Chicago Slices Through Orlando To Take The Major League Pickleball Super Final Title

The 2023 Major League Pickleball (MLP) season is in the books. After a year filled with turmoil, coups, mergers, and staff upheaval, the planned 6th event was abandoned in favor of a two-day “Super Finals” event featuring the season’s top teams competing for the overall title in San Clemente. It represented a couple of extra days for the PPA tour elite (who just finished up their final 2023 season event at the same venue a couple of days prior) and represented a challenging travel schedule for the APP touring pros, who had to scramble to get to California after finishing off their own season in Chicago earlier on Sunday afternoon.

Key Links for tracking the event this weekend, which featured livestreams of all four concurrent courts on MLP’s YouTube channel and its semis and finals broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday XX/XX/XXXX

Premier League Playoffs Recap

The Premier League playoffs featured a double elimination bracket that pitted the season’s clear-cut best teams (DC and Orlando) against each other first, and the two next best teams (Chicago and Miami) afterwards. The loser of the first DC/Orlando tie would face the winner of Chicago/Miami to play for the finals on Tuesday.

In the first Premier league playoff match, the Orlando Squeeze faced off against the DC Pickleball Team for the third time this season, and captured a shocking sweep. Orlando squeaked by DC 3-2 in MLP Atlanta after saving match points against in game three, then got wiped out 3-0 in the MLP Dallas final, leading one to believe that DC was the favorite heading into this match. However, Orlando had something to say about the situation, sweeping gender doubles and then finishing off the tie with Zane Navratil & Rachel Rohrabacher taking out Riley Newman & Jade Kawamoto 21-17 in the first mixed match. A great result that advances Orlando to the title match on Tuesday. DC falls into the “loser’s bracket” to face the winner of Chicago & Miami.

Chicago, which features Ben Johns, was many pundit’s favorite heading into this season, but fell early in the playoffs in each of the first two events of season 2. That was enough to get them into the season ending playoffs though, and they came out on Monday to make a statement against Miami. After dropping a close men’s doubles tie, their two ladies Jessie Irvine and Lacy Schneemann blew out Miami’s Mary Brascia & Hurricane Tyra Black 21-14. Irvine continued her dominance, teaming with Ben Johns to trounce Brascia & Tyson McGuffin 21-11 in the first mixed match. Chicago’s #2 mixed team then completed the dominant comeback, with Erik Lange & Schneemann teaming up to cruise past Black and Federico Staksrud 21-15 to complete the win.

This setup a grudge match between two of the top Men’s players in the sport. Riley Newman’s DC team versus Ben Johns’ Chicago team. DC came out firing, with the steady Kawamoto sisters kicking things off with a workman-like women’s doubles win over Irvine & Schneemann 21-19. Newman and Alshon then followed that up with a comprehensive 21-14 win over Johns & Lange, a shocking result that seemingly wrapped up the win for DC. However, the tides turned for DC, as they went on to lose both mixed matches by the slimmest of margins (22-20 and 21-19) setting up a fascinating DreamBreaker to determine the finalist.

Chicago went into the DreamBreaker with the clear personnel advantage: I’m unaware of the last time I even remember seeing either Kawamoto sister in a singles competition, and Ben Johns of course is the best singles player on the planet. But through one full rotation of all four players, it was 8-8, dead even. It wasn’t until an errant ground-stroke at 16-15 gave the first real “lead” of the DreamBreaker to DC. Riley Newman then extended the lead against Erik Lange and handed the ball to Christian Alshon with a 20-16 advantage. They needed just one point to move on. Alshon faced off against Ben Johns, a matchup just repeated in the Tour finals the previous day. With his back against the wall, Johns delivered, saving two match points and handing it off to Schneemann, who quickly erased the deficit and got the benefit from three straight netted ground strokes from Kawamoto to shock DC and advance to the final 22-20.

In the Final, we get the surprise finalists Chicago versus the MLP Atlanta champs Orlando. Orlando came out firing, sweeping the two gender doubles matches with relative ease and looked like they were going to wrap up this final without dropping a game. But, just as against DC the day prior, Chicago came roaring back, taking both mixed matches to set up another DreamBreaker. Both Orlando and Chicago are littered with accomplished singles players, and the play showed out as such. It was neck and neck through nearly two full rotations when Jesse Irvine swept her singles set against Rohrabacher 4-0 to put her team up 18-14 and nearly seal the deal for Chicago. Lacy Schneemann took the court against Orlando’s #1 Anna Bright and took match point to sew up both the MVP for the event and the title for Chicago.

With the win, Ben Johns joins Irina Tereschenko with 4 career MLP event titles, to go along with MLP San Clemente 2023, MLP Daytona 2023, and the debut event in Dripping Springs in 2021.


Challenger League Playoffs Recap

The Challenger League playoff field looks a bit curious to MLP fans who have been following the league this season. The two-time challenger champions from this season (the SoCal Hard Eights) got a bye into Tuesday’s Challenger league playoffs final, but a series of withdrawals from playoff-qualified teams left just two teams set to face off in a “play-in” for the Tuesday Challenger final.

In the event’s opening match, the St. Louis Shock (5th place finishers) took out the California BLQK Bears (2nd place finishers) 3-1. California was playing with Rob Cassidy filling in for its #1 Male (Anderson Scarpa) and got swept in mixed after splitting gender doubles. St. Louis’ two men (Rob Nunnery and Martin Emmrich) went 3-0 as they played smart, conservative pickleball all morning to grind out several close wins.

In the Tuesday final, the SoCal Hard Eights, who had yet to lose an MLP tie this season, continued their season of dominance, crushing St. Louis 3-0 to complete an undefeated season. SoCal went 5-0 in each of the first two MLP events, then took the final here without a blemish. Todd Fought picked up the MVP for his play, robbing teenager C.J. Klinger of a 3-peat.


Next up on the Pickleball Calendar? According to my Master Pickleball Schedule, … the last remaining “pro” event on the calendar is a Senior Pro Tour event next weekend in Harker Heights. Then the pro pickleball world takes a breather until the second weekend in January.

Next up for the MLP? Their first event of 2024 is not until mid-February in Los Angeles, but a lot remains up in the air.

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