The fifth and final team event in the inaugural season of the National Pickleball League took place in San Antonio, Texas on September 16-17, 2023. The Austin Ignite entered play in second place behind the Oklahoma City Punishers, with the Indianapolis Drivers closely behind in third.
In the opening Saturday morning session, the team faced the Boca Raton Picklers. Tina Lum and Missy Grant won a rollercoaster match after splitting the first two games, taking over the third game early and pulling away with an 11-2, 9-11, 11-5 victory. Lum described the match as being “exhilarating,” and it inspired the rest of the team as well, as Jon Han and Vivek Talyan also won an early three game match to tie the team score 2-2. Scott Crandall and Jose Derisi continued their stellar play, as did Anna Shirley and Chris Karges, both pairs winning in two games to put the Ignite up 4-2. The next three matches were decisive, as Han/Grant changed their strategy midway through the second game to win in three games 4-11, 11-10, 11-3. Han said, “We were very positive and supportive even after losing game one and down 8-3 in game two. We never blamed each other at all and I think it is because we like each other on and off the court.” Captain Steve Dawson also commented that they “could have done the really easy thing and just lose but they did the very difficult thing.” Joe Paraiso paired with Taylor Taylor for another exciting finish as they too came back to win 8-11, 11-5, 11-10! According to Paraiso, he “just tried to stay in the point.” Next on the court was Greg Bennett and Stacy Potter, who put the Ignite up 6-4 in another thriller by winning 10-11, 11-8, 11-8. Final match score was 8-4.
The afternoon session was much less dramatic as Austin dominated the Denver Iconics, taking a huge 8-0 lead before finally winning 9-3. Lara Thornton(women’s doubles) and John Hedberg(men’s doubles) both made their presence felt, winning early matches to set the tone!
The Indianapolis Drivers came out strong from the beginning in the Sunday morning rivalry match, taking 3-1 and 4-1 leads before Crandall/Derisi beat Rick Witsken and Rich Lopez in a highly spirited contest in three games, sparking the Ignite to pull even at 4-4. Unfortunately, the Drivers won three of the next four matches to win overall 7-5, creating a logjam at the top of the NPL team standings going into the last regular season session.
The Austin Ignite then faced the Oklahoma City Punishers to decide who would finish in first, second, or third place. In order for the team to win the regular season standings, it needed a near miracle, and that is exactly what happened! Not only did they beat their foes, but also they did it in near perfection, winning by a lopsided 11-1! Not enough can be said about the TOTAL TEAM EFFORT to pull off this amazing feat!
With this last victory, the Austin Ignite came in first place overall as they head into championship weekend in Glendale, Arizona, October 13-15, with the #1 seed and a first round bye. As usual, the staff at the Chicken n Pickle venue did an outstanding job as host, and the other NPL sponsors continued their great support as well.
Go Austin Ignite!!!