The Dink Pickleball

The Dink Pickleball Logo
Pickleball Lives Here
Major League Pickleball

Bold Predictions for the 2024 Major League Pickleball Season

by Erik Tice on

Finally, the 2024 Major League Pickleball season is here. The first event of the season kicks off later this week in Atlanta.

We have six can't-miss predictions for your reading pleasure, with at least one sure to raise some eyebrows.

There will be at least one trade between a Premier Level team and a Challenger Level team in 2024

Teams are incentivized to make more trades than ever this year. If you think about the rules of player control from 2024 to 2025, it makes sense.

At least one player must be dropped and entered into a free agent player pool at the end of 2024. Teams could drop more than one if they choose. In other words, no team will be the same from 2024 to 2025.

Complete Results From the 2024 MLP Premier Level Draft
Major League Pickleball held its Premier Level Draft Tuesday night. We’ve got your complete results:

In addition, if a player cost 300,000 draft points in the 2024 Draft, the team would need to pay $150,000 real dollars to keep that same player in 2025. This means if a high- or mid-round draft pick is underperforming AND the team has no chance of winning the Premier Level playoffs, it would be worth trading the player to get them off their 2025 "books."

Premier Level GMs want to win the Playoffs and Challenger Level GMs want to maneuver their teams into the top four positions so they can be promoted to Premier Level in 2025.

An example of how I think this could play out: a Challenger team is in 5th, 6th, or 7th place after the fifth event and wants to make a run in the last three events to jump into promotion position. That team finds a lower-level Premier team to "go for it" and execute a trade to upgrade the roster.

2024 MLP Challenger Level Draft Results
One day after Major League Pickleball conducted its Premier Level Draft, the Challenger Level draft took center stage. We’ve got the results.

Premier Level players who could be traded

Hunter Johnson - Johnson is a good player and is very good friends with Thomas Wilson. If this team plays well early, Hunter is staying put. However, if the losses mount and the team is looking to make a change, I believe Johnson would be the first one on the move.

Andrea Koop - Koop has a good rapport with the Johns brothers and is a very good player. Ben is very comfortable playing with Jessie Irvine, as evidenced from last year’s Chicago Slice team. Collin is getting better in mixed, but still isn’t elite. If the Pioneers start losing women’s doubles along with mixed doubles, they could look to trade for another woman from the Challenger Level to switch things up. Koop doesn’t play as much as some other players because she is still a full-time attorney in Michigan. If the Pioneers look like they are making the playoffs, Koop will stay put.

A few other players who could be moved under certain circumstances: Jay Devilliers, CJ Klinger, Kate Fahey, Augie Ge, and Brooke Buckner.

Challenger Level players who could be traded

DJ Young - He has the talents to be a top 10 guy in men’s doubles. Young isn’t as great in mixed (or at least as consistent), but he is powerful, athletic, versatile (can play both the left and right), and thrives in MLP. 

Rafa Hewitt - Hewitt also thrives in the MLP environment, and I would say he plays 10-20 percent better in MLP than he does in PPA events. If a team is looking for a true right-side guy who can play mixed doubles with a left-sided woman, the two best options are Hewitt and the next person on the list.

Jack Munro - Munro is young, has a ton of potential, and plays regularly with some of the highest-level players in Austin. While Munro is ambidextrous, he is much better with his left hand, and relies on his right hand for situational overheads. Jack is very comfortable on the right side, whether in mixed or men’s doubles. 

Jaume Martinez Vich - On the opposite side of the spectrum is Jaume Martinez Vich. He plays the left side with one of the deadliest two-handed backhand rolls. Martinez Vich has made big strides in men’s doubles, and if he can prove he is good at mixed doubles in MLP, someone in the Premier Level may trade for him.

Ewa Radzikowska - The undisputed 2023 Challenger Level MVP. The lengthy Polish former tennis star won three Challenger Level Championships in 2023 with the SoCal Hard 8s. She also won multiple Challenger Level MVP titles in 2023. 

Vivian Glozman - Glozman played well in 2023 MLP Season 2 for the AZ Drive in the Premier Level as the 42nd overall pick. She is a perfect example of the recency bias that is very real in Major League Pickleball drafts. For whatever reason, Glozman basically didn’t play any pro pickleball for the first four months of 2024. She has the ability to be a very good Premier Level player if she is given the opportunity.

Erik Lange - To say that Lange used the 2023 MLP Season 2 as a springboard to reinvigorate his pickleball career is an understatement. Ben Johns took him with the last pick on the Chicago Slice and Lange delivered when it mattered most. Lange could provide an immediate steady hand for a Premier Level team.

