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Seniors sparked Braves' success

Jeremy Nordick wanted the Menahga boys basketball team to peak at the end of the season.

The Braves did play their best basketball down the stretch as a three-game winning streak led to a 6-3 record in the final nine regular-season games.

However, a loss to Browerville in the second round of the Section 5A West playoffs ended the Braves' season with a 13-13 overall record.

On the positive side, the Braves were able to avoid any major losing streaks. Menahga only had four two-game losing streaks during the season.

On the other hand, Menahga couldn't string a winning streak together. Aside from the late-season three-game winning streak, the Braves managed to win back-to-back games only twice.

After opening the season with wins over Hill City (78-58) and Frazee (78-69), the Braves dropped the Park Region Conference opener to Sebeka (89-61). Menahga then split games at the Swanville tournament, losing to Pine River-Backus (76-58) and defeating Swanville (73-48).

Menahga went 3-7 in its next 10 games, losing to Cass Lake-Bena (81-55) and Nevis (53-42), defeating Pillager (80-52), losing to Henning (60-56) and Bertha-Hewitt (64-38), defeating PR-B (69-60), losing to New York Mills (90-60), defeating Verndale (57-51), and losing to Sebeka (88-75) and Browerville (61-47).

The Braves ended the season on a positive note, beginning with victories over Pillager (51-47), Wadena-Deer Creek (56-50) and Henning (53-50). Menahga split its final six games, losing to Bertha-Hewitt (52-38), defeating Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (54-45), losing to New York Mills (74-67), defeating Park Rapids (65-43) and Verndale (64-48), and losing to Eagle Valley (59-53).

Menahga entered the section playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the West and opened with an 83-53 victory over No. 11 Pillager. The Braves' season ended with a 67-51 loss to No. 3 Browerville in the second round.

For the season, the Braves averaged 60.1 points a game while allowing 61.1. Menahga finished fourth in the conference standings with a 5-7 record.

"We had a lot of ups and downs throughout the year," said Nordick. "I thought down the stretch we were playing much better basketball, but we couldn't seem to get over that hump. The expectations are always high. We want to be there competing and have a shot at the end come tourney time. I thought we had things in place, but we ran into a physical Browerville team and we couldn't get a couple big shots to fall."

Leading the Braves this season were seniors Tom Gruchow, Kasey Tyge, Sean Dormanen, Ben Skoog and Derek Hendrickson; junior Markus Tolkkinen; and sophomore Tanner Schwartz.

Gruchow was named the Braves' Most Valuable Player after leading the team in scoring (14.1 points per game), rebounding (8.8 per game) and steals (3.6 per game). In 26 games, Gruchow scored 367 points to end his career with 1,042 points. Gruchow also had 228 rebounds, 94 steals, 45 assists and 11 blocked shots. Gruchow also received all-conference honors.

Tyge was second on the team in scoring at 11.4 points a night and led the Braves with 42 3-pointers and 71 assists. In 26 games, Tyge scored 296 points to end his career with 1,008 points. Tyge also had 111 rebounds and 81 steals. Tyge was named the Braves' Offensive Most Valuable Player and received all-conference honorable mention honors.

Tolkkinen received all-conference honors after finishing third in scoring at 9.2 points a game. In 26 games, Tolkkinen scored 240 points and had 123 rebounds, 64 assists and 60 steals. Tolkkinen received the team's Newcomer of the Year award.

Ben Skoog was named the Braves' Most Improved Player after averaging 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. In 26 games, Skoog had 197 points, 144 rebounds, 64 steals and 37 assists.

Hendrickson played in 22 games and averaged 5.9 points a game. Hendrickson tallied 129 points, 70 rebounds, 25 steals and 24 assists and received the team's Sharpshooter award.

Dormanen played in all 26 games and averaged 5.5 points a game. Dormanen finished the season with 143 points, 48 rebounds, 48 steals and 32 assists. Dormanen was named the Braves' Defensive MVP.

Tanner Schwartz played in all 26 games and tallied 136 points (5.2 per game), 90 rebounds, 33 steals and 27 assists.

Also seeing varsity time were junior Justin Luedke; sophomores Stetson Burkman, Brandon Junes, Jeff Skoog and Jeff Johnson; freshman Levi Schwartz; and eighth grader Austen Schwartz.

Even though the Braves graduate five key players, Nordick is counting on the returning varsity players and the junior varsity players who went 20-2 this season to lead Menahga to another successful season next year.

"We graduate five seniors who have been the backbone of our program since I came to Menahga five years ago. They have worked their tails off to get better each year. They have really set the bar as far as leading by example, hard work and being a role model for the younger players. They are all truly great student-athletes and will be missed greatly," said Nordick. "We had some young guys really step up this year and play some quality minutes for us. They love the game and are very competitive. We look forward to the talented kids we've got coming up. I think they learned from our seniors this year on how hard you need to work to give yourself an opportunity to win. The expectations, as always, will be to compete for that conference and section title."