambreaker. This is one a lot of people pushed back hard on us. It has become abundantly clear through the larger sample size that the Dreambreaker is a huge part of the MLP competition and pretty much unavoidable for teams. Gritty and I both had, to some degree at least, the opinion that it was best to try and build teams that were suited to winning the doubles matches, and that you were better off having stronger doubles players and trying to win matches 3-1 or 4-0 than to put too much stock into a players singles prowess. We particularly felt this after watching the Dreambreakers last year, as it seemed to play as an extremely high variance competition. Lee Whitwell, lighting up the boys last year in the Dreambreakers would be exhibit A of this variance.
This year, though, the data has just shown that Dreambreakers are too prevalent and unavoidable that you can’t rely or count on your teams doubles prowess to carry your team through an entire tournament. The Ranchers and BLQK appear to be anomalies, although it is still noteworthy that they faced zero Dreambreakers combined in their 3 respective championship runs. Also, while the Dreambreaker has some variance, it is clear that if a team does not have a couple singles studs on its roster, they are in trouble. A team can hide or get away with a weak singles player, but if a team has two or more players that are not strong singles players, they are at a huge disadvantage in the Dreambreaker.
One area where I think this was particularly noticeable, is the second male roster spot. It was pretty clear this year, that generally it was a bigger advantage to have your second roster spot filled with a singles stud, with high mixed upside, who maybe wasn’t as great of men’s doubles player, than to have a player who was just a solid men’s doubles and mixed player, and did not provide much in singles. Think of the impact Federico Staksrud and James Ignatowich made on their teams after they were picked up this year. Rafa Hewett, of the two time champs BLQK, probably fits this profile, as high mixed doubles upside and strong singles players, who might not be as consistent in men’s doubles.
It will also be interesting to see if there are any changes to teams roster building philosophy heading into next season based on this, and if it could also lead to some market inefficiencies later in the draft if teams overreact to the singles prowess of certain players, while ignoring some players doubles dominance, and who may just be competent at singles.
3. Upside Rules the Day (Gritty) – I talked a lot about upside throughout the year when it came to adds, drops and trades. Upside is a concept we really felt teams had not turned their minds to enough throughout this process until the transaction window before this final event in Columbus. With such a big discrepancy in prize money between first and everyone else, there was finally a realization that there was nothing to lose by going for it.
While upside moves can only pay off for a certain number of teams, it’s clear to me that these upside decisions paid off for a number of teams in Columbus. The Hard Eights are the prime example of upside paying off. We were somewhat skeptical of the Hard Eights approach swapping out Susannah Barr for Kyle Yates to give them two strong men instead of two strong women, but we still liked the idea behind what they did. The swap for Yates and bringing on Cierra Gaytan-Leach for Milan Rane ended up paying huge dividends with a Championship appearance for their team after both Yates and Gaytan-Leach had strong tournaments.
At the same time, It’s easy to forget that the Hard Eights were a Jorja Johnson wrist winner off a JW Johnson speed-up from being eliminated in their first playoff match. If not for the fortunate hand/wrist winner, we might be talking more about the great move the Florida Smash made going upside with their Lacy Schneemann pick-up for Lee Whitwell.
What about the Bus? They were probably our favorite upside team going into Columbus and struggled in two Dreambreaker losses before winning their third Dreambreaker against the Chimeras. However, it could have been a different story altogether for the Bus, who blew a 20-11 lead in mixed with Barr/Lange over Kawamoto/Ignatowich to defeat the Ranchers on Friday. Notably, Stratman/Barr were the only team in two events to beat Bright/Kawamoto.
You also had the Mad Drops and Team Clean both making the elimination round for the first time, with big swing moves. The Mad Drops acquiring Julian Arnold and Lee Whitwell, and Clean picking up Federico Staksrud.
