As Season 2 of 2023 kicks off in Atlanta, we take a look at the teams and what to watch and why.
Bouncers, Breakers, Squeeze and Ranchers make up the weakest division as far as we can tell. But we expect the Bay Area Breakers to play their way to the top of this division.
Parris Todd, Simone Jardim, Hunter Johnson, Pablo Tellez
The Bouncers have received the least amount of love for their draft choices, but team chemistry, which we know is an important factor, is as strong with this team as any in the league. Parris Todd was absent from season one, opting out of playing MLP, where she has spent most of the first half of the year playing APP events, and dominating women’s doubles with her partner on the court, Simone Jardim.
Hunter Johnson, Parris’s partner on and off the court, has had more success on the singles side of APP than on the doubles, even when playing with Parris or his twin brother Yates. Last season, Hunter played in the Challenger league and showed signs of greatness, even being called up to play on the Mad Drops when Thomas Wilson was injured.
Pablo Tellez has been steadily improving his game on the PPA tour, partnering with Federico Staksrud and claiming three silvers and a bronze in men’s doubles as well as a couple of podiums for singles as well. But neither of these males have proven their dominance in mixed doubles and will be something to look out for when teams are facing the Atlanta Bouncers.
Keys to success: Hunter Johnson and Parris Todd have to win together. If they can’t win games together, it will be a very long week for Atlanta, in Atlanta.
Bay Area Breakers
Lea Jansen, Etta Wright, Connor Garnett, Rafa Hewett
We like this team. Connor, who played last season in the Challenger league, is as hot as anyone on tour. His singles game is fantastic and his doubles has been improving steadily. He has yet to break through in mixed, but with Etta and Lea on the team, he will have as talented a female partner as he could hope for.
Rafa Hewett is built for MLP, his energy and antics are exactly what works best in this team environment. The lefty is also a perfect right side player for Connor to showcase his mobility and poach from the left.
Both Etta and Lea are incredibly talented in both singles and doubles. Lea has something to prove, after last season’s pairing with Anna Leigh on The 5’s didn’t see the results she would have hoped. But with the calming force of Etta by her side, we have high hopes this team wins this division and makes a strong run into the playoffs.
Keys to success: As the first round pick Lea has something to prove. She and Etta need to dominate as the best female pairing in this division. Rafa brings a ton of energy, we hope he can play Yin to Lea’s Yang.
Anna Bright, Rachel Rohrbacher, Andrei Daescu, Zane Navratil
Anna Bright is the strongest female in this division, but we will have to see if the Rachel Rohrbacher pick pays off or not. Rohrbacher is a new name to MLP, with little experience at the pro level. She has a strong tennis background having played collegiately at University of South Carolina. She has good movement, plays aggressively and hits the ball as hard as any female we have seen. It will be interesting to see how the females play together and if Rachel can hang with the top talent females of the Premier league.
Andrei Daescu has been playing APP tournaments and has been as dominant as any male on that tour. How APP dominance translates to playing with the best of MLP is yet to be seen.
Zane Navritil has not had the success we are accustomed to seeing from him. Playing exclusively on the PPA Tour this year he has only a single podium, a bronze in mixed with Susannah Barr back in April.
It will be interesting to see what the mixed pairings will look like for the Squeeze, but if we were to see an Anna/Andrei pairing, that should be as dominant a team as there is in this division.
Keys to success: Rachel Rohrbacher needs to play the way Anna Bright believes she will. If she can deliver on what Anna sees in her game, this team has a shot.
Dylan Frazier, Jorja Johnson, Lauren Stratman, Travis Rettenmeier
Dillon Frazier is the strongest player in this division. His doubles play, both mixed and men’s is better than anyone he will be on the court with. His ability to play either the left or the right gives Travis Rettenmeier some flexibility and the ability to change things up if an opponent is giving them trouble.
Jorja Johnson, who is very familiar with Dylan’s game as his regular partner on tour is her older brother, JW. Jorja has been steadily improving in all aspects of her game and is one of the few females with the hand speed to compete across from males at this level. She has been playing pickleball long enough, and with enough high pressure reps, to feel confident she will be a force even though she is only 16 years old.
