MLP - Major League Pickleball

Thursday – Sept. 21 

Day 1 Recap 

Good evening from Peachtree Corners, Georgia! Below is a quick recap of the first day of MLP Atlanta, featuring Challenger Level Group Stage Play.

The California BLQK Bears, New Jersey 5s, New York Hustlers, and Seattle Pioneers advanced to Friday’s Challenger Quarterfinals, while the SoCal Hard Eights and Las Vegas Night Owls secured byes and will return for Challenger Semifinals on Friday afternoon.

Read on for Thursday’s highlights. 

Group A Matches – Frisco (0-3), Milwaukee (2-1), New Jersey (2-1), New York (2-1)

To start the morning on Championship Court, the New Jersey 5s bounced back from an 0-2 deficit against the Frisco Pandas and definitively won the match with a 21-9 Dreambreaker debut. John Cincola put up 7 of 8 points against Ryler DeHeart during that fifth game. 

Over on Grandstand Court, former Championship teammates Jillian Braverman and Christa Gecheva battled each other in the opening game of the New York Hustlers vs. the Milwaukee Mashers. The Hustlers’ Braverman and Sarah Ansboury won in a nail-biting 22-20 victory. New York assuredly closed things out, taking the match 3 games to 1.

Next in the group play line-up, the NY Hustlers and Frisco Pandas started off with two heated games. After being hit with a serve from Bobbi Oshiro, Braverman propelled the Hustlers to a 23-21 Women’s Doubles win, which foreshadowed their Men’s Doubles 27-25 overtime finish. The Pandas (Oshiro/Andre Mick) held off the Hustlers in the first Mixed Doubles game (Ansboury/Kyle Yates), but ultimately it wasn’t enough for the firepower of Braverman and Juame Martinez Vich with New York taking the match 3 games to 1. 

Meanwhile on Court 4, a little trash talk was exchanged in the Men’s Doubles match between the New Jersey 5s and Milwaukee Mashers. The Mashers’ DJ Young and Pesa Teoni shot two back-to-back bodybags on Cincola, which did not sway the 5s from taking the win, 21-18. Fans and the New Jersey bench joined in on trading words in the final Mixed Doubles Match. Young turned up the heat on his returns and put the match away for the Mashers, who walked away with 3 game wins.

Back on Grandstand Court, Gecheva and Rianna Valdes of the Milwaukee Mashers overpowered the Pandas’ Martina Frantova and Oshiro for a 21-15 Women’s Doubles finish. Nearly mirroring that result, Teoni/Young took the Men’s Doubles game 21-16, during which Mick saved a jaw-dropping ATP shot for Frisco. Mick used that energy to battle back with Oshiro to win the first Mixed Doubles game, 23-21. Inspired by the comeback, DeHeart and Frantova forced a Dreambreaker. The fifth game was tight and thrilling with Mick sailing a serve way out to go behind 18-20. The Mashers closed out the Dreambreaker 21-18, ending the match with a 3-2 win. 

For their final match of the day, the New Jersey 5s took down the New York Hustlers over the course of four close games, closing out the match 3 games to 1. Both teams secured spots in the next round.

Group B Matches Austin (1-2), California (2-1), Florida (0-3), Las Vegas (3-0) 

On Court 3, the Las Vegas Night Owls defeated the Florida Smash 3-1. The match really heated up in the first Mixed Doubles game, when Spencer Smith/Susannah Barr of Vegas were up 20-14 and Brendon Long/Michelle Esquivel of the Smash fought back to win it 24-22 after capitalizing on Vegas’ foot fault on game point. In the fourth game, the Night Owls (Yates Johnson/Emily Ackerman) ended the match with a 21-13 victory over the Smash (Collin Shick/Dominique Schaefer). 

On Court 4, the California BLQK Bears faced off with the Austin Pickleballers. California took an early and sustained 3-0 match lead after two back-to-back overtime finishes (both 22-20) in Men’s and Women’s Doubles. A highlight reel came in the third game when the Bears’ Tina Pisnik perfectly executed a backhand Erne to give the BLQK Bears a 20-10 advantage. The ATX Pickleballers didn’t go down without a fight and avoided a sweep, as Daniel De La Rosa and Tammaryn Emmrich took the final game 21-15.

Taking Group B play over to the Grandstand, the Las Vegas Night Owls and ATX Pickleballers traded wins in Women’s Doubles (Ackerman/Barr) and Men’s Doubles (De La Rosa/Ben Newell) before a tense first Mixed Doubles game ended with blue cards for both teams. Ultimately, Vegas came out on top in both Mixed Doubles games, posting a 3-1 match victory. 

