It took some time for the members of the Menahga boys basketball team to adjust to new head coach Tim Wurdock.
After going through a six-game losing streak, the Braves ended the regular season by avenging losses to Pillager, Henning and Wadena-Deer Creek. Those three victories gave Menahga a 5-6 record in Park Region Conference play and a 6-8 record going into the Section 8AA playoffs. A loss to Staples-Motley in the tournament opener ended the Braves’ season at 6-9.
“The start of the season was bumpy. The athletes had to adjust to my style and my voice,” said Wurdock. “Some questioned me a few times till they realized certain things would not be tolerated in this program. Then we got big wins against great teams (Pillager and Henning). The kids were able to buy into what we were demanding.”
After opening the season with a 68-40 win over Sebeka, the Braves went through a losing streak with losses to Staples-Motley (63-53), Pillager (66-43), Henning (81-39), New York Mills (63-49), Clearbrook-Gonvick (66-58) and Wadena-Deer Creek (72-58).
Menahga ended that skid with a 66-58 win over Pillager, a 47-46 victory over Henning and a 65-40 win over Bertha-Hewitt. After losses to Verndale (50-32) and New York Mills (74-54), the Braves ended the regular season with wins over Lake Park-Audubon (53-45) and Wadena-Deer Creek (58-53).
New York Mills captured the conference title with a 12-1 record while Henning (9-4), Pillager (9-5), W-DC (7-7) and Verndale (6-7) followed. Sebeka (3-10) and Bertha-Hewitt (0-11) rounded out the conference standings.
Menahga received the No. 8 seed in the South and opened the tournament with a 70-51 loss to No. 9 Staples-Motley.
For the season, the Braves averaged 53.1 points a game while allowing 59.1 points a night. Menahga shot 34.8% from the field (282 for 810, including going 113 for 401 on 3-pointers) and 66.3% at the free throw line (120 for 181) while averaging 14.9 turnovers a night. The opposition shot 38.7% from the field (323 for 834, including going 89 for 320 on 3-pointers) and 61.5% at the line (152 for 247) while averaging 16.5 turnovers a game.
Leading the Braves this season were seniors Charlie Hodge, Andreas Aho and Jared Tolkkinen; juniors Nick Wurdock, Christian Johnson, Alec Aho and Connor Korvela; and sophomore Ryan Tolkkinen.
Hodge led the Braves in scoring at 12.8 points a game and in 3-pointers with 28. Hodge scored 141 points and had 35 rebounds and 21 steals in 11 games.
Wurdock averaged 11.0 points and led the team with 105 rebounds in 14 games. Wurdock scored 154 points and had 32 assists and 28 steals while making 26 3-pointers.
Andreas Aho was third in scoring at 10.8 points a night and led the Braves with 55 assists and 34 steals. In 15 games, Aho scored 162 points and chipped in 36 rebounds.
Jared Tolkkinen played in 14 games and scored 91 points for a 6.5 average per game. Tolkkinen also had 34 assists, 29 steals, 28 rebounds and 14 3-pointers.
Johnson also played in 14 games and scored 77 points (5.5 per game) while adding 29 rebounds, 14 steals, 12 assists and 11 3-pointers.
Alec Aho led the team with 35 blocked shots while contributing 70 points (5.4 per game), 95 rebounds, 20 assists and 14 steals in 13 games.
Ryan Tolkkinen scored 53 points (3.5 per game) and had 51 rebounds, 16 assists, 11 steals in 15 games.
Korvela played in 13 games and had 34 points (2.6 per game) and 31 rebounds.
Also seeing playing time this season were seniors Andrew Litzau and Keaton Juntunen; junior Aaron Pietila; sophomores Isaiah Usher and Paul Bernardo; and freshman Bodie Berttunen.
“I owe a lot to former Menahga coaches Jeremy Nordick and Zack Kaiser. I stole many of the drills from them and I relied heavily on my assistant, Nick Jasmer,” said Wurdock. “The athletes met my expectations. (They) worked hard at practice and got better every day.”
Even though the Braves graduate a strong senior class, Wurdock is counting on the returning players to produce a successful season next winter.
“I've coached Jared and Andreas since they were very young. They play well together and know where the other will be on the court. It was my first year with Charlie. I knew he was a great shooter, but I liked the fact that he was willing to teach the younger players. They all care about the program. They all put personal stats aside to help us win. They will be missed,” said Wurdock. “The young guys need to get in the gym this summer. If healthy, we could have a little height next year. The offense will be different. This year it seemed like we had five guards on the court, all shooters. Next year, we could pound the ball inside a little. We'll have five seniors that played some varsity. We'll also have talent in grades 10 and 11 next year. They will not only be asked to push the seniors, but they'll battle for starting spots.”