Braves had ups, downs during season

The Menahga boys basketball team rode a roller coaster in posting a 13-15 record.

Wade Berttunen (left) capped off his senior season by averaging 12.6 points a game for the Braves. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

With a veteran group returning, Zach Kaiser expected the Menahga boys basketball team to produce a successful season.

Not being able to consistently put their best lineup on the floor prevented the Braves from producing the season the Menahga head coach expected.

“Our season was filled with ups and downs. I was happy with the way we competed. We improved on our conference record and our overall record from last year,” said Kaiser, whose team finished 7-7 in Park Region Conference play and 13-15 overall after going 6-8 in the conference and 12-15 overall last season. “We dealt with injuries, illness and other absences that we were fortunate to not have last year. We were able to compete, but I truly think that affected our overall record as we were probably less than 10 possessions away from 3 to 5 more wins.”

The Braves, who moved to Section 8AA this season, opened with wins over Frazee (69-64 in a section game) and Bertha-Hewitt (75-31 in the conference opener). Three losses followed as Menahga was defeated by New York Mills (75-62 in a conference game), Nevis (62-48) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (65-51). A 74-38 win over Laporte ended that slide before Menahga split games at the Blizzard of Basketball Tournament at Concordia College with a 64-43 loss to Barnesville in a section game and a 71-58 win over Rothsay.

After a 59-29 conference win over Verndale, a 77-67 loss to Pine River-Backus and a 70-50 conference win over Sebeka, the Braves suffered five straight losses, beginning with an 85-36 section loss to Fergus Falls. Conference losses to Pillager (55-54), Henning (85-58) and Wadena-Deer Creek (67-64 at Target Center) were followed with a 55-39 loss to Lake Park-Audubon.


Menahga returned to the win column with conference victories over Bertha-Hewitt (68-62), New York Mills (72-69) and Verndale (84-51). After a 71-64 loss to Browerville/Eagle Valley, the Braves edged Sebeka 65-64 in overtime in a conference game before dropping conference games to Wadena-Deer Creek (54-52), Henning (89-56) and Pillager (78-67). Menahga closed the regular season with wins over Swanville (85-52) and Park Rapids (81-70).

Henning, which was rated No. 2 in the final state Class A regular-season poll, won the conference title with a 14-0 record to extend its winning streak against Park Region opponents to 33 games in a row. Pillager and W-DC went 10-4 with New York Mills finishing at 9-5. Following the Braves were Sebeka (4-10), Verndale (2-12) and B-H (0-14).

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.

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.

“We had games with leads that we couldn't finish and just weren't consistent enough with our shot making ability. We’d shoot 40% from 3 one night, then shoot 1 for 25 on another night. It's tough to consistently win games when not shooting consistently,” said Kaiser. “Besides our games against Fergus Falls, we kept ourselves in games and competed hard. We lost late leads to Wadena twice and to Pillager at home and lost halftime leads to Walker and in Pillager. I was happy with the way we competed, but we weren't always happy with the result.”

Leading the Braves this season were seniors Tristan Aho, Victor Aho, Jonah Howard, Devan Leritz and Wade Berttunen; juniors Andreas Aho, Charlie Hodge and Jared Tolkkinen; and freshman 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, Hodge scored in double figures 25 times (including six games with at least 20 points) with a high of 26.

Tristan Aho averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. Aho shot 43.1% from the field (124 for 288, including 25 of 92 3-pointers) and 71.0% at the line (93 for 138) in scoring 366 points to surpass 1,000 in his career. Aho led the team with 67 assists and 24 blocked shots while adding 170 rebounds and 36 steals in 27 games. Aho scored in double figures 20 times (with five games with at least 20 points) with a high of 25 and had two double-doubles with a high of 11 rebounds.


Wade Berttunen was third in scoring at 12.6 points a game, making 37.4% of his shots (100 for 267, including 28 of 95 3-pointers) and 70.1% of his free throws (61 for 87) in scoring 289 points in 23 games. Berttunen contributed 108 rebounds, 62 assists and 27 steals while scoring in double figures 15 times with a high of 29.

Howard averaged 8.5 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds a game. In 24 games, Howard shot 41.4% from the field (75 for 185) and 41.4% at the line (72 for 174) while scoring 204 points and grabbing 199 rebounds. Howard also had 24 assists and 24 steals while posting five double-doubles. Howard scored in double figures nine times with a high of 18 and had nine games with at least 10 rebounds with a high of 18.

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 of 75 3-pointers) and 77.1% from the line (37 for 48) for 175 points. Aho also had 61 rebounds, 53 assists and 29 steals with nine games in double figures with a high of 17 points.

