Having his players enjoy the game is the primary focus as Tim Wurdock prepares to take over as the head coach of the Menahga boys basketball program.

Wurdock, who has been coaching basketball at some level for the past 25 years and has served as the head coach of the United North Central golf program for the past 20 years, is looking to use that experience to make basketball a positive experience for his players.

“A lot of coaches immediately talk about creating a winning culture,” said Wurdock, who was the Braves’ junior varsity coach last season. “I feel that if we focus on creating a positive culture and help all athletes improve every day, the winning will take care of itself.”

The Braves graduated five of the nine players who saw extensive varsity time a year ago. Tristan Aho, Victor Aho, Jonah Howard, Devan Leritz and Wade Berttunen provided the leadership with Tristan Aho and Berttunen earning Park Region Conference honors and Howard receiving all-conference honorable mention consideration.

Tristan Aho averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, scoring 366 points to surpass 1,000 in his career while pulling down 170 rebounds. Aho led the team with 67 assists and 24 blocked shots while adding 36 steals in 27 games.

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Berttunen was third in scoring at 12.6 points a game, finishing with 289 points in 23 games. Berttunen contributed 108 rebounds, 62 assists and 27 steals.

Howard averaged 8.5 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds a game. In 24 games, Howard scored 204 points and grabbed 199 rebounds while adding 24 assists and 24 steals.

Victor Aho averaged 5.2 points a game and scored 140 points. Aho also had 87 rebounds, 32 assists, 18 steals and 12 blocks in 27 games.

Leritz chipped in 34 points, 48 rebounds and 10 assists in 17 games.

Those five helped the Braves finish with a 7-7 record in Park Region Conference play and end with a 13-15 overall mark last season. For the Section 8AA tournament, Menahga received the No. 8 seed in the South and opened with an 84-70 win over No. 9 Staples-Motley before being eliminated by No. 1 Fergus Falls 70-31. Henning won the conference title with a 14-0 record.

For the season, the Braves averaged 62.5 points a game while shooting 38.7% from the field (610 for 1,578), 30.6% on 3-pointers (195 for 638) and 64.9% on free throws (328 for 505) while Menahga’s opponents averaged 62.9 points a game.

Being counted on to lead the way this season will be the four returning letterwinners: seniors Andreas Aho (guard), Charlie Hodge (guard) and Jared Tolkkinen (guard) and sophomore post Brock Berttunen.

Hodge led the Braves in scoring and 3-point shooting by averaging 15.3 points a game, shooting 37.9% from the field (153 for 403), 31.9% on 3-pointers (69 for 216) and 76.0% from the free throw line (38 for 50) in scoring 413 points to surpass 1,000 career points. Hodge also led the Braves with 82 steals while adding 99 rebounds and 42 assists in 27 games in earning all-conference honors.

Andreas Aho played in 24 games and averaged 7.0 points a game by shooting 43.4% from the field (56 for 129, including 26 for 75 on 3-pointers) and 77.1% from the line (37 for 48) for 175 points. Aho also had 61 rebounds, 53 assists and 29 steals.

Tolkkinen scored 45 points in 24 games, making 16 of 59 shots (including 9 of 36 3-pointers) and 4 of 14 free throws while adding 24 rebounds, 20 steals and 14 assists.

Brock Berttunen played in 21 games and shot 42.0% from the floor (21 for 50) while making 21 of 44 free throws in scoring 51 points. Berttunen also had 107 rebounds, 21 steals and 17 assists.

Looking to fill the other starting spot and provide depth off the bench are senior posts Andrew Litzau and Keaton Juntunen; juniors Nick Wurdock (guard), Alec Aho (post), Christian Johnson (guard), Danny Noland (post), Connor Korvela (guard) and Aaron Pietila (guard); and sophomore guard Ryan Tolkkinen.

“We may have new starters every game. Starting and playing time will be continuously earned at every practice. Since we are not the tallest team around, we need to use our speed and shooting. We have unselfish players that just want to win and aren't worried about personal stats,” said Wurdock, who takes over for Zach Kaiser as the Braves’ head coach. “I feel like the conference will have several teams that will be able to compete for the championship. A year ago we moved from Class A to AA. When our golf team moved from A to AA, people thought our program was doomed. We compete every year on my golf team and I expect the same from this basketball team regardless of which class we play.”

Despite the heavy loss to graduation, Wurdock is setting some lofty expectations in his first season as the Braves’ head coach.

“I have been welcomed by several supportive parents. I expect continued support from the parents and community,” said Wurdock. “I expect the players to embrace the changes I am implementing. I expect our players to work to get better every day. We need to quickly learn from mistakes. We won't have time to learn slowly. We are going to raise the bar of our goals. We have a goal of winning the state tournament. It's why we all play basketball.”

Jan. 15 - vs. Sebeka, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 - vs. Staples-Motley, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 - at Pillager, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 - vs. Henning, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 - vs. Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 - at New York Mills, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 - vs. Verndale, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 - at Sebeka, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 - at Nevis, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 - at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 - at Verndale, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 - vs. Pillager, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 - at Henning, 7:30 p.m.
March 2 - at Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m. March 5 - vs. New York Mills, 7:30 p.m. March 11 - at Park Rapids, 7:30 p.m. March 12 - vs. Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m.