Christine Maddox - Maddox is by far the biggest reach for this list because we just don’t have a ton of results from her, especially in doubles. That is not to say she doesn’t have the potential. Maddox is tall and has tremendous reach and athleticism. Her drives from both sides are extremely good. If Christine can prove she has an elite-level soft game at the kitchen line, Premier Level GMs will be paying attention.

Four teams that will be promoted to Premier Level

There are currently 10 teams in the Challenger Level for 2024. In 2025, MLP is hoping to add two more teams that were consolidated this year (Milwaukee Mashers and ATX Pickleballers). In addition, the biggest prize for doing well in Challenger is that the top four teams get promoted to Premier Level in 2025. So 2025 will hopefully look like this: 16 Premier Level teams and eight Challenger Level teams.

Florida Smash - Travis Rettenmaier, Tammy Emmrich, Pat Smith, and Martina Frantova

Travis Rettenmaier is easily in the top-five best players in the Challenger Level. Because he is also an owner of the Florida Smash, he was not included in our list of potential Challenger Level players who could get traded for premier players. 

Rettenmaier and Pat Smith will be a top-three men’s doubles teams in Challenger. Emmrich is super steady and she has had some success in PPAs with Daniel De La Rosa. The big wildcard here is Frantova - if she can be steady with few low points, the Smash are going to be good.

SoCal Hard 8s - Irina Tereschenko, Erik Lange, Christine Maddox, and “Purple Jesus” Max Manthou

The Hard 8s have a very good combo of veteran leadership and some newer faces. Manthou has flashed on the APP Tour with Lange once this year. If Maddox can continue on an upward trajectory and Tereschenko can maintain her health, this team is going to win plenty.

California Black Bears - Rafa Hewitt, DJ Young, Amanda Hendry, and Emily Ackerman

I don’t think the Black Bears wanted to take a guy first, let alone two. They did a great job changing strategy based on who fell to them. Hewitt and Young are the best men’s doubles team in the Challenger Level. Hendry, a lefty, and Ackerman, are very good, young talents and can rely on the men’s experience in MLP to help them.

The only thing I don’t love about this team is that they are stuck with their mixed doubles matchups. DJ Young and Amanda Hendry have to play together and so do Hewitt and Ackerman. This is the only downfall of drafting two lefties – it makes the team a little less versatile.

Frisco Pandas - Ewa Radzikowska, John Cincola, Stefan Auvergne, and Alli Phillips

This team has some extremely good chemistry and good talent. Essentially, the Pandas took the New York 5s from 2023 season 2 and exchanged Shelby Bates for Ewa Radzikowska. 

Cincola is one of the best YouTube coaches out there and knows the game very well. Unless the Pandas have hired a coach they haven’t announced, he will probably serve as a coach/player.

From top to bottom they are very good. I would expect that their team chemistry and overall ability to get them through promotion in the last spot. 

At least two Challenger Level teams will make the quarterfinals of the Mid-Season Tournament

In a first-of-its-kind MLP event, the Mid-Season Tournament will be played from July 10-14, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Challenger Level teams will play in a double-elimination tournament along with the Premier Level teams with prize money on the line.

With 22 teams, the double-elimination bracket will be interesting. I would assume 10 random teams will get a bye with the other 12 teams playing a first match in the "Round of 32." From there, the winners bracket will start to go to the Round of 16, just like any other tournament. In addition, there will also be a losers bracket like most amateur events.

MLP Announces Post-Merger Updated 2024 Schedule of Events
The 2024 MLP schedule will feature 11 total events – hosted in 10 different states – showcasing eight regular season events, a Mid-Season Tournament, and two rounds of the 2024 MLP Playoffs.

In theory, there should be a zero percent chance that a Challenger Level team could beat a Premier Level team. Even though there were some snubs from the Premier Level, the fact that the last player on every Challenger Level team was picked at least 30 players after the last Premier Level player - it is a ridiculously large proposition.

From those Round of 16 matches, I am predicting that at least two of the 10 Challenger Level teams win their games, making it to the quarterfinals of the winner’s bracket. This would require some major upsets. 

Obviously we don’t have the bracket to know which matchups we will see, but the two teams with the highest likelihood are the Black Bears and Florida Smash.

