· By Ameen Hafez
Squeeze overcome early D.C. lead to win first MLP championship title
The Orlando Squeeze became the third Premier Level team this year to win an MLP title without dropping a match. The team earned a quarterfinal bye as the #1 overall seed after winning all three matches in group play against the Atlanta Bouncers, Bay Area Breakers, and Texas Ranchers. Orlando then won a Dreambreaker versus the Arizona Drive in the semifinals to earn a spot in the finals. After going down 0-2, Anna Bright & Andrei Daescu saved a DC match point at 21-22 in the first mixed doubles game, and then went on to pave the way for an epic comeback for the Squeeze to sweep both mixed doubles games as well as the Dreambreaker.
As captain, Anna Bright selected to start off with women’s doubles when Orlando had the choice after the coin toss, showing her confidence in playing alongside Rachel Rohrabacher to give Andrei Daescu & Zane Navratil a 1-0 lead in the MLP’s best-of-3 format, where Anna & Rachel went undefeated in pool play, and their only loss came to Jackie & Jade Kawamoto in the final.
The first matchup pitted the Orlando Squeeze against the Texas Ranchers (these two teams faced off once previously in Challenger at MLP Mesa). Orlando held a solid lead in both gender doubles games and closed out with score lines of 21-13 in women’s and 21-15 in men’s. With the new freeze scoring rule in place, the first mixed matchup of Bright/Daescu vs. Johnson/Rettenmaier proved to be a slugfest, ending in a 24-26 victory for Texas. Nonetheless, Rohrabacher/Navratil came in clutch to close out the victory and avoid a Dreambreaker with a 23-21 win.
In the afternoon, Orlando faced off for the first time against the hometown Atlanta Bouncers, with whom they traded third (Zane Navratil) & fourth-round (Rachel Rohrabacher) draft picks, with their newest investor, Trae Young, in attendance. The Squeeze fired off an early lead again with women’s doubles paving the way in a 21-14 rout against Parris Todd & Simone Jardim. Men’s doubles fought off a few runs by Pablo Tellez & Hunter Johnson to secure another victory at 21-19. Finally, both Orlando mixed doubles partnerships proved to be too much to handle, giving the Squeeze a 4-0 sweep against Atlanta.
With a playoff berth already clinched, Orlando faced the Bay Area Breakers, a familiar foe from MLP Daytona and two-time MLP Challenger Level Champion. This match was to determine which team would have a bye to the semifinals. No surprise, women’s doubles was first, and the Squeeze were once again out to a 1-0 lead after a 21-18 victory over Etta Wright & Lea Jansen. In men’s doubles, the early lead built by Rafa Hewett & Connor Garnett was too much to overcome, tying the match up at 1-1 heading into mixed doubles. From there, Andrei & Anna handled business with a two-point victory at 22-20 against Garnett & Wright, while Zane & Rachel ran away with their game in a 21-10 rout versus Hewett & Jansen to seal the match three games to one and propel Orlando into the semifinal.
To no surprise, this match started off with women’s doubles, where the Bright/Rohrabacher pairing wasted no time jumping out to an early lead and giving the Squeeze a 1-0 advantage after their 21-13 victory over Vivian Glozman & Vivienne David. In a heated battle, the Drive’s pairing of Julian Arnold & Dekel Bar tied up the match heading into mixed doubles with a 21-23 win. Andrei & Anna jumped right back in and secured the 2-1 lead winning comfortably 21-15. Unfortunately, Orlando’s second mixed doubles pairing couldn’t seal the match, falling to Bar & Glozman in another 21-23 scoreline.
Orlando now faced its first Dreambreaker of the tournament, while Arizona was fresh off a Dreambreaker victory against Bay Area in the quarterfinals and already split two more in their group stage matches against Columbus & Brooklyn. Despite this fact, Andrei won 5 of 8 points against Julian, Zane took 7 of 8 against Dekel, Anna split 4 of 8 against Vivian, and Rachel closed it out winning 5 of her 7 points against Vivienne.
Orlando recently played against DC in their Challenger group stage at MLP San Clemente, winning the men's & one mixed doubles pairing, but eventually lost 13-21 in the Dreambreaker. This match in Atlanta, however, was on a much bigger stage on Championship Court for the Premier Finals.
These two teams had made a draft-day trade two months ago of their first and second-round picks: Orlando gave the rights to their 3rd overall pick to DC so they could select Riley Newman, as well as Jackie Kawamoto with their 22nd, in exchange for DC’s 5th and 20th picks which landed Orlando both Anna Bright & Andrei Daescu, respectively.
DC was firing on all cylinders after rolling through Miami PC in the semifinals with a 3-0 victory and again started off by winning both women’s doubles 16-21 (the Kawamoto sisters went undefeated, 5-0, at MLP Atlanta) as well as men’s doubles 12-21.
In what seemed to be the point of the tournament, Anna & Andrei saved match point at 21-22 against Christian & Jackie after fending off several volleys & an overhead, and Orlando never looked back. They closed out the first mixed doubles game with a 24-22 victory and fueled Zane & Rachel to hand Riley & Jade their first loss in MLP Atlanta at 22-20.
Fresh off a Dreambreaker victory against the Drive, Orlando now faced its second Dreambreaker of the tournament, whereas DC only played one in their Group stage match against Chicago and lost 10-21. Keeping their same order as their previous match, Andrei won 3 of 8 points against Christian, Zane took 6 of 8 against Riley, Anna dominated 7 of 8 against Jackie (taking all four in the second matchup), and Rachel closed it out again winning 5 of her 7 points (3 straight in their second matchup to end the match) against Jade.
Hi my name is Mo vafamand , I’m a pickleball coordinator at central florida Ymca . I’m so happy for you guys . I really love everyone played so good . I’m so proud have an awesome team in my town. Go Orlando magic and Orlando squeeze
Mostafa Vafamand on
Great summary of a great weekend! Go Squeeze!
Heck yea! Go Squeeze, we have the juice!
I didn’t get the chance to watch all the matches this past weekend and this article surely did catch me up on what I missed. Excellent details.
Matt Soyer on