Rounding out this team is Lauren Stratman. A year ago, we weren’t sure Lauren would have even been in Premier, but she has had a resurgence ever since switching paddles and picking up a Selkirk. Not to say the paddle switch is what made the difference, but something changed. She looks like she is in better shape, her body language on the court has improved, and when she is playing with confidence, which she is, she is as dangerous as any of these females in this division.
*UPDATE: As of noon on Wednesday, reports are Lauren Stratman will not be attending MLP in Atlanta. While this is not ideal for the Ranchers, there are enough quality females in the Challenger group to not make this a complete disaster. The Ranchers would no doubt be better off with Stratman than Pisnik, Radzikowska, or Barr, but the fact they are unable to practice together puts them at a distinct disadvantage. Depending on who is available will determine if the Ranchers make it through pool play.
Keys to success: Travis Rettemeier is the key to this team’s success. We have seen Travis play some of his best pickleball at MLP events. If he plays the way we have seen him play, athletic and active, this team can go all the way.
Bay Area Breakers
This is by far the most competitive division, with 3 of the top 4 picks including Ben Johns, Anna Leigh Waters, and Riley Newman. We are predicting the Utah Black Diamonds to find a way and win this division.
Ben Johns, Jessie Irvine, Lacy Schneemann, Eric Lange
Ben Johns is a cheat code. Just having that name on a roster makes this Slice team the odds on favorite to win. But that being said, we aren’t crazy about this team’s construction. Ben being the first pick means Eric Lange was the last pick of Premier. Lange is a big body who is also quite athletic. He will be asked to play the right when playing with Ben, which isn’t as easy as Collin makes it appear.
The females are the unknown for us on this squad, no one was hotter than Lacy Schneemann back when this draft took place, but her success has not continued at the same rate as we had seen. Jessie has had some injuries to overcome, but she is not the dominant force she was a year ago. All this being said, playing alongside Ben Johns can do wonders for your confidence and it might just be what these women need in order to get their games back on track.
Keys to success: If Irvine gets fired up, we like the Slice’s chances. Jessie is as intense as anyone on the court, but with the calm demeanor of Johns’ dictating the mood, we think it is important for her to set the tone and get locked in.
Dallas Pickleball Club
James Ignatowich, Callie Smith, Allyce Jones, Jay DeVilliers
James Ignatowich is another one of the top males who are being asked to carry the weight of being a first round pick. Ignatowich, who played on the 5’s last season, was the second round pick behind Anna Leigh Waters. So how Ignatowich deals with this pressure and is able to play alongside his female counterpart will be interesting to see. He has all the talent in the world, which we see week in and week out on the PPA tour, where he plays alongside Anna Bright and Tyson McGuffin.
Jay DeVilliers dropped all the way down to the last round, making him a steal, even if he is not playing at the top of his game. Jay is typically a left side player and James has proven to be an excellent right sider. But being posted up on the right might be just what DeVilliers needs to get back on track and let ‘Jimmy’ loose on the left to be one of the most athletic and long players we have in MLP.
Callie Smith brings all the talent and experience you could want. Her defense is legendary and partnering with Allyce will be exciting to watch. Allyce plays full contact pickleball. Her effort on the court is second to none. It would be very interesting to see Ignatowich and Jones team up as I am not sure any team would be able to match their athleticism.
Keys to success: James needs to be the alpha and put this team on his shoulders. His energy is infectious. He is becoming a dominant force and this feels like the stage for him to show the world just how good he can be.
DC Pickleball Club
Riley Newman, Jackie Kawamoto, Jade Kawamoto, Christian Alshon
This team has as much talent as any team in Premier. BUT… how they will play together is a question mark. Newman is the most talented player in the world outside of Ben Johns, but his unorthodox style requires a particular partner to compliment him. I’m not convinced Christian Alshon is that player.
Alshon, who has as much upside as anyone in the game, might be even more athletic than Newman, seeing how these two competitors play alongside one another will be incredibly fun to watch, one way or another.
