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Seniors being counted on to lead Braves

Jeremy Nordick is counting on experience and athleticism to lead the Menahga boys basketball team to a successful season.

The Braves return seven key players from a team that went 6-6 for fourth place in the Park Region Conference and 12-14 overall. Menahga was the No. 8 seed for the Section 5A West playoffs, losing to No. 1 Browerville in the second round.

Being counted on to lead the Braves this season are seniors Brandon Junes (6-foot-2 forward), Stetson Burkman (6-3 forward), Tanner Schwartz (6-5 guard) and Jeff Johnson (6-2 guard); juniors Levi Schwartz (6-1 guard), Bob Lusti (5-10 forward) and Luke Aho (5-6 guard); and sophomores Austen Schwartz (5-8 guard), Jacob Kicker (5-8 guard), Blake Hillukka (5-9 guard), DJ Paulson (5-9 guard), Kyle Skoog (6-0 guard), Nick Meyer (6-0 forward), Austin Rudquist (6-3 forward) and Calvin Taylor (6-5 center).

Tanner Schwartz was second on the team in scoring last season at 16.2 points per game and led the team by averaging 7.8 rebounds a night. Schwartz hit 162 of 339 field goals (including 33 3-pointers) and 64 of 89 free throws for 422 points in 26 games. Schwartz also led the Braves with 45 blocked shots while tallying 203 rebounds, 46 steals and 38 assists.

Austen Schwartz was third in scoring at 6.2 points a night. Schwartz made 58 of 196 shots (including 30 3-pointers) and 15 of 27 free throws in scoring 161 points. Schwartz also had 77 assists and 44 steals in 26 games.

Burkman also played in all 26 games and averaged 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds a night. Burkman made 68 of 141 shots and 7 of 10 free throws for 151 points while compiling 127 rebounds, 38 steals and 25 assists.

Levi Schwartz played in all 26 games and made 31 of 92 shots and 25 of 46 free throws for 94 points. Schwartz also had 88 rebounds, 18 steals, 17 assists and 15 blocks.

Junes scored 78 points and had 53 rebounds and 20 steals in 26 games. Junes made 32 of 81 shots and 14 of 25 free throws.

Rudquist appeared in 22 games and had 46 points by making 14 of 29 shots and 18 of 26 free throws. Rudquist also had 38 rebounds.

Also seeing some varsity time last season were Johnson (10 points in 15 games), Skoog (11 points in 18 games), Taylor (four games), Kicker (four games) and Skoog (three games).

The biggest loss for the Braves is the graduation of Markus Tolkkinen (who led the team in scoring at 17.0 points a game and in assists with 101 and steals with 75) and Justin Luedke (who averaged 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds a night).

"I think we've got a very energetic and athletic group with some solid senior leadership. Right now we've got a number of players competing for spots and playing time. I think this will do great things for our depth down the stretch of the season," said Nordick. "We will look to our seniors early and often to lead and make plays for us. We've also got a good balance of young guys that will get plenty of varsity experience this year."

Nordick is counting on the returning players to help the Braves move up in the conference standings and make it farther in the section playoffs.

"Our expectations are high," said Nordick. "We need to come together, understand our individual roles and stay healthy. I think we'll be tough to beat if we can accomplish these things."