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Which Teams Built the Best MLP Premier Level Rosters? We Grade Each Franchise

by Erik Tice on

With the much anticipated 2024 MLP Premier Level Draft now behind us, it's time to evaluate how the teams did building rosters and which franchise might enter the season as the prohibitive favorites.

Before we get into the grades for each team, let’s get into some winners and losers of the draft.

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:


Christian Alshon A year ago, Alshon was playing in the Challenger Level of Major League Pickleball. In the 2023 Season 1 he was named MVP. In June he was drafted as the 44th pick (out of 48), in the Premier Level. He didn’t just play well on the D.C. Pickleball Team, he was named MVP of an event.

Christian Alshon Fuels the Tennis vs. Pickleball Fire, Takes Plenty of Heat
Pickleball pro Christian Alshon says pickleball requires more skill than tennis. Predictably, the tennis world responded.

Fast forward to now --Alshon was taken with the seventh overall pick by the Texas Ranchers. Christian has had the biggest rise of any player in the last year.

Kate Fahey – Kate who? Kate Fahey was the 42nd player taken in the Premier Level Draft by the St. Louis Shock. I started paying attention to Fahey when she signed with the PPA during the 2023 “Tour Wars”. Kate played D-1 tennis at the University of Michigan and enjoyed a successful college career. Fahey was a three-time All-American and was also a two-time Big Ten Conference Athlete of the Year. 

She lives in the New York City area and trains pickleball regularly with Lason Lui, Erik Forsythe, Matt Wilditz, and Andrew Yaraghi. Fahey recently played PPA Austin with John Cincola, with wins over Jaume Martinez Vich and Mary Brascia, and Rafa Hewitt and Lindsey Newman.

This is really all you need to know: Anna Bright wanted her. Rachel Rohrabacher is proof that Bright knows talent when she sees it. Hopefully for the Shock, Fahey has a similar trajectory. 

Prediction: Fahey will be a top 20 woman in pro pickleball by the end of the year.

Kaitlyn Christian – Christian has taken the women’s singles pickleball world by storm in 2024. She is coming off a second-place finish at the PPA Austin and has had some great wins. If you don’t know about Christian’s background, we did a profile on her back in February.

Christian was one of the women who we thought was on the fringe of being a Premier Level player. She was taken No. 35 overall by the AZ Drive. Their front office is banking on Kaitlyn improving her doubles game with the great partners they drafted alongside her.

Will HowellsHowells has five medals on the APP Tour this year. He regularly trains with JW Johnson, Milan Rane, Jorja Johnson, and a bunch of other high level pros in the Delray Beach, Florida area. He is so freaky athletic that a lot of people have labeled him as a singles specialist. He is anything but that.

Howells brings a ton of athleticism to the court, but he is also super cerebral and seems like a great partner. Anna Leigh Waters must have thought the same thing because the New Jersey 5s took Howells with the 37th overall pick.

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.


Tyson McGuffinMcGuffin is a big-time player for MLP and brings a bunch of marketing power with him. He would easily help whichever team he got drafted by increase their social media and community presence for the next three years. All of that still could happen.

However, he got drafted to the only team that spent less than 500,000 draft points on their entire draft (497,000). The next closest team spent 863,000 draft points. In addition, McGuffin has had a long-standing feud with fellow podcaster Tyler Loong about some things that were said on Loong’s podcast, King of the Court. 

It boiled over after a singles match and McGuffin and Loong had some words.

With the 36th pick in the draft, the Utah Black Diamonds took – you guess it – Tyler Loong, pairing him with McGuffin. I am sure they will be able to move past their differences, but this draft seemed like a big L for Tyson.

Erik Lange – Lange has been playing so well lately and doing so with a bunch of different partners. He was the last pick in the 2023 Season 2 Draft in Premier Level and played great the entire time. Lange has to be disappointed not getting drafted in the Premier Level. Hopefully he is able to take that motivation and be one of the best Challenger Level players in 2024.

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.

Travis RettenmaierTravis is a very good player and by all accounts, a very good teammate, so it is kind of crazy that he didn’t get drafted in the Premier Level. He hasn’t had the best results thus far in 2024, but he has always played well in MLP.

