The Brooklyn Aces reached the semifinals at MLP Dallas, advancing through a group of the sport’s top female players.
When Major League Pickleball announced the group stage draw for its Nov. 2-5 tournament in Dallas, the Brooklyn Aces knew they were in for a challenge. Their Group C contained four teams with many of the best female players on the planet.
Brooklyn’s Catherine Parenteau and Andrea Koop would have to contend with Miami Pickleball Club’s Hurricane Tyra Black and Mary Brascia, the Utah Black Diamonds’ Anna Leigh Waters and Irina Tereschenko, and Dallas Pickleball Club’s Allyce Jones and Callie Jo Smith.
The first match against Miami would be a rematch of an epic battle from September’s Atlanta MLP tournament that the Aces lost in a dreambreaker. Black is pickleball’s fastest-rising female star, who signed with the Aces nine months ago as an unproven former tennis pro with tremendous upside and an insatiable work ethic. Now, she’s quickly become one of the top players on Earth.
“She’s an unorthodox player and so talented,” Koop told Boardroom. “And because she’s so new to the game, she’s still figuring out her tendencies, which means we’re all still figuring them out as well.”
Parenteau noted Hurricane’s athletic, aggressive, strong, and powerful style of play.
“You have to be very specific where and when you speed up and be very specific with your targets on her body,” Parenteau told Boardroom. “If you don’t speed it up in the right place, you’re going to eat it.”
Ranked third among women in DUPR in both doubles and singles, Parenteau has a long history and close bond with Waters, the 16-year-old world No. 1. Parenteau first met Waters when she was 11 during tournaments playing doubles with her mom, Leigh. Now Parenteau and Waters play doubles together as well, forming the most dominant duo in the modern game.
“It’s kind of cool to think that a few years later we’re now playing together,” Parenteau said. “She’s an amazing player and even better person.”
Tactically, Parenteau called Anna Leigh a smart, fast player with strong hands who can speed up the ball from anywhere on the court. But because both players are so talented, Koop knew the focus would be on hitting it to her and Tereschenko.
At 40 years old, Tereschenko is still ranked 15th in singles and is someone Parenteau called the pickleball GOAT — a great teammate with a powerful, energetic game.
“Here at MLP when I’m playing with someone as good as Catherine,” Koop said, “I understand the strategy is going to be to pick on me. Irina has a thick slice cut backhand dink that she likes to set up her attack down the line with, so I have to try to stay away from it or not give her too much angle to pull me too wide. And hopefully we can stay away from Anna Leigh as much as possible.”
The home team Dallas posed its own set of challenges with Smith, ranked eighth in doubles, and Jones, 21st.
“I always love playing against the best, and a lot of the top players are in the same pool,” Parenteau said. “So it’s going to be really fun. It’s a challenging pool, but I think we can get out of it for sure.”
Dealings in Dallas
Two main factors led to the Aces failing to make it out of the group stage in the first tournament of the 2023 season’s second half in Atlanta. Hayden Patriquin’s injury prior to the second match forced him to withdraw from the tournament, and the team of Parenteau, Koop, Patriquin, and Tyler Loong hadn’t quite built the necessary chemistry with one another.
“We had the makings of a really strong roster, but in the first tournament we lacked both on- and off-court chemistry,” Aces general manager Samin Odhwani told Boardroom. “This event we spent more time practicing and building some of that chemistry leading up to the event. This time, our players knew they could play better and that showed.”
It did not, however, show up right away against Miami.
Friday morning at Brookhaven Country Club’s grandstand, the Aces came out flat, listless, and uninspired against a team they’d pushed to the limit just six weeks earlier. Women’s and men’s doubles both fell 21-14 and Koop and Patriquin lost 21-17, giving Miami an easy and convincing opening victory. Parenteau and Loong took the fourth game, but the damage had already been done.
“I thought our team would’ve come out stronger given the opportunity for a revenge game, but overall Miami is just a tough matchup for us,” Odhwani said. “They have strengths that can expose some of the weaknesses on our team, and athletically they match up with us really well. We just didn’t execute against our game plan.”
As the sun was setting on Friday, the Aces had to defeat Waters and Utah to ensure Brooklyn’s playoff aspirations wouldn’t fade into the darkness. While Parenteau and Koop lost women’s doubles to start the match, the 21-18 score proved the Aces would show some fight this match.
The men confirmed that assertion, defeating AJ Koller and Thomas Wilson 21-17 to even things up. In mixed doubles, Patriquin and Koop had numerous opportunities to seal a win, but fell in a 29-27 thriller. Not deterred by this setback, Parenteau and Loong responded with a 21-16 W over Waters and Koller to set up a pivotal dreambreaker.