Top 6 Premier Level Finishers and the Playoff Winner

  1. Texas Ranchers - Alshon, Wright, Pisnik, and Tellez
  2. Dallas Flash - JW Johnson, J Johnson, Black, and Ge
  3. Seattle Pioneers - B Johns, Koop, Irvine, Johns
  4. St. Louis Shock - Bright, Patriquin, Tardio, and Fahey
  5. New Jersey 5’s - AL Waters, Navratil, Humberg, Howells
  6. D.C. Pickleball Club - Ignatowich, Rohrabacher, Bar, Jones

These are the predicted top half teams, which make the MLP Playoffs. Just on the outside is the Miami Pickleball Club, which I think will also do well. 

The Shock and the 5s both need to gel with their new Premier Level players. Fahey, Humberg, and Howells will have to adjust to MLP quickly in order for their teams to stay competitive.

Both ALW and the Johnsons haven’t really had much success in MLP, but two things convinced me to roll with them: Anna Leigh has never had a team this talented and JW Johnson doesn’t usually get to play with players he trains and enjoys playing with.

I don’t know how to predict a Top 6 without Ben Johns, so the Pioneers made the list. Lastly, I think the Ranchers are the most put together, ready now, team of the group. 

The Winner of the MLP 2024 Playoffs is ...?

St. Louis Shock - I think this one is going to be between the Ranchers and the Shock. The biggest variable will be how long it takes Kate Fahey to become a top 10-15 woman in MLP. Kate has six months to get acclimated to Premier Level play before the MLP Playoffs and if she works as hard as I think she will, the task seems achievable. Hayden and Gabe are easily a top 3 men’s team in MLP this year. Anna Bright plays her best in MLP and is a great team captain.

Meet Kate Fahey: A Fresh Face Ready to Shock Pro Pickleball
Kate Fahey was a dominant collegiate tennis player and only picked up a pickleball paddle last summer. Fast forward to now, and she’s a motivated member of MLP’s St. Louis Shock.

Challenger Level and Premier Level MVPs

Premier Level MVP - Etta Wright - The MLP MVP has always been someone on the winning team and since I am predicting the Ranchers to win, the 2024 MLP MVP is going to be Etta Wright. Etta is without question a top 5 left-sided woman and chances are that if the Ranchers do win, she will be a huge part of that.

Others to look out for in the Premier MVP race

Anna Bright - Yes, I love the Shock team and the best player on the team should be in the running for the MVP.

Hayden Patriquin - Patriquin plays much better in MLP and being on a team with Bright seems to raise everyone’s level another 10-15 percent.

Jorja Johnson - The Dallas Flash had a great draft in addition to a new name change. If they manage to win the title, I believe Jorja will be a big X factor.

Christian Alshon - Alshon is the best player on the Ranchers and if they do win and Etta doesn’t win MVP, it will probably be him.

Challenger Level MVP - DJ Young - The new father was one of the biggest snubs from the Premier Level draft earlier in the year. I believe DJ will be happy playing with Rafa. Hendry and Ackerman are very good Challenger Level players. DJ is set up to dominate the Challenger Level in 2024 – if he doesn’t get traded to a Premier Level team.

Major League Pickleball Premier Level Power Rankings - According To An Owner
California Black Bears owner Ritchie Tuazon dropped his MLP Premier Level Power Rankings on social media this week.

Others to look out for in the Challenger MVP race

Erik Lange - The big man played really well last year in MLP Season 2 in 2023 for the Chicago Slice. He has been playing well ever since then, quitting his job to go full-time pickleball. The SoCal Hard 8s will finish high in the table.

Travis Rettenmaier - The partial owner of the Smash easily could have been drafted into the Premier Level. Did his ownership stake cause hesitation? Who knows. One thing I do know is this: Rettenmaier is one of the best Challenger Level men.

Irina Terseschenko - The MLP GOAT. Tereschenko has won multiple MVPs and championships in MLP. Her health has been an issue as of late, but if she is healthy, Irina will really help the SoCal Hard 8s qualify for promotion.

Jaume Martinez Vich - Timing is such an interesting thing in the MLP Draft. If the draft had happened two weeks later, there is no doubt in my mind that JMV would have been drafted into the Premier Level somewhere. Instead, he should dominate Challenger Level with the Atlanta Bouncers.

Jaume Martinez Vich on His Living Situation, How to Turn Pro and More on the PicklePod
Jaume Martinez Vich joins Zane Navratil and Thomas Shields on the latest episode of the PicklePod Podcast.