Although the format of MLP is changing with a regular season and 3 more events, I have to think there will be more of an emphasis placed on upside for the 2023 draft. Outside of the playoffs for the top 8 teams at the final event of 2023, where the payouts go $25,000 per player for 1st, $15,000 for 2nd, $10,000 for 3rd and 4th, and $5,000 for 5th through 8th, the big money comes from getting 1st or 2nd place in the Team Match Final for each regular season event ($10K and $5K per player). The structure still emphasizes how important it is not to be stuck in the middle. With a top 8 appearance only paying out $5,000 each player guaranteed, there should be a lot of incentive on owners to figure out a way to get to the top.
As much as we talk about upside, we can’t forget that BLQK was the ultimate upside group as the only team to make zero transactions in 2022. They picked two very steady, if unspectacular, players with their #1 selections in Irina Tereschenko and Zane Navratil, but paired those rock-solid players with not fully realized, high potential talent individuals in Parris Todd and Rafa Hewett. In our draft grades, we wrote that Parris “may very well be the steal of the draft”, but we were more reticent about the Rafa Hewett selection. Hewett more than proved his worth across the 3 events and showed the hot and cold nature of his play actually fits in pretty nicely for this MLP format. The early upside selections paid off massively for BLQK.
Calculated upside swings are not always going to work. Teams who take this approach will have to accept that there is a real possibility of it backfiring in a big way. At the same time, it’s not like these teams are being run by General Managers who have to constantly balance the long-term best interests of the team with their short-term job security. There’s no reason for ownership groups to shy away from taking some risks. At the end of the day, the owners are only accountable to themselves.
Overall, MLP Columbus was a win for upside thinking and I believe it will be a serious mistake for owners who do not carry that mentality into the 2023 MLP season.
4. Lights, Camera, Action (Gritty) – Being receptive to feedback is something we all expect others should be able to do, but it is not all that often it happens at a level that is needed. People in positions of power often are in those positions because they believe they know what is best. Think about how well a lot of tournament directors take feedback from its participants. One of the best things about Major League Pickleball is that they truly seem to want feedback and they try to implement that feedback into their product.
While MLP had some issues with the production side of things at their last event in Newport, some of which was to no fault of their own, it was very apparent that MLP has listened to the criticism and taken steps to improve their product. The most significant improvement surrounded the video challenges. We have written about it numerous times on the blog that, in general, we had major concerns with their reliability with the reviews happening from camera angles not directly on the line. MLP implemented a challenge system for its first MLP event in 2021 and the PPA has had regular challenges for center court matches on and off for a good chunk of time.
Outside of the CBS Sports finals broadcast, MLP had Boxcar Productions doing all its production stuff for MLP this time around. Lo and behold, we had cameras right on the lines for the video challenges in Columbus, which made an immense difference to the reliability of the review system. Not only did Boxcar have cameras down the lines, the players and spectators at the venue could see the review in real time with the on-court video screen (similar to how tennis players can see the Hawkeye challenges in the stadium). It made for a much more professional and dependable challenge system. As difficult as it may be from a budget standpoint to consistently have the cameras on the line setup, the standard has now officially been set for how video challenge systems should be operated in pickleball.
From a viewing standpoint, I will continue to bang the drum that the optimal angle for watching a pickleball match is from directly behind one side of the court rather than a side of the court angle. However, I also understand other people seem to like some of these side or kitchen angles. Even though I wasn’t terribly happy with the use of different angles, I thought the production team did a fantastic job with the number of different camera angles they had for replays as well as even having cameras on spectators of note like Julie Johnson or the Hard Eights team owners.
Highlighting the great use of camera angles and top notch camera work was one very key play during the semi-finals of the Clean vs. BLQK match. Federico Staksrud was convinced a ball went off of Rafa Hewett’s arm during a rally rather than his wrist. While Rafa was adamantly trying to show Staksrud the mark the ball left on his hand, Team Clean challenged the call. The broadcast had one camera angle that showed the ball clearly hitting Rafa’s hand as opposed to his arm (Foster Keirn was the one responsible for the camera work and I only know this because his Dad responded to our Twitter account on this. Shout out to all the proud Dad’s).
