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Braves fall short of goals with 11-14 record, No. 6 seed in section tourney

Before the season began, Steve Schreiber was looking for the Menahga girls basketball team to finish in the upper half in both the Park Region Conference and Section 5A West standings.

The Braves fell just short of meeting those expectations by going 6-6 in conference play and 11-14 overall.

Menahga got off to a fast start by opening the season with wins over Park Rapids (73-35) and Hill City (65-15) and a conference win over Verndale (66-41).

After dropping a conference game to pre-season favorite Sebeka (55-47) and losing to Wadena-Deer Creek (80-59), the Braves defeated Eagle Valley (68-47) for a 4-2 start.

At the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton tournament, the Braves split games with a 64-40 loss to Warren and a 68-43 win over Hankinson.

The Braves followed a 75-26 conference win over Pillager with two close losses to conference rival Henning (51-49 in overtime) and Nevis (51-50).

Menahga improved to 10-6 by winning four of the next five games. The Braves prevailed in conference games over Bertha-Hewitt (61-54) and New York Mills (76-29) before dropping a conference game to Verndale (58-52). A conference win over Pillager (64-16) and a win over Browerville (56-43) kept Menahga in position to finish second in the conference and earn a top-four seed for the section playoffs.

A six-game losing streak put an end to those hopes as the Braves lost to Frazee (43-38), Sebeka (60-36), Henning (58-50), Staples-Motley (69-33), Bertha-Hewitt (63-57) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (58-55).

Menahga ended the regular season with a 79-32 win over New York Mills and a 66-54 loss to Pine River-Backus.

For the section tournament, Menahga received the No. 6 seed and had its season end with a 60-47 loss to No. 3 Nevis.

For the season, Menahga averaged 56.7 points a game while allowing 48.7 points a night.

The Braves shared fourth place in the Park Region Conference standings with Verndale with a 6-6 record. Sebeka won the conference title with a 12-0 mark while Henning and Bertha-Hewitt both finished at 8-4.

Leading the Braves this season were seniors Arielle Pihlaja, Alicia Ahlf and Beth Tormanen; juniors Tarah Cleveland, Maria Tormanen and Shannon Skoog; sophomore Jenny Skoog; and freshman Shelby Pihlaja.

Cleveland earned all-state honorable mention honors after leading the Braves in scoring at 22.4 points a game. Cleveland made 186 of 431 field goals (including a team-high 49 3-pointers) and 138 of 177 free throws in scoring 559 points to raise her career total to 2,221. Cleveland scored in double figures in 24 games, scored at least 20 points 15 times and scored at least 30 points three times with a high of 40. Cleveland also was second on the team with 100 steals and 78 assists and also grabbed 70 rebounds in 25 games.

Arielle Pihlaja was second on the team in scoring at 6.8 points a night. Pihlaja was second on the team with 37 3-pointers and made 63 of 195 field goals en route to scoring 169 points with a high of 13. Pihlaja led the way with 42 blocked shots and was second on the team with 145 rebounds with a game-high of 12. Pihlaja also tallied 43 steals and 24 assists in 25 games.

Jenny Skoog led the Braves with 166 rebounds and was third in scoring at 6.3 points a game. In 25 games, Skoog made 63 of 169 field goals (including 19 3-pointers) and 13 of 23 free throws for 158 points. Skoog also had 27 assists, 24 steals and 11 blocks. Skoog had season highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Shelby Pihlaja averaged 5.7 points a game, making 53 of 171 field goals (including 18 3-pointers) and 18 of 32 free throw for 142 points. In 25 games, Pihlaja had 63 rebounds, 27 assists and 24 steals.

Ahlf also played in all 25 games and made 36 of 116 field goals and 42 of 78 free throws for 114 points (4.6 per game). Ahlf also had 133 rebounds (5.3 per game), 40 steals and 30 assists. Ahlf's season high was 17 points.

Beth Tormanen led the Braves with 151 steals (6.0 per game) with a game-high of 16. Tormanen averaged 3.8 points a game, making 30 of 77 field goals and 32 of 61 free throws for 95 points. Tormanen also had 92 rebounds and 83 assists.

Maria Tormanen made 22 of 70 field goals and 19 of 26 free throws in scoring 68 points (2.7 per game). In 25 games, Tormanen had 65 rebounds, 34 steals and 21 assists.

Shannon Skoog played in 24 games and made 14 of 51 field goals and 6 of 13 free throws for 39 points. Skoog also had 34 rebounds, 22 steals and 17 assists.

Also playing key roles on the varsity were senior Patricia Haataja, juniors Bradi Carlson and Morgan Clements, freshman Hannah Allebach, and eighth grader Jen Stifter. Haataja had 10 rebounds in 14 games, Carlson had 20 points and 17 rebounds in 15 games, Clements had 23 rebounds in 16 games, and Stifter played in 11 games.