Menahga girls top expectations with 23-6 record

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Cody Pulju thought the Menahga girls basketball team exceeded expectations in his first year as head coach.

The Braves won the Park Region Conference title for the first time in 11 seasons with a 12-2 record and ended the season with a 23-6 overall record to tie the school record for most victories in a season.

Menahga earned the No. 2 seed in the North for the Section 5A tournament and lost to Cromwell, the No. 1 seed in the North, 78-40 in the section semifinals. Cromwell, which was rated No. 7 in the final regular-season state Class A poll, went on to win the section title and place third at the state Class A tournament.

"I thought the season was successful," said Pulju. "I thought we were able to exceed expectations and surprised a lot of people this season."

The Braves opened the season with a 6-2 record with a win over Pine River-Backus (57-50); a loss to Cromwell (82-63); victories over Waubun (61-55), Henning (76-56 in the conference opener) and Bertha-Hewitt (100-17 in another conference game); a conference loss to New York Mills (73-50); and wins over Verndale (69-48 in a conference game) and Frazee (69-42).

After splitting games at the Mountain Iron-Buhl tournament with a loss to Mountain Iron-Buhl (86-53) and a win over Clearbrook-Gonvick (93-57), Menahga closed the regular season by going 14-2 in the final 16 games.

A win over Swanville (78-64) was followed by conference victories over Sebeka (57-48), Wadena-Deer Creek (78-51) and Pillager (63-58). After a loss to Henning (65-50), the Braves put together a seven-game winning streak by defeating Hill City (66-25), Browerville/Eagle Valley (77-56), B-H (70-22), New York Mills (75-66), Nevis (56-37), Verndale (56-39) and Sebeka (58-36).

Perham snapped that winning streak with a 51-45 victory before Menahga defeated W-DC (69-44), Pillager (61-60) and Park Rapids (71-66) to end regular-season play with a 22-5 record. The Braves opened the Section 5A tournament with a 61-22 win over McGregor and a 58-43 victory over Pine River-Backus before falling to Cromwell.

For the season, the Braves averaged 64.8 points a game while allowing 51.6 points a night. Menahga shot 39.0 percent from the field (including 26.6 percent on 3-pointers) and 57.1 percent at the free throw line.

Leading the Braves this season were seniors Lindsay Hendrickson and Alayna Lake; junior Leah Schwartz; sophomores Alyssa Peterson, Cierra Ahlf, Megan Hendrickson and Aimee Lake; freshman Tara Hendrickson; and eighth grader Martha Peterson. Of that group, Lindsay Hendrickson, Alyssa Peterson, Ahlf and Megan Hendrickson received all-conference honors while Aimee Lake was an all-conference honorable mention selection.

Peterson led the team in scoring at 20.9 points a game and surpassed 1,000 career points during the season. Peterson scored 606 points and had 116 rebounds while leading the team with 93 assists in 29 games.

Ahlf was second on the team in scoring with 354 points (12.2 per game) and in rebounds with 197 (6.8 per game) while adding 90 assists in 29 games.

Lindsay Hendrickson capped off her senior season with 294 points and 164 rebounds, averaging 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, while adding 39 assists in 28 games.

Megan Hendrickson played in 26 games and led the Braves with 218 rebounds (8.4 per game) while compiling 239 points (9.2 per game) and 75 assists.

Aimee Lake played in 20 games and had 134 points (6.7 per game), 70 rebounds and 78 assists.

Alayna Lake chipped in 30 points, 43 rebounds and 13 assists in 25 games. Schwartz had 62 points, 87 rebounds and 28 assists in 28 games. Tara Hendrickson compiled 71 points, 46 rebounds and 14 assists in 23 games. Martha Peterson had 62 points, 26 rebounds and 20 assists in 22 games.

Also seeing some varsity time this season were sophomores Annika Aho and Courtney Koebernick; freshmen Annie Lake and Jessica Pietila; and eighth graders Kate Hendrickson and Timbr Berttunen.

"We were a really young team and although we had a successful season, nobody was satisfied," said Pulju. "We lose Alayna and Lindsay, who brought a ton of leadership to our team. We have players that are eager for the chance to step in and fill their spots. These girls work extremely hard and will continue to work on their game all off-season. We will need to have some players step up and develop into leaders. Going into next year our expectations will be high. We will return a talented group, but nothing will be handed to us. We will always get everyone's best and we need to be prepared for that by working hard knowing every single day when we leave the practice gym that no one outworked us."