The Kawamoto twins might be the most solid female duo in Premier. Jackie is a righty and Jade is a lefty, it’s as if they were born for this game… but they don’t always get along so well on the court. So that will be something to watch out for. I would also be interested to see which of the sisters plays with Riley, most likely Jackie, leaving Jade, the natural right side player to play the more conventional role with Alshon.
If this team can figure out how to play well together and what the best matchups are, they will be a formidable team, but this division is stacked.
Keys to success: Can Riley play with Christian. Simple as that. Is there enough court for the two of them? These guys are both alphas, how will the younger Alshon manage his emotions with the unconventional and aggressive Newman. If it works, they are as talented as anyone.
Also to note: We believe there is an inverse correlation to watch out for here. The more tweeners Alshon hits, the less chance they have of winning. If he can keep his tweener reflex below three for the tournament, they have a shot. More than three and the eye rolls from Newman could result in an injury.
Utah Black Diamonds
Anna Leigh Waters, Irina Tereschenko, Thomas Wilson, AJ Koller
If this team was in any other division, they would be the clear favorite. Anna Leigh is the most dominant female in the world, Irina Tereschenko is arguably the greatest MLP format player of all time, and the team of cousins AJ Koller and Thomas Wilson is top level PPA pairing.
Unfortunately they will have to compete against the other top picks in the draft, but I wouldn’t bet against the Black Diamonds.
Anna Leigh has yet to dominate MLP like she has the PPA Tour, which makes sense given the format. But as competitive as Anna Leigh is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her announce her presence with authority. Playing with Tereschenko should work well for both their games as Irina can play the right and let Anna Leigh swing away on the left.
Koller was a surprise to still be available in the fourth round, and while he might not be playing his best pickleball at the moment, pairing up with Thomas Wilson is an ideal scenario that will see this team compete against some of the best in the game.
Keys to success: Anna Leigh has to assert her dominance. We know she is the best female in the world. But at the tender age of sixteen, can she be a leader of a team full of adults? Or if not a leader just yet, is she mature enough to delegate this role? Watch out for the interactions with her mother, Leigh Waters, who is also the coach of the Black Diamonds. It’s a complicated role she plays as mother, confidant, and coach to the team.
Utah Black Diamonds
DC Pickleball Club
Dallas Pickleball Club
This division is up for grabs. Lots of unknowns here, but we are predicting that the Miami Pickleball Club rises to the occasion and wins this division.
Julian Arnold, Vivian David, Dekel Bar, Vivian Glozman
Julian Arnold has made his name at MLP. His screams of “Andiamo” will one day echo through the halls of MLP’s Hall of Fame. But this will be the first MLP where Julian is the lead dog on his team. The first round pick puts some pressure on Arnold to carry more of the weight this time around. But if there is one thing Julian has proven to revel in, it is pressure. We are excited to watch Julian in Atlanta, there might not be a more exciting player to watch in all of the Premier league.
Vivian David is equally fun to watch, but nothing like the swirl of energy from Arnold. Instead, David brings a sense of joy to everything she does. Her smile radiates and her positive energy has a tangible effect on all her partners. I would expect Vivian to play alongside Dekel in mixed since they have a history of playing together, but if she were to partner with Julian, we just might see some magic.
The other Vivian, Glozman is a relative newcomer to the game. She has a strong tennis background, having played collegiately at University of California-Berkeley and is built different than most of the females she will be facing off against. Her size and power are impressive, it will be interesting to see how opponents attack her and if she is able to withstand the inevitable onslaught she is going to see.
Dekel Bar has not had the success lately that we have come to expect from the big Israeli, but we are excited to see what he and Arnold can do together. Dekel on the right, playing a more conservative role might be a recipe for success and allow Arnold to play loose.
UPDATE: As of Wednesday at noon EST, Julian Arnold is not attending MLP in Atlanta. This is subject to change as we know there are efforts to have him in attendance. It is not known what the dispute is that is keeping him out, but regardless of the issue, he has not been participating with the team up to this point, leaving the AZ Drive without their leader. Even if Arnold does attend, the damage has been done and the team that needed to be firing on all cylinders to make it out of pool play will most likely finish in the cellar. We have AZ Drive dropping to last place in this pool.