Utah chose their order for singles first, which meant captain Parenteau got to respond with the individual matchups she thought would give the Aces the best chance for success. Patriquin would match up with Wilson, but she put Loong against Waters and herself against Koller in mixed gender battles, with Koop taking on Tereschenko.
“The last time Tyler played Anna Leigh, he did really well,” Parenteau said. “So we tried taking advantage of that. AJ doesn’t play so many singles, so let’s try to get two points every time.”
It was Patriquin who lived up to his “Big H” nickname that led the Aces to a 21-18 dreambreaker win. He took 11 of the 12 points he played against Wilson, including the first 10. Loong got the final point against Waters to end the match, and a triumphant Brooklyn squad rushed the court in celebration.
“That’s the team I drafted,” Odhwani proclaimed.
“The music was playing and I was just living in the moment,” Patriquin said of being in a dominant zone against Wilson. “I was just having fun, and we all clutched up. That was fun.”
“Hayden’s a G,” Koop said. “He was dialed in and went full Big H mode. He played like he was 6-foot-8 out there.”
With Dallas sweeping Miami on the other court, all four Group C teams entered Saturday at 1-1. That meant Brooklyn’s noon game against Dallas would be a de facto elimination match.
After Parenteau and Koop came out strong with a 21-19 win over Smith and Jones to start the match, Patriquin and Loong got trounced 21-14 by Dallas’ James Ignatowich and Jay Deviliers. But Patriquin and Koop set the tone for the rest of the match with a 21-16 win to go up 2-1, and Loong and Parenteau sealed the Aces’ spot in the knockout stage with a 21-16 victory to take the match 3-1.
“Our team finally started to trust each other,” Odhwani said, “and that showed through in our ability to play well.”
It was Brooklyn’s second playoff appearance in MLP and the first since the opening tournament in Mesa, AZ. The Aces’ quarterfinal opponent that afternoon on championship court was a familiar foe. After a 3-1 defeat in Atlanta in a match Brooklyn’s players believed they could’ve won, the Aces got a second crack at the Columbus Sliders.
With the weather heating up and the championship court crowd buzzing, the Aces and Sliders put on the match of the day.
It was Columbus that set the tone early, getting a 21-16 women’s doubles win from Meghan Dizon and injury substitute Megan Fudge. Patriquin and Loong responded as part of excellent performances from both Aces men, tying the match 21-13 over JW Johnson and Collin Johns. Patriquin remained on the court with Koop and had their chances to take the game, but fell in a 23-21 heartbreaker.
During a back-and-forth fourth game, Dizon had to call a medical timeout after being struck with an errant shot. Loong and Parenteau had to keep their composure and executed their best game to date as teammates, winning 22-20 to force yet another dreambreaker.
Parenteau utilized the same strategy here as the Utah match. Patriquin more than held his own against Johnson, Parenteau gutted out a key late rally against Johns to take the momentum, Loong executed against Fudge, and a determined Koop stepped to the service line with the dreambreaker tied at 22.
Koop was hesitant at first as an inexperienced singles player, so she decided to try and end points with winners as quickly as possible. After a backhand Dizon couldn’t handle gave Brooklyn a 23-22 lead, Koop laced a backhand down the line out of her reach to send the Aces to their first ever tournament semifinal. Brooklyn’s players rushed the court to celebrate a well-earned, hard-fought win where all four players delivered crucial contributions.
“Columbus is my proudest match of the year,” Odhwani said. “We were down the entire match, including the dreambreaker, and our team was resilient and pushed through. That was incredible to see. The team focused on the task at hand and showed pride and had confidence that they could beat that Sliders team.”
While the Aces fell in Sunday’s semifinal match to the eventual tournament champion D.C. Pickleball Team, Loong acknowledged that Dallas was the best he’d ever played in MLP, crediting his fitness and his teammates for helping him set up some incredible shots, including a defensive sequence in the semis that made No. 5 in SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for Sunday.
Though they fell short of the championship, the Aces collectively felt great about their showing. Patriquin noted that after not really playing with each other previously, the team chemistry got better with each match and the Aces grew more comfortable with one another both on and off the court.
“I think we surprised ourselves,” Koop said. “We came together, we played, faced adversity, and improved every match. That’s all you can ask for.”
“We’re all just grinders,” Parenteau added. “We have amazing team chemistry, and that makes a big difference in this type of format.”
If there is a final tournament in 2023 in San Clemente, CA, Parenteau, Patriquin, and the Aces believe they can make an even deeper run.
“We went from not making out of the pool to getting to the semis,” Parenteau said. “Now we’re only going up from here.”
This article is presented in partnership with New Belgium Fat Tire Ale.
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