Braves look to take the next step
The Menahga boys basketball team is hoping to build off last season's strong finish.
With four players who started games and eight other players being counted on to play quality minutes, head coach Zach Kaiser is counting on depth to make the Menahga boys basketball team competitive in preparing to make the move from Section 5A to Section 8AA for the playoffs.
Seniors Tristan Aho, Wade Berttunen and Jonah Howard join junior Charlie Hodge as returning players who started games last season. Being counted on to fill the other starting spot and provide depth off the bench will be seniors Nick Treinen, Devan Leritz, Pat Simmons, Keegan Heegard and Victor Aho; juniors Andreas Aho and Jared Tolkkinen; and freshman Brock Berttunen.
Howard earned all-conference honors after averaging 9.9 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. Howard played in 23 games and compiled 227 points, 217 rebounds, 21 steals and 17 assists.
Tristan Aho was second in scoring at 11.2 points a night. In 22 games, Aho scored 246 points and had 97 rebounds, 35 assists and 29 steals.
Hodge played in all 25 games and contributed 241 points, 64 rebounds, 28 assists and 25 steals while leading the team with 54 3-pointers.
Berttunen had a team-leading 67 assists to go along with 209 ponts, 89 rebounds and 34 steals in 25 games.
Heegard, Leritz, Simmons, Treinen, Andreas Aho and Tolkkinen also saw some varsity time last season.
The Braves must replace five key players from last year’s team that peaked at the end of the season to finish 6-8 in the conference and 12-15 overall. Zach Floyd (173 points, 108 rebounds, 56 assists, 36 steals in 24 games), Mason Hotakainen (42 points, 33 rebounds in 22 games), Thomas Litzau (24 points, 22 rebounds, 15 steals in 21 games) and Gavin Matson (17 rebounds in 12 games) graduated while Gavin Hillukka (who received all-conference honors after leading the Braves in scoring at 11.2 points a game while adding 110 rebounds, 53 assists and 20 steals in 25 games) moved. Those players helped Menahga average 60.6 points a game while allowing 59.0 points a night. The Braves made 180 3-pointers and averaged 15.8 turnovers a game while forcing 14.8 turnovers a night.
“We have the potential to be very deep,” said Kaiser. “Our expectations are that we will pressure the ball and create turnovers and quick scoring opportunities. We need to be able to take care of the ball offensively. We plan to use our athleticism and speed to cause havoc defensively as well as our experience to take control of games and take care of the basketball. We made great strides from the beginning of the season last year to the end and we must take the next step on both ends of the floor.”
Henning returns as the favorite in the conference after going 14-0 in Park Region play and winning the state Class A title last season. Kaiser sees Pillager as the top contender in the conference and defending champion Perham as the team to beat in the section.
“It’s hard not to pick Henning as the preseason favorite. They will continue to be a force with the players they’ve brought back. Pillager was at the top of the conference last year and is returning most of their key players. We expect that we can compete with both of these squads and see ourselves being in one of the top spots in the conference,” said Kaiser. “Looking at Section 8AA, there are a lot of great teams and Perham is probably the favorite at this point. We are excited to get the chance to compete against bigger schools and see how we stack up.”
With an experienced group returning, Kaiser is counting on the Braves to improve on last year’s tie for fourth place in the conference and produce more wins this season.
“This year we hope to stay healthy. We hope that our seniors are rewarded for the work and dedication to the program,” said Kaiser. “We've got guys at every level who are excited to come to practice every day and do whatever is asked of them. We have guys who work hard during practice and outside of practice, guys who want to get better every day, guys who set personal goals in the context of how it helps the team, and guys who are selfless. That's all you can ask for as a coach. The on-the-court success will take care of itself from there.”