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Derek Pihlaja, who led the Menahga boys basketball team in scoring at 19.5 points a game last season, is one of four starters returning for the Braves this season. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Menahga boys expect more success

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Having four starters returning has Jeremy Nordick expecting more success for the Menahga boys basketball team this season.

Being counted on to lead the Braves this season are the four returning starters: senior shooting guard Derek Pihlaja, senior forward Marlin Aho, junior point guard Kasey Tyge and junior forward Tom Gruchow. Pihlaja, Tyge and Gruchow will serve as captains.

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Pihlaja earned Park Region Conference honors after averaging 19.5 points a game last season. Pihlaja played in all 26 games and tallied 506 points, 65 rebounds, 58 assists and 46 steals.

Gruchow was an all-conference honorable mention selection after averaging 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Gruchow also played in all 26 games and had 229 points, 161 rebounds, 14 assists and 19 steals.

Tyge was second in scoring at 11.0 points a game and led the Braves with 83 assists. In 26 games, Tyge had 286 points, 83 rebounds and 39 steals.

Aho also played in all 26 games and averaged 5.1 points and a team-leading 7.1 rebounds a game. Aho compiled 132 points, 184 rebounds, 39 steals and 28 assists last season.

Also back from last year's team that finished with a 3-9 record in the Park Region Conference and 6-20 overall mark are senior forward Matt Skoog, junior forward Ben Skoog, junior forward Derek Hendrickson and junior guard Sean Dormanen. Sophomore Markus Tolkkinen will also see varsity minutes this season.

"I'm very excited about the guys we have returning," said Nordick. "We have four returning starters and they all had great summers. The keys to a successful year will be to stay injury free and stay out of foul trouble early in the year. We've got some good young talent on the bench that still needs to develop. As the season goes on, we hope they can step up when needed."

Sebeka and Bertha-Hewitt tied for the conference title with 11-1 records last season and are the favorites to battle for the conference title again this winter. Sebeka is also the defending Section 8A champion and is favored to defend that title this season.

"We're looking forward to the challenge. I've got a great group of coachable guys with an outstanding work ethic," said Nordick, who will be assisted by Charlie Dormanen and Steve Bruer. "We feel that we can compete with the teams in the conference and section. I'm hoping that we can consistently get better throughout the season and be ready for tournament time. I'm looking forward to a fun season."

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