Braves met goals by finishing above .500, contending for conference title
Jeremy Nordick thought the Menahga boys basketball team had the potential to win the Park Region Conference title this season.
Losing two games to Henning late in the season prevented the Braves from winning or sharing the conference title.
Despite finishing third in the conference, the Braves had a successful season by going 8-4 in conference play en route to a 14-12 overall record.
The Braves opened the season with wins over Frazee (67-57) and Sebeka (65-60 in the conference opener) before dropping games to Verndale (66-58 in a conference game), Staples-Motley (78-64) and Swanville (89-69).
Back-to-back wins over Pine River-Backus (57-44) and Eagle Valley (66-63) and a loss to Pillager (67-63 in a conference game) were followed by a conference win over Bertha-Hewitt (53-51). The Braves followed a loss to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (80-49) with a conference win over New York Mills (66-55) and a loss to Nevis (63-52).
Menahga went on a five-game winning streak by defeating Verndale (50-48 in a conference game), Pine River-Backus (65-49), Sebeka (64-54 in a conference game), Wadena-Deer Creek (79-54) and Pillager (63-61 in another conference game).
After two conference losses to Henning (65-57 and 74-58) and a loss to Parkers Prairie (85-73), the Braves defeated Bertha-Hewitt (64-48 in a conference game), lost to Browerville (64-41), defeated New York Mills (75-68 in a conference game) and lost to Park Rapids (70-61).
For the Section 5A tournament, the Braves received the No. 7 seed in the West and opened the playoffs with a 62-50 win over No. 10 Sebeka before being eliminated with a 90-53 loss to No. 2 Browerville.
Henning won the conference title with a 10-2 record while Pillager ended at 9-3 and Menahga went 8-4. Following the Braves were Verndale at 7-5, Bertha-Hewitt at 5-7, and New York Mills and Sebeka at 1-10.
“It was a very fun season filled with a number of exciting moments. We had high expectations going into the season. We felt we had the potential to really compete for a conference championship,” said Nordick. “We missed out on a few opportunities and ended up third in the Park Region. I know there are a couple of games the guys would like to have back. If we could have split with a tough Henning team, we would have been in a three-way tie for first. That’s how tight the top of the conference was. Our section was also loaded with some very good teams. We ended up with a No. 7 seed and had a record over .500, so the teams above us were very solid as well.”
For the season, the Braves averaged 61.3 points a game while allowing 63.6 points a night. The Braves shot 40.8 percent from the field (577 for 1,415), 28.4 percent from 3-point land (127 for 447) and 63.3 percent from the free throw line (315 for 498) while averaging 14.4 turnovers a game.
Leading the Braves this season were seniors Tanner Schwartz, Stetson Burkman, Brandon Junes and Jeff Johnson; juniors Levi Schwartz and Bob Lusti; and sophomores Austen Schwartz, Austin Rudquist and Calvin Taylor.
Tanner Schwartz and Burkman received Park Region Conference honors while Levi Schwartz was an all-conference honorable mention selection.
In the 12 conference games, Tanner Schwartz averaged 25.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. Schwartz scored at least 19 points in every conference game with a high of 35 and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in seven games with a high of 15. In addition to scoring 302 points and grabbing 119 rebounds against conference opponents, Schwartz had 30 steals, 29 assists and 16 blocked shots. Schwartz was named the Braves’ Most Valuable Player.
Burkman played in 11 conference games and averaged 7.0 points and 7.4 rebounds. Burkman scored 77 points (with a high of 17) and grabbed 81 rebounds (with a high of 12) and had 17 assists, 17 steals and nine blocks against conference opponents.
Levi Schwartz played in all 12 conference games and averaged 7.0 points and 7.0 re bounds a game. Schwartz scored 84 points (with a high of 19) and grabbed 84 rebounds (with a high of 10) and had 10 steals, nine assists and five blocks.
For the season, Tanner Schwartz played in all 26 games as a starting guard and averaged 24.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. Schwartz shot 48.3 percent from the field (232 for 480, including 58 for 162 on 3-pointers) and 69.2 percent at the free throw line (126 for 182) in scoring 648 points. Schwartz hit double figures in all 26 games with a high of 35 and grabbed double digits in rebounds 11 times with a high of 15. Schwartz also led the team with 243 rebounds, 63 steals (with a game high of eight), and 29 blocks (with a game high of five) and was second on the team with 55 assists (including a game high of six).
Austen Schwartz was second on the team in scoring at 8.7 points a game and led the Braves with 127 assists (including 13 in one game). The starting point guard in 26 games shot 30.3 percent from the field (79 for 261, including 23 for 90 on 3-pointers) and 74.2 percent at the line (46 for 62) in scoring 227 points with a game high of 18. Schwartz also had 41 rebounds and 35 steals.
Levi Schwartz played in all 26 games as a forward and averaged 6.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a night. Schwartz shot 42 percent from the floor (60 for 143) and 55.3 percent at the line (52 for 94) in scoring 179 points with a high of 19. Schwartz was second on the team in rebounds with 191 and added 26 steals, 22 assists and 14 blocked shots.
Burkman played in 24 games and averaged 6.4 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Burkman made 65 of 165 shots (39.4 percent) and 15 of 23 free throws (65.2 percent) in scoring 153 points (with a high of 19). Burkman had 149 rebounds, 30 steals, 29 assists and 17 blocks.
Rudquist averaged 5.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. In 26 games, Rudquist shot 48 percent from the field (47 for 98) and 66.2 percent at the line (45 for 68) in scoring 137 points with a high of 12. Rudquist had 156 rebounds (with a high of 13), 23 assists and 22 steals as a forward.
Lusti played in 24 games and shot 39.6 percent from the field (40 for 101, including 22 for 74 on 3-pointers) in scoring 106 points. Lusti also had 31 rebounds, 28 steals and 21 assists as a guard.
Junes was a forward in 20 games and scored 57 points with 53 rebounds, 24 assists and 13 steals.
Johnson played in 26 games as a forward and compiled 47 points, 33 rebounds, 19 steal and 14 assists.
Taylor played in 20 games and scored 27 points with 48 rebounds and 13 blocks.
Also seeing varsity time this season were junior Luke Aho and sophomores Jake Kicker, Nick Meyer, Blake Hillukka, DJ Paulson and Kyle Skoog.
“The seniors meant very much to our program. They were in sixth grade when I came to Menahga. It’s just been very special for me to watch them grow up together and become young men. Our four seniors will be greatly missed. I think it will be very awkward for me personally that first day of practice next season without them there because they’ve been such a staple in our program. They’re all great guys and all have very bright futures,” said Nordick. “The expectations will be very high next season. We return three starters (Levi Schwartz, Austen Schwartz and Rudquist) and return a number of guys that all made an impact on varsity this season. We’re also excited about the young group we’ve got coming up. There is a lot of potential there and they like to work hard. That should make for a promising year. It’s now time for the off-season and the challenges ahead for our young players. We need to get better fundamentally and we need to get stronger in the weight room to have a chance to compete for a conference and section championship.”