The Hewett-Staksrud hand question demonstrates how far pickleball production has come as we now have all these different angles that allowed us to turn a potential controversy into a complete non-issue.
One negative comment I have is that I was not a huge fan of the split screen showing the replay vs. the live action. Understanding that they are trying to find creative ways to show replays during the very limited 10 seconds or so in between points, I think they had to be more careful to avoid the split screen when the match was at a very important moment. Where the match is getting down to the wire, I’m far less concerned with a replay than I am with seeing what happens with the 19-18 point. It’s a minor gripe of mine for a feature that was brand new for the production crew and one that I’m sure they’ll be looking to improve upon next time around. I like the idea of the split screen but there were times that I simply wanted to see the action.
All in all, a really good job on the production side of things for MLP.
5. Bidding Adieu to the Best Format in Pickleball (Slim) – It seems undeniable that at this point, MLP offers the most fun, exciting and viewer friendly format. Color us a broken record. The live crowds are by all accounts the most energized in pickleball and that is not surprising. The team aspect creates more passion and intensity for the players themselves, and that, in turn, seems to be passed on to the fans.
I know from a personal perspective, I am much more engaged watching MLP at home than I am watching any other pickleball event. Once I start watching a match, I pretty much have to watch it to the end. Whereas most of the time when watching streams of tournaments, I find it easy to leave and get on with my day. Part of this could be due to the novelty of MLP and the team event, and I don’t think it is something I would probably want to see 32 weeks a year, but I think unique format and team aspect does just make it more compelling.
We can’t help but worry with the new MLP format next year whether this same enthusiasm and passion will carry over. Will the team aspect be as exciting and compelling, and will players care as much when it is the team aspect is the fourth day of events? We understand why MLP is making the switch but that does not mean we can’t be sad to see the original format go.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too!
14 thoughts on “Major League Pickleball (MLP) Columbus – 5 Takeaways – Irina and Parris Reign Supreme”
Thank you very much for your time and posting. Yes, you can thank me for all the quality video at this event. I must have complained about every little advertisement that MLP posted. Every event before this was horrible, even their advertisements were horrible. So congratulations MLP. And to BoxCar Productions, IN & OUT burgers for everyone when you get to Mesa in November. No, really!
I’ll disagree with you, this quality video will only be seen on MLP. You can pretty much forget about seeing this kind of camera work, this kind of quality, and this kind of additional line cameras on ANY of the other tour groups. Even though BoxCar works with APP, I don’t think APP will splurge for it. For sure not PPA, they pretty much do the minimum, and USAPA, who knows what they are doing. Too many ego chiefs.
Yes, too bad they are changing a winning format. But maybe next year’s format will be even better. They can always go back.
It is too bad for sure
I totally agree that MLP is exciting to watch. I am also more inclined to stay engaged throughout the matches. Additionally I like seeing Paris Todd on the sidelines cheering, jumping, and completely invested in her partners battles to win a point and game. Bravo to Boxcar, as always outstanding coverage. They only get better and better. I also like live coverage from behind the service line with a small mix of mid court at the net viewing. I strongly dislike split screen replay action when crucial points are in play. Permissible perhaps early in a game but never at match point. Otherwise perfection. Sadly I could not watch the finals on CBS sports. Is there any chance the coverage could be broadcast the following day on MLP YouTube? I feel totally out of the loop.👍😉
1. “clean slate draft” To be fair to the new owners, I’d be expecting MLP to say a team’s draft order is impacted by franchising a player. So the new owners would have first picks in the draft if all current team owners decide to franchise. And maybe their draft order drops if that is 2 players instead of 1 franchised player. Just speculation.
3. I hope the team owners start a bidding war for the services of Gritty and Slim for the draft!
4. Cameras. I loved all the cameras at Columbus. Obviously, the indoor venue helped a lot. But certainly they have set a standard for all forthcoming tournaments. I don’t expect it can always be like Columbus as championship courts can have tight spacing. Plus there’s probably a trade-off between putting up a camera or letting paying spectators view the court (we know which PPA will choose).