Keys to success: Is Vivian Glozman ready for this? If she is, this team has a chance. If she’s not, she is going to see a steady diet of balls that will let us know just how ready she is.
Catherine Parenteau, Andrea Koop, Haydn Patriquin, Tyler Loong
This is one of the teams that looks different after the MLP/PPA split and merger. Catherine Parenteau is the most dominant female in this division, but her and Tyler Loong both went with PPA while Andrea Koop was vocal advocate for MLP. I don’t see any real issues with the breakup/merger to have an impact on the MLP event, but if any team was going to deal with one, this would be the team.
Catherine and Andrea should be a dominant duo, but both players wear their emotions on their sleeve, it will be interesting to see how they play together.
No one was as hot in the last MLP event in California as the hometown kid, Haydn Patriquin. The teenager showed off his quick hands and swagger as he partnered incredibly well with James Ignatowich. It will be interesting to see how he and Loong partner with each playing their strong sides as Loong is a lefty. Loong, who played alongside Ben Johns on the winning Seattle team last MLP will have a different role this time out. It will be interesting to see how Loong partners with the energetic Patriquin.
Keys to success: Can this team bond? The team construction and chemistry, feels like it was an afterthought. But the talent is certainly there. I will be watching the body language of this squad closely.
Columbus Pickleball Club
JW Johnson, Meghan Dizon, Maggie Brascia, Collin Johns
JW Johnson is the best player in this division, on paper. But he has not had the success you would expect from a player of his caliber at MLP so far. The soft-spoken Johnson will be expected to be a leader on this team, it will be very interesting to see if he has that skillset or defaults to the more seasoned and older Collin Johns to play that role. Collin was most likely taken over Johnson’s training partner Gabe Tardio in the fourth round for his maturity and pickleball acumen.
Johns is the best right side doubles player in the world. Pairing up with Johnson should be a dream, particularly for Johnson.
Meghan Dizon has emerged as a dominant player on the PPA Tour. She also won the last MLP event in Newport alongside Collin’s baby brother, Ben.
Maggie Brascia had her coming out party last MLP season in Florida where she played some of the best pickleball we have ever seen. Staring down Anna Leigh Waters and giving back everything that was thrown at her. We have not seen Dizon and Brascia play together before, but if Brascia is able to lock down the right and let Dizon be aggressive on the left, this team will be dangerous.
Keys to success: Will Collin Johns be the leader this team needs? Even if JW steps up, can Collin support him to be that leader? This team is only as successful as Collin Johns is invested in and committed to winning.
Miami Pickleball Club
Federico Staksrud, Tyson McGuffin, Hurricane Tyra Black, *Mary Brascia
The self proclaimed “King of Miami,” Tyson McGuffin should be loving this team. Federico Staksrud is coming off a Gold Medal performance in Cincinnati at the PPA after knocking off Ben Johns. Two weeks before that Tyson was standing atop the podium in all the events as he triple crowned for the first time. These guys are as hot as anyone on tour and will present a problem for anyone that comes in their way.
Hurricane Tyra Black has been just as hot after knocking Anna Leigh Waters out of singles back in Southern California at the PPA Takeya Open. She has medaled in both Women’s and Mixed since then as well.
Mary Brascia has as much talent as anyone and personality-wise, seems like a great fit for this team. If Brascia is healthy and can play to her potential, this very well might be the team to watch out for in this division.
*UPDATE: Mary Brascia is out due to an illness. We hope she recovers quickly, but Miami will now have to plug in a different player into this spot. Depending on who is available, names like Pisnik, Radzikowska, and Barr should be available and could potentially be very little drop off in play for Miami.
Keys to success: Is Mary Brascia healthy? And if so, can she rise to the occasion? Can the rest of the team remain hot? Tyson loves the limelight. Fed and Tyra have proved they are worthy of it.
Miami Pickleball Club
Columbus Pickleball Club