In a dominant showing on Championship Court, Tina Pisnik and Alix Truong of the California BLQK Bears came out swinging against Esquivel and Schaefer of the Florida Smash with a crushing 21-5 Women’s Doubles victory. The Smash regained some ground in Mixed Doubles with Esquivel/Long clawing their way back from a 15-20 deficit to win the third game 24-22. The BLQK Bears remained victorious taking the final game for a match result of 3-1. 

In their last match of group play, Spencer Smith’s flying Erne gave Las Vegas an 18-16 lead in Men’s Doubles, which put the hammer on California storming back after the Bears were down 5-14 against the Owls. In the women’s match-up, Pisnik and Truong coasted to a 21-10 victory to level the match at one game apiece. In another swing of the pendulum, the first Mixed Doubles game was tied at 17 when Marshall Brown took a 15-minute medical timeout due to cramping. He toughed it out and returned to the match, but ultimately, Barr and Smith took the match point for Vegas against Brown and Truong. In the end, the Night Owls came out on top in a decisive Dreambreaker, where the women shined bright in their singles match-ups (Ackerman won 6 of 8 points and Barr won 5 of 8 points).

To close things out on Court 3, the ATX Pickleballers took on the Florida Smash for their final court appearances of the tournament. Austin’s De La Rosa kept his hands hot at the net, which proved to be an unstoppable part of his and Newell’s “drive and crash the net” strategy as they took the win in Men’s Doubles. Esquivel and Schaefer responded by reigning triumphant for the Smash in Women’s Doubles. This fired up ATX to rally back and avoid a Dreambreaker, as they put up back-to-back wins in Mixed Doubles for a 3-1 match victory. 

Group C Matches LA (0-3), Seattle (2-1), SoCal (3-0), St. Louis (1-2)

Continuing the exhilaration on Championship Court and posting one of the longest overtime scores of the day, the ladies of the LA Mad Drops (Brooke Buckner/Olivia McMillan) went head-to-head against the St. Louis Shock (Judit Castillo Gargallo/Genie Erokhina), with the Shock taking the game 27-25. The LA Mad Drops responded by taking both Mixed Doubles wins after losing the first two games. The Shock rallied and succeeded in their quest to win the Dreambreaker. 

The SoCal Hard Eights and the Seattle Pioneers showed down on Grandstand Court, with the Eights pocketing the Women’s Doubles victory, 21-18, followed by the Pioneers tight Men’s Doubles win, 23-21. Ultimately, the Eights ran away with it in Mixed Doubles and took the match 3-1. 

On Court 4, Megan Fudge and Lina Padegimaite put on a pickleball clinic on behalf of the Seattle Pioneers, cruising their way to a 21-9 victory against the LA Mad Drops. The Pioneers (Wesley Burrows/Pat Smith) continued to match that energy with a Men’s Doubles win, but then split the remaining Mixed Doubles games. After a few early miscommunication issues in the fourth game, Fudge and Burrows reigned it in to take the match for Seattle, 3-1. 

Over on Court 3, the St. Louis Shock and SoCal Hard Eights kept the competitive energy flowing. The Shock’s Castillo Gargallo finished off the first game in dramatic fashion as she body-bagged SoCal’s Ewa Radzikowska on an around-the-post shot. Todd Fought and CJ Klinger of the Hard Eights leveled the match 1-1 after Men’s Doubles, coming from behind and going on a 6-0 run to win 23-21. In the first Mixed Doubles game, the Eights’ Klinger and Radzikowska held off a comeback attempt from Rob Nunnery and Genie Erokhina to give SoCal a 2-1 match advantage. In the end, Fought and Newell held down a 3-1 match win for the Hard Eights with a decisive 21-14 conclusion. 

Putting the grand in Grandstand for the final Dreambreaker match of the day, Erokhina came out firing for the Shock, edging out the Pioneers in a 21-18 Women’s Doubles victory alongside Castillo Gargallo. The Pioneers Men’s Doubles duo of Burrows/Smith answered aggressively with a 21-14 victory in the next game. Erokhina/Martin Emmrich found all the angles to secure a 21-12 Shock win in the first Mixed Doubles game. Burrows/Fudge forced a Dreambreaker after a fun-to-watch 21-19 win for the Pioneers, which gave them the momentum to win it all in the fifth game.

In the final match of the day on Championship Court, the SoCal Hard Eights swept the LA Mad Drops 4 games to 0 — the first sweep of the tournament! This win stamped SoCal’s ticket to the Challenger Level Semifinal on Friday.

*article is courtesy of Major League Pickleball