Victor Aho averaged 5.2 points a game while making 33.6% of his shots (43 for 128, including 29 for 88 on 3-pointers) and 35.0% on free throws (14 for 40) while scoring 140 points. Aho also had 87 rebounds, 32 assists, 18 steals and 12 blocks in 27 games while scoring in double figures six times with a high of 16.

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.

Leritz chipped in 34 points (making 13 of 30 shots and 5 of 11 free throws), 48 rebounds and 10 assists in 17 games.

Also seeing varsity time this season were senior Patrick Simmons; junior Andrew Litzau; and sophomores Alec Aho, Christian Johnson, Daniel Noland, Al Pietila and Nick Wurdock.


“These seniors meant a great deal to the program and to me personally. I know that I am a better person for having coached these young men. I know these guys, playing on varsity since 9th grade, didn't have the season that they were expecting to have. We had conversations throughout the year: getting beat, getting beat up and injured, feeling down on ourselves at times. I asked them to constantly remember their purpose and to restructure their purpose for when things weren't going the way we had planned,” said Kaiser. “There are a lot of things that go into being successful record-wise; things that aren't always seen by those outside of the program. What was seen was a group of hardworking role models with great attitudes. That will carry these young men further in life than anything they learn or do in basketball.”

Graduating that talented group of seniors leaves several key positions to fill. However, Kaiser is optimistic about the future of the Menahga boys basketball program.

“Next year, the team will definitely miss these seniors, but I trust that the underclassmen will step up. The JV team, comprised of mostly sophomores, had a successful season record-wise and can hopefully make that next step into the varsity system,” said Kaiser. “Menahga should see themselves competing for top spots in the conference. (Section 8AA) is a tough section with the likes of Fergus Falls, Perham, East Grand Forks, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Barnesville and Breckenridge. I expect it to be a tough section again next year. So much of basketball nowadays depends on the individual work put in during the summer and the choice to become better. It will all start with who wants to get better in the off season.”

Points: Hodge 413, T. Aho 366, W. Berttunen 289, Howard 204, An. Aho 175, V. Aho 140, B. Berttunen 51, Tolkkinen 45, Leritz 34, Heegard 8, Wurdock 7, Johnson 3, Litzau 1, Pietila 1.
Rebounds: Howard 199, T. Aho 170, W. Berttunen 108, B. Berttunen 107, Hodge 99, V. Aho 87, An. Aho 61, Leritz 48, Tolkkinen 24, Wurdock 8, Heegard 6, Noland 4, Treinen 4, Johnson 3, Litzau 2, Al. Aho 2, Pietila 1.
Assists: T Aho 67, W. Berttunen 62, An. Aho 53, Hodge 42, V. Aho 32, Howard 24, B. Berttunen 17, Tolkkinen 14, Leritz 10, Wurdock 3, Heegard 3, Johnson 1, Pietila 1, Treinen 1.
Steals: Hodge 82, T. Aho 36, An. Aho 29, W. Berttunen 27, Howard 24, B. Berttunen 21, Tolkkinen 20, V. Aho 18, Leritz 9, Heegard 4, Wurdock 1, Pietila 1.
Blocked shots: T. Aho 24, B. Berttunen 15, V. Aho 12, Leritz 8, Hodge 4, W. Berttunen 3, Tolkkinen 1, Howard 1, Al. Aho 1.
Field goals: Hodge 153 for 403, T. Aho 124 for 288, W. Berttunen 100 for 267, Howard 75 for 185, An. Aho 56 for 129, V. Aho 43 for 128, B. Berttunen 21 for 50, Tolkkinen 16 for 59, Leritz 13 for 30, Noland 3 for 6, Wurdock 3 for 7, Heegard 2 for 11, Johnson 1 for 2, Pietila 0 for 1, Litzau 0 for 2, Al. Aho 0 for 5, Treinen 0 for 5..
Three-point field goals: Hodge 69 for 216, V. Aho 29 for 88, W. Berttunen 28 for 95, An. Aho 26 for 74, T. Aho 25 for 92, Tolkkinen 9 for 36, Leritz 3 for 8, Howard 3 for 11, Johnson 1 for 2, Wurdock 1 for 4, Heegard 1 for 4, Pietila 0 for 1, Litzau 0 for 1, B. Berttunen 0 for 6.
Free throws: T. Aho 93 for 138, W. Berttunen 61 for 87, Howard 51 for 87, Hodge 38 for 50, An. Aho 37 for 48, V. Aho 25 for 36, B. Berttunen 9 for 26, Leritz 5 for 11, Tolkkinen 4 for 14, Heegard 3 for 5, Pietila 1 for 1, Litzau 1 for 2.

1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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