What makes this even weirder for Travis is that he is an owner of the MLP team – the Florida Smash. The Smash took Travis in the Challenger Level Draft on Wednesday with the fifth overall pick.

Rettenmaier will probably play with a chip on his shoulder throughout 2024. If the Smash do well, they could be one of the four teams that get promoted from Challenger Level to Premier Level between 2024 and 2025.

Team-by-team draft grades

Dallas Pickleball Club – A+

The "Johnson 5" were added to the eligible player list in the 24 hours leading up to the Premier Level Draft. Maybe some owners/GMs didn’t check their emails? 

How JW Johnson fell to the 12th draft slot is beyond me. He is easily a top 5 player on tour. Then DCP was able to pick up his sister five draft slots later for less than 300,000 draft points. Hurricane Tyra Black was one of the most improved players in 2023 and is still scratching the surface of her potential. Black and Augie Ge (pronounced “guh”) had a great run together at PPA Desert Ridge and he was obviously the player that DCP was targeting the entire time. Besides the players themselves, Dallas did a great job using their budget – they only used 881,000 draft points, the third least points in the draft. 

AZ Drive - A

Morgan Evans definitely knows what he is doing. Evans is the GM and coach for the AZ Drive.  He got Andrei Daescu for 530,000 draft points and then Jack Sock went with the next pick at 550,000, so Daescu was a great value. The Drive’s next pick is the reason why they got the A.

In our article talking about draft strategies, I mentioned that the GMs who are able to adapt the quickest will come out on top. I am very confident Evans never thought he would be able to get Dylan Frazier after already getting Daescu. However, Frazier fell to 13 and Evans scooped him up. 

Lacy Schneemann was a great value pick and she could have gone much sooner in the draft. Kaitlyn Christian is a big-time upside pick with all the potential to be a top-tier player. Also, as an added bonus, this team isn’t going to lose any Dreambreakers anytime soon – they are all very good singles players.

St. Louis Shock - A-

Getting Anna Bright No. 3 overall for nearly 100,000 less draft points than the second draft slot was genius. I always thought to myself that the team who drafted “Big H” Hayden Patriquin was going to be one of the best teams. Gabe Tardio has also upped his game significantly in the last six months. 

I refuse to bet against Bright. Last summer, I barely knew Rachel Rohrabacher’s name before Bright helped the Orlando Squeeze draft her in the Season 2 Draft. I already mentioned Fahey’s background in the "winners" section above and she has a lot of upside. Fahey is a bit of an unknown so that is why the Shock get an A-. I have a feeling by the end of 2024, I may be giving this an A+.

Texas Ranchers - A-

Christian Alshon was the most improved player in 2023 and is playing great in 2024. Etta Wright is playing some of the best pickleball out there. Tina Pisnik was the first player drafted to Premier Level from Challenger and is a great pickup and value. 

The Ranchers get such a high grade because they were obviously targeting Pablo Tellez with their last pick. They picked two women who are extremely comfortable on the left, so the mixed doubles team can change, depending on matchups.

New Jersey 5s - B+

Obviously Anna Leigh is a great pick – she is the best female player in the world, she’s a great teammate, and she’s very influential on social media. The 5s ownership group must have really liked working with her in Season 1 of 2023 because they swung for the fences early. 

Zane Navratil has been playing some of the best pickleball of his career recently and was a great pickup at No. 22. I got scared when the 5s took Mari Humberg at No. 33 because I worried about the second guy. Usually teams who take a woman first then take two men. Humberg is on the rise and has a ton of upside. She probably has the most spin of any pro player out there. Obviously the 5s were targeting Humberg, but I think they could have gotten her a little later.

Howells is a great pickup. He only started playing pickleball a little over a year ago and has five medals this year. Having played extremely high-level tennis at Notre Dame, Howells surely has the ability to be a great teammate. This is going to be a great team.

Columbus Sliders - B+

This is a very good team. The only reason I am not giving them an A is because of bid strategy. If the Sliders had saved a little more money they could have bid more than the Pioneers in the fourth round and maybe had Jessie Irvine, who Riley Newman has played with a ton. Maybe they were targeting Brooke Buckner the entire time – we will never know.

Riley is great in MLP, Meghan is establishing herself as a top 10 woman and Connor Garnett was a great value pick at No. 31. This team will be in the playoffs often in 2024.

