Weekend #4 in the inaugural season of the National Pickleball League took place at the beautiful Chicken n Pickle facility in Wichita, Kansas, on September 12-13, 2023. The Austin Ignite came in atop the league standings with a 9-3 record, followed by Oklahoma City Punishers at 8-4, the Indianapolis Drivers at 7-5, and the Boca Raton Picklers, the Naples JPP, and the Denver Iconics each at 4-8.
The first round session featured the Ignite playing against the Picklers, a team that was slowly moving up the standings; however, our strong, early pairings featuring Joe Paraiso/Saed Ibsais, Tina Lum/Cris Kessler, and John Hedberg/Scott Trevethan helped to put leads on the board 3-1 and then 5-2. Eventually, Austin prevailed for the victory, to stay atop the league standings with a record of 10-3.
The afternoon match versus second place Oklahoma City proved to be more challenging albeit exciting as well. The first pairing of Paraiso/Ibsais were up 11-0, 8-0 against Milner/Muno, before facing match points against in the decisive third game, only to eventually regain their composure to win 11-10! This will go down as one the all-time greatest matches in the history of the league! But the Punishers took control from there, leading 4-1 before easily cruising to an overall victory. The Ignite put out a strong lineup, including the dynamic duo of Anna Shirley/Chris Karges, Jose Derisi/Steve Dawson, and Lara Thornton (the Silent Assasin)/Amy Yarbrough, yet this was not enough as Oklahoma City continued their strong season play to pull even with the Ignite for first place overall.
One of the off-court highlights took place Saturday night at the home of David and Lori Belew – and joined by pickle star Jay Devilliers! Dave, a former substitute player earlier in the season, and Lori had an Austin Ignite team party at their lovely home only a few miles away from Chicken n Pickle. The team exchanged laughs, stories, played games, and bonded over delicious food and company.
On Sunday morning, match #3 of the weekend had the Ignite facing a difficult Denver Iconics squad, who started their season slowly, but had been clawing their way back up the standings. Once again, the Ignite fell behind early, 2-4, and although they fought hard including a victory from Vic Talyan/Lara Thornton in mixed doubles, the team eventually lost to the Iconics.
In the last team match of the weekend, Austin was pitted against the struggling Naples JPP, a team the Ignite had success against this season. The pairings of Kessler/Grant and Talyan/Trevethan each were winners and helped build momentum for the remainder of the afternoon, as the Ignite once again held off JPP for the victory.
The Oklahoma City Punishers had a very triumphant weekend, winning their matches to put themselves back into first place, with Austin Ignite right behind with a record of 11-5. Weekend #5 of the National Pickleball League takes place September 16-17 in San Antonio, Texas, and the team feels very confident in finishing the regular season in strong position heading into Championship Weekend held in Glendale, Arizona October 13-15.
Once again, the league sponsors need to be recognized, and these include but not limited to: Chicken n Pickle, Julian Coffee Roasters, Gearbox, Corona Premier. The physical trainers, staff and volunteers also need to be thanked.
Go Austin Ignite!!