Our series on the Major League Pickleball franchise continues with an exploration of the women powering the Aces through their inaugural season.
Boardroom brought you exclusive, behind-the-scenes access back in February as to how Major League Pickleball’s Brooklyn Aces were born. In March, we gave readers an inside look into how the Aces roster was constructed and it earned its results in the team’s first-ever tournament in Mesa, Arizona.
In Part III of our series, we’re here to provide an exclusive glimpse at how the roster has changed, how the ladies of the Aces are taking command, and how things went at MLP’s second event of the season in Daytona Beach.
Following the Aces’ quarterfinal run in Mesa, first-round pick Cierra Gaytan-Leach withdrew from the MLP season for personal reasons — this left a women’s roster spot for the team to fill heading into the March 23-26 Daytona Beach tournament. Shortly after Mesa, teams in both the Premier and Challenger Levels had the opportunity to add and drop players via a waiver system set in reverse order based on league standings.
Since the Aces finished sixth in Mesa, they’d have the league’s No. 7 pick in the add/drop period. Though teams were not required to make roster changes, it was in their best interest to try to improve in their push to join the Premier Level permanently in 2024. Brooklyn ended up being the last Challenger team to select a woman in the waiver wire process, leaving the club with a smaller pool to draw from than many rivals.
Samin Odhwani, 35V’s Director of Business Operations, had conversations with team captain Rob Nunnery and some other pro players about whom to select. One name kept coming up multiple times: A high-upside player with limited experience named Hurricane Tyra Black who had just left pro tennis in February to pursue a pickleball career.
One 15-minute phone call later, Odhwani was sold on the newest Ace.
“I was convinced she would be a great fit for our team,” Odhwani told Boardroom. “It was also important for me to add a little youth and athleticism to our squad, which Hurricane undoubtedly brings.”
The Aces added Hurricane Tyra Black shortly before her 22nd birthday. She’s still ranked among the 500 best women’s tennis players in the world, reaching as high as 331st on the WTA list. Black had won three of her first five matches in 2023 and was resting after losing a Feb. 1 match at a tournament in the ITF circuit in Antalya, Turkey.
Coming from a tennis-playing family, Hurricane said she had played the game since she was being pushed in a stroller — but five days later on Feb. 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked southern and central Turkey, causing an estimated 50,000 deaths, decimating the country.
“It was really scary because I’ve never been in an earthquake before,” Black told Boardroom. “There was just so much going on and so many people got hurt there. It was really sad, and to hear everyone’s stories, just awful.”
Amid the unrest and turmoil following the disaster overseas, Hurricane found herself pondering pickleball after recently being introduced to the game by a friend. She ultimately opted to return to the US to play pickleball full-time.
After being picked up by the Aces, she would become the first Black woman ever to compete at MLP’s Challenger Level.
“That means quite a bit to me, and it’s also another reason I came into pickleball,” Hurricane, who lists Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic as her favorite athletes, said of the milestone. “I saw there wasn’t that much diversity in the sport, so I thought it would be a really good time to come in and inspire others to start playing. Pickleball just seemed a little bit more laid back and everyone’s super nice and friendly, so when I came home, everyone was super welcoming and it was just amazing.”
Hurricane possesses a uniquely competitive energy and spirit, but she still had to get reps in to prove the Aces had made a worthwhile investment, so Black played in a couple of tournaments ahead of Daytona with new teammate Corrine Carr.
“We completely took a chance on her,” Carr told Boardroom of the signing, “but she has improved a ton in a very short period of time. Also, I am 33 weeks pregnant, so another little bit of a challenge.”
Carr notified MLP before the player draft that she would be expecting but planned on playing the first two events anyway. One of the league’s most experienced players, Carr still managed to rank 25th out of 48 players in Mesa and 11th among the 24 women despite being 25 weeks pregnant at the time. It’s her first pregnancy, so although she knew she wanted to compete at Daytona, it was likely to be a question mark.
“So, I kind of took a chance and hoped that I would be in good shape to play, and I am,” Carr said with a laugh. “So, it worked out.”
All told, the Aces have chosen to take on more than just their fair share of risk in this inaugural season in their no-stone-unturned approach to gaining an advantage; a conservative organization wouldn’t likely find itself relying on someone who never played an MLP event before in Black paired with a women’s doubles partner was in the latter stages of a pregnancy in Carr.
“I know I’m very pregnant, but I’m still moving. I’m not at 100%, but I’m still playing good pickleball,” the latter said before the tournament, nevertheless noting that she would have no issue and take no offense if she was replaced by someone that team management thought would improve its chances to win.
The unlikely duo of Hurricane and Carr won all three games they played together, with Black ranking No. 7 among all 48 Challenger division players — third among all women — with Carr ranking 14th and fifth among all women.
“Corrine, as she has done previously, absolutely exceeded expectations in Daytona,” Odhwani said. “She is the ultimate professional and brings a level of consistency to our team that is crucial. Additionally, she is someone that pairs wonderfully with Tyra, as her game allows Tyra to be aggressive. That was a winning formula for us in Daytona.”
“I kind of took a chance and hoped that I would be in good shape to play, and I am,” Carr added with a laugh. “So, it worked out.”
After defeating the Texas Ranchers in a dreambreaker in their first match, the Aces lost three of their four games in the second match to Columbus Pickleball Club. Then, in a Mesa group stage rematch, Brooklyn routed the Atlanta Bouncers, winning three of four games. The proceedings ended in some disappointment for the Aces, however, with a loss in the quarterfinals to the Ranchers in a tiebreaker, leading to a seventh-place finish at Daytona.
The Aces now have a total of 14 MLP event points for the season, putting them into a four-way tie for 10th place; 12 of the league’s 24 teams will receive a permanent bump to the Premier Level for 2024.
Odhwani said the team did meet expectations in Daytona and that he’s excited by the Aces’ trajectory heading into their final Challenger event in San Clemente, California in June. “Hurricane has added an immediate level of confidence that gives everyone on our team the belief that we can compete and potentially win in San Clemente,” he said.
The next time the Aces take the court, Carr will hopefully have given birth to her first child — but she’s not ruling out coming back and competing in the third event, looking to play even better than in Daytona when she excelled despite her baby bump.
“I absolutely love pickleball and I’m gonna give everything I have to the sport,” Carr said down in Florida. “I love being out here, which is why I’m here.”
One of the very best players in the Challenger division despite being 33 weeks pregnant, Odhwani believes in Carr’s commitment to playing in June.
“I’ve learned not to doubt Corrine,” he said. “Though she has a million-dollar smile, she is a fierce competitor and is committed to playing in San Clemente, so I expect her to be there.”
There are still some questions that need to be answered going into the California event, however: The Aces, Odhwani said, need to improve in mixed doubles via Rob Nunnery and Greg Dow, maintain a high energy level throughout tournaments, and manage the roster and its practice schedule with maximum precision around Carr’s delivery date.
“If Tyra and Greg continue to improve and Rob raises his level of play to the player I know he can be, I think we have a great chance at making a run in San Clemente,” Odhwani said.
With Hurricane Tyra showing immense potential right from the jump, there’s renewed optimism that the Aces can end their run at the Challenger Level with a strong result that grants impressive momentum heading into the Premier season.
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