Orlando Squeeze - B+

Federico Staksrud at No. 11 was a great value pick. He is easily the second-best men’s singles player and will help tremendously in Dreambreakers. He is also a monster in mixed doubles and is great in men’s doubles. He is top 10 in all categories. 

Viv David was a great value pick at No. 20. She is playing lights out with Thomas Wilson currently and is always a super supportive and positive teammate. I love the last two picks and the use of the budget. The Squeeze was the first team completely done drafting with the 32nd overall pick. Their strategy was great and this team may need some time to gel, but by the end of 2024 they should be regulars in the MLP playoffs.

New York Hustlers - B+

Jack Sock was rumored to go as high as No. 2. To get him at No. 6 and for only 550,000 draft points? Amazing. The upside here is super high and Sock brings some marketing power behind him for New York as well. 

I think Jackie Kawamoto was taken a little early, but if she was their target, good for them for reaching. My only concern is Jackie and Lea Jansen; maybe they will play straight up and/or change who plays the left, but both are used to playing the left. Jansen is known to be a great teammate and her skillset is there and she was a great value pick at No. 28. I had her going earlier in many of my mock drafts. 

CJ Klinger is ready for the big stage, and hopefully he and Jack can develop a chemistry quickly. The best part of this team is the versatility of the women. Both are super comfortable on the left and right, especially in mixed. Being able to change partners depending on matchups is a great asset.

D.C. Pickleball Club - B

Again, another GM that knows what he is doing: Josh Gartman is running a great program. James Ignatowich at No. 8 was a steal. He could be a top player in the world by the end of the year and he only cost the D.C. Pickleball Club 500,000 draft points. 

Grabbing his girlfriend’s women’s partner at No. 14 was a great move. Paying a little extra for Rachel Rohrabacher is well worth it. She is ridiculously good and still getting better. Dekel Bar at No. 29 is a complete steal. He is playing ridiculously good and both guys can play left and right.

The only reason I am giving this draft a B is the Allyce Jones pick. She is a great player and should be in the Premier Level, but lacks offense. If this was a pick that was influenced by Dekel so he felt comfortable with his mixed partner, I get it. If not, I don’t know why D.C. didn't go with an upside player that Ignatowich is familiar with, like Bobbi Oshiro or Milan Rane.

Los Angeles Mad Drops - B-

This is a good team and the drafting was good. I just think the auction strategy was not great. All of these players are good and drafted around the area I thought they would be.

Catherine Parenteau is easily in the top 3 of all women players and to get her at the No. 9 slot was great. Thomas Wilson was also a great pick. However, spending so much on these two really hamstrung the team so much so that they couldn’t draft until No. 26.

Thomas is one of my favorite players to watch because he is fun and fiery. He is always smiling, but also has some "come ons" and "yeas" to his game. He is also one of the most likable people on tour and a great teammate.

Jade Kawamoto is a great pickup at No. 26 and this means Catherine can play the left with her and the mixed doubles teams can change depending on matchups. Hunter Johnson lives in Texas near Wilson and is a great addition. This team will also be great on Dreambreakers.

Seattle Pioneers - C

Seattle did a great job getting Ben Johns, but then it seems like they didn’t want to spend any more after that. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good team. They will definitely make some playoffs and maybe even make some runs. 

My problem is the lack of spending a little more money on some better talent. If Ben is going to be on a team for three years, I think Collin Johns is actually a better choice than other pundits do. These players need to be happy playing together and Collin does that with Ben. He isn’t the best mixed doubles player, but he is not nearly as bad as some make him out to be.

Andrea Koop and Jessie Irvine are going to struggle against the top women's teams. The Pioneers are betting that Ben will win them two games – one in men’s and one in mixed. After that, it’s kind of a crapshoot.

Utah Black Diamonds - F

We covered a lot of this team’s draft in our losers section above. I am so confused as to the thought process of drafting McGuffin and Loong together. In addition, this is the only team that didn’t spend any of their own dollars. 

The only thing I can say is that this team was built for regional development. Callie Smith, Alix Truong, and Tyler Loong are all in Utah, and Tyson is in Idaho. If they want to train together, the proximity definitely helps. I don’t see this team doing very well this year.

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.

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