Before the season began, Cody Pulju thought the Menahga girls basketball team had the talent to win the Park Region Conference and Section 8AA titles.
Even though the Braves fell short of reaching those goals, the Menahga head coach thought his team had a successful season.
The Braves ended up finishing third in the conference standings with a 6-2 record while finishing 10-4 overall. Menahga received the No. 4 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament and saw the season end with a loss to No. 5 Barnesville in the playoff opener.
“We fell short of our goals of winning the conference and section, (but) it was a good season,” said Pulju. “We made good strides forward and gained valuable experience leading into next season.”
The Braves opened the season with a conference win over Sebeka (76-29), a win over Frazee (66-26), and conference wins over Wadena-Deer Creek (41-21) and Pillager (56-33). After a conference loss to Henning (53-47), the Braves put together another four-game winning streak by defeating New York Mills (48-39) in a conference game, Littlefork-Big Falls (87-27), and Sebeka (70-31) and W-DC (40-22) in conference games.
After losses to Big Lake (56-30) and Pillager (51-49 in the conference finale), Menahga closed the regular season with wins over Melrose (35-30 in overtime) and Sauk Centre (43-39). Sauk Centre was rated No. 2 in the state prior to that game. The Braves’ season ended with a 61-53 playoff loss to Barnesville, which trailed 38-14 at halftime.
Henning repeated as conference champs with a 12-0 record while New York Mills was second with a 9-3 record. Following Menahga in the Park Region standings were Pillager at 9-5, W-DC at 6-8, Sebeka at 4-10, Verndale at 2-10 and Bertha-Hewitt at 0-10. The Braves had nine opponents cancel games this season.
For the season, Menahga averaged 53.2 points a game by shooting 37.9% from the field (273 for 720, including going 74 for 299 on 3-pointers) and 62.5% on free throws (125 for 200). The Braves averaged 14.6 turnovers a game while forcing 24.1 turnovers a night. The opposition averaged 37.0 points a game by making 33.9% of their shots (191 for 564, including going 32 for 144 on 3-pointers) and shooting 59.8% at the free throw line (104 for 174).
Leading the Braves this season were seniors Timbr Berttunen and Martha Peterson; and juniors Amanda Lake, Lela Peterson, Allie Pfeifer, Maryn Pinoniemi and Janie Tormanen.
Tormanen led the Braves by averaging 13.9 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, starting 14 games and tallying 194 points, 112 rebounds, 28 steals, 23 assists and nine blocked shots.
Martha Peterson also started all 14 games, averaging 9.4 points a game by scoring 131 points. Peterson also had 37 rebounds, 22 assists and 14 steals while leading the team with 32 3-pointers.
Pinoniemi was third in scoring at 8.8 points a game and finished the season with 106 points, 41 steals, 27 rebounds and 17 assists in 12 starts.
Lake played in 13 games and averaged 6.6 points a night, scoring 86 points while contributing 60 rebounds, 18 assists and 15 steals.
Lela Peterson played in all 14 games and led the team with 51 steals and 33 assists. Peterson scored 87 points and had 26 rebounds.
Berttunen played in all 14 games and had 35 points, 29 rebounds, 12 assists and 11 steals.
Pfeifer also played in all 14 games, contributing 22 points, 31 rebounds, 17 steals and 13 assists.
Also seeing varsity time were senior Samara Kicker; juniors Karrin Lehto and Journie Schoon; freshmen Janelle Hendrickson, Addie Pinoniemi and Erica Tormanen; and eighth graders Mackenzie Anderson and Joie Koll.
The Braves will have two key spots to fill with the graduation of Berttunen and Martha Peterson. However, Pulju is counting on the Braves to contend for conference and section titles again next season.
“Our seniors were huge for us this year. Martha and Timbr have played huge varsity minutes for us for many years. They left an impact on our program that will be felt for years to come. They will be missed greatly,” said Pulju. “We have a lot of experienced girls coming back next year and hopefully they attack this summer hungry and motivated to not finish another season like we did this year. We expect to build off our experience and big wins this year. We need to have a motivated and driven team this summer to be where we want to be next March. We are excited for the offseason and the potential of our team next year.”