Another thing that kept us glued to our seats is that they didn’t break to commercial on every time out. I have gotten so used to it that I was getting ready to get up and do something on each time out. But many times they kept rolling and showed the team discussing strategy or third parties come up to join the team or audience shots, etc. That really kept the continuity going for interest and excitement in the home viewers. IMHO.
Having the cameras on the lines made the challenge resolutions very fast too!
5. 2023 Format. One critical area to keep fans interested until the last championship game of the season is how well MLP “recaps” what has happened in the past events. They were not consistent with this in their broadcast. Sometimes they’d throw up a chart showing what had happened in past matches to get to point “A” but not always. I think it will be critical in 2023. Fans may miss an event and need to catch up. Or they may be late in joining the MLP train and not understand what has gone before. And there will be someone who somehow has missed the news on the new format and won’t understand it’s leading up to a big finale.
So MLP – start figuring out the charts and graphs that will be needed – during the broadcast and for website – so we can follow along how team X got to point Y. Then use them 100% of the time.
But we’ll always have NML to help us out. Thank you.
Oh yes, surely they will have something sorted out to make draft order fair if a player is franchised
We’re still free agents and willing to field calls
Camera work was top notch
They still have work to do on results with their website, socials and during broadcasts. It’s hard for people to keep up and now you’re adding all 16 teams playing different teams in one day
Interesting to see how upside plays a role in these drafts, because in pickleball more so than any other sport, the level of players changes dramatically throughout the year.
Parris being taken that late on the draft ended up being a cheat code. Will this lead to other teams looking to draft high upside potential players over more proven commodities?
If I’m drafting next year, I’m thinking about the full year ahead and not just the present.
This’ll make it interesting to see where players get picked! For example, if both Federico Staksrud and Collin Johns are on the board and I have to choose between them, it’s a no brainer to take Staksrud because of the upside. Will Christian Alshon get picked before a guy like Erik Lange? You can bet that’d be a good decision. Alshon significantly better at singles, will be better at mixed in 3 weeks, and will be better or similar at mens halfway through the year.
That’s the other thing we didn’t note. How fast players improve was underestimated by us in this new sport. It’s a balance between potential and what can be realized in a short amount of time. With 6 amounts, it has to be about the entire year. Those types of decisions will be very interesting
Agree, the challenge set up was insanely good… and so necessary with this much money on the line.
I also wonder if it’ll change player’s behavior a bit; like, is it sinking in how often their perception is wrong, especially if their wrongness is on full display to the whole audience and viewership? (Putting aside the fact that some of the challenges were clear Hail Mary’s on the last point of the gam.)
It may start to. The biggest ones are the foot faults. It’s one that refs rarely get wrong when they call it and players need to accept their feet sometimes do weird things. Some wasted foot fault
Florida smash had the best player in the event — by far. and only came close to winning one out of three MLPs this year. and they were lucky to even be in that final. Unfortunately their team was unbalanced. This leads me to surmise that female players are the most valued commodity in MLP. Why is that? Well the female field is thinner. that means if you have good F players, you stand a good chance of winning the 1st match, which statistically has proven to be influential. Second, Ben Johns is on record as saying that the better female player in mixed usually wins in mixed. All of this is to say that owners need to focus more on upping the caliber of female players on their teams.
The #2 female is probably the most important commodity in pickleball. Smash went with two middle of the road women and, while they got to one final, they switched after Newport. Clean also had two middle of road women and struggled other than this final event as Staksrud played very well. You can’t be taking Regina and Michelle or Lee and Maggie as it provides no upside. Those middle spots are the toughest but better to take a swing than end up with no one who is that good. The Lions went Bobbi and Carr originally
Thanks for the shout out! This was Foster Keirns’ (age 17) first event ever and first of hopefully many with BoxCar. Thanks to Kyle Selinko and Randy Coleman for taking a chance on someone they had never seen work.
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