MLP Most Improved Players

Women’s Most Improved Player

Kate Fahey - Fahey was the most unknown Premier Level player going into the draft. I am betting she finds her way in MLP and gets better and better throughout the year. When discussing a most improved player, usually the team must also do well. Out of the list of players I am considering, I think the Shock have the most likelihood to do well. Kate is used to high-level pressure, having played for the University of Michigan Women’s Tennis team.

Other women to look out for

Angie Walker - Walker is a first-time MLP player and was drafted to the Atlanta Bouncers in the Challenger Level. The Canadian now resides in Phoenix and trains with some extremely high-level players regularly. The Bouncers have some Texas chemistry with the other three players, so if Walker can fit in it could be a great year.

Christine Maddox - The former Pepperdine Wave is a tall, athletic woman who is continuing to improve in pickleball. She is very good in singles and once she gets some better doubles partners, we'll be able to see her true level. Maddox is on my short list of potential Challenger Level players who could be traded to the Premier Level. The SoCal Hard 8s will be good and this will help elevate Maddox’s status.

Amanda Hendry - The young lefty was drafted by the California Black Bears. Jimmy Miller is very rarely wrong when it comes to identifying and developing talent. Hendry hasn’t played MLP before, playing mostly APP events. She could prove herself on the bigger stage of MLP.

Alix Truong - Truong was the last pick of the Premier Level draft by the Utah Black Diamonds, a team made up of regional players. Truong, Callie Smith, and Loong are all on the team, with Devilliers rounding it out. I don’t think this would really be that big of a "most improved" player because I think Truong is severely underrated right now. If the Black Diamonds finish in the middle of the pack – which is better than most predict – It will probably be because of Truong.

Kaitlyn Christian - Very similarly to Truong, I think Christian is underrated. Some pundits didn’t like the Schneemann/Christian combo in women’s, but I think these two live in So Cal, can train together, have similar game styles, and are both EXTREMELY competitive. I think the Drive will be better than most and if they are, chances are Kaitlyn will play a big role in that.

Pickleball Profiles: Kaitlyn Christian
Kaitlyn Christian came onto the scene in a big way at the PPA Desert Ridge Open in early February. If you are a tennis fan you probably know her name already. Early Playing Career Kaitlyn grew up in Orange, Calif., and played junior tennis starting at the age of seven.

Men’s Most Improved Player

Roscoe Bellamy - Bellamy finished up his collegiate tennis days two years ago at UCLA. The 6’5” Bruin has started making his way through the pro pickleball scene. It definitely helps having a mom who won The Dink’s award for best female senior pro in 2023. Roscoe has all the potential in the world, we just haven’t seen much of him yet. I think the Miami Pickleball Club has too much raw talent and not enough experience to make it far, but Bellamy is going to make a name for himself in 2024.

Other men to look out for:

Jaume Martinez Vich - Vich has been known as a singles specialist for the most part. However, he is making runs in men’s doubles now in 2024 and even playing well in mixed doubles, despite no huge wins. Martinez Vich will be a high priority target if any of the Premier Level teams are looking to make a change. I think Martinez Vich is already a well known commodity for what it's worth, but we'll include him here.

Will Howells - Very similarly, Howells may be too well known to win the Most Improved Player. He has never played MLP, so if the 5s do well this year, Howells could be considered. Having won several medals this year on the APP Tour, Howells is quickly rising up the charts in terms of player rankings.

Where There’s a Will: Former Tennis Standout Will Howells Quickly Taking to Pickleball
Will Howells was on the fast track to becoming a tennis sensation, but an injury forced him to find alternatives. Enter pickleball.

Patrick Kawka - Kawka can SMACK the ball. He seems to be playing with a ProXR paddle, giving him extreme grit for spin. Kawka is Tyler Loong’s college roommate and is the only former padel pro on the pickleball tour. He played extremely well in the AZ Pickleball League and is based in Las Vegas. Kawka has one of the hardest drives on tour and biggest overheads.

Augie Ge - Speaking of players making a name for themselves in the AZ Pickleball League, Ge did just that in 2023. Augie is going to be playing on one of the top four teams so I could easily see him getting most improved, even though many people believe he is already really good.

PicklePod: Unique Pickleball Drills that Fueled Augie Ge’s Rapid Rise
The PicklePod sits down with Augie Ge, who has quickly emerged onto the pro pickleball scene. Learn about his meteoric rise and how coding has helped his success.
Erik Tice

Erik Tice

Erik produces content for The Dink related to pro and collegiate pickleball. He is an avid watcher of pickleball and became passionate about the sport in early 2022.

Read more