Boys Basketball: Menahga competed on the court
Seniors provided the leadership during 13-12 campaign.
MENAHGA – Led by a senior-dominated starting lineup, the Menahga boys basketball team posted a 13-12 overall record this season.
The Braves opened the season with a 60-59 win over Northland, a 71-45 loss to West Central Area, a 56-33 win over Bertha-Hewitt and a 66-52 loss to New York Mills. After wins over Verndale (62-44) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (67-27), Menahga dropped games to Wadena-Deer Creek (52-28) and Browerville-Eagle Valley (58-55).
A three-game winning streak followed as the Braves defeated Sebeka (61-17), Staples-Motley (64-55) and Pillager (63-52). Menahga went 1-5 in its next six games, losing to Park Rapids (76-57) and Henning (59-37), defeating B-H (50-32), and dropping games to Parkers Prairie (66-56), New York Mills (70-68) and Verndale (59-46).
Menahga ended the regular season with wins over Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (62-48) and Sebeka (77-52), a loss to W-DC (58-52), a win over Lake Park-Audubon (60-58), a loss to Henning (77-57), and victories over Frazee (72-67) and Pillager (67-57).
New York Mills won the Park Region Conference title with a 14-0 record with Henning (12-2) and Verndale (8-6) following. Menahga tied Wadena-Deer Creek for fourth place at 7-7 while Pillager (6-8), Bertha-Hewitt (2-12) and Sebeka (0-14) rounded out the conference standings.
For the Section 8AA tournament, Menahga received the No. 12 seed after going 1-4 against section opponents and was eliminated with a 71-39 loss to No. 5 Warroad in the first round.
For the season, Menahga shot 38.4% from the field (515 for 1,341, including going 163 for 509 on 3-pointers) and 62.1% on free throws (213 for 343) while averaging 56.5 points a game. The Braves averaged 16.8 turnovers a game. Menahga’s opponents averaged 55.0 points a game while shooting 36.6% from the field, 27.0% on 3-pointers and 58.9% on free throws while averaging 17.6 turnovers.
Leading the Braves this season were seniors Nick Wurdock, Connor Korvela, Alec Aho and Christian Johnson; junior Ryan Tolkkinen; and sophomores Knaylor Howard, Bodie Berttunen and Brayden Aho. Wurdock (190 points, 84 rebounds, 34 assists, 24 steals in 13 conference games) and Korvela (141 points, 76 rebounds, 14 assists, 30 steals in 14 games) received Park Region Conference honors while Johnson (73 points, 28 rebounds, 15 assists, 23 steals) was an all-conference honorable mention player.
Wurdock led the Braves with 358 points (14.9 per game), 68 assists and 39 3-pointers and was second with 142 rebounds and 46 steals.
Korvela led the team with 60 steals and was second in scoring with 245 points (9.8 per game), 3-pointers with 29 and blocked shots with 19. Korvela finished third on the team with 131 rebounds while adding 23 assists.
Alec Aho grabbed a team high 222 rebounds and blocked 45 shots while averaging 9.5 points a night. Aho scored 218 points and had 25 assists and 24 steals while making 19 3-pointers.
Tolkkinen averaged 7.8 points a game, scoring 194 points and making 14 3-pointers. Tolkkinen also had 97 rebounds, 31 steals and 28 assists.
Johnson scored 137 points (6.5 per game) with 21 3-pointers while contributing 55 rebounds, 32 steals and 25 assists.
Howard averaged 4.0 points a game by scoring 93 points and making 15 3-pointers. Howard was second on the team with 49 assists and had 47 rebounds and 25 steals.
Berttunen scored 92 points (3.7 per game) and had 58 rebounds, 29 assists and 12 steals while making 21 3-pointers.
Also seeing some varsity time were juniors Isaiah Usher and Kobe Bernardo, sophomore Blaise Anderson and freshman Carder Jettmann.
“I have coached the seniors for years. I felt like they had mastered the offensive sets, but we had an expectation of improving our shooting as a team,” said Menahga head coach Tim Wurdock. “The coaching staff focused on shooting drills and we dedicated large portions of practice for this. Overall the defense improved. When we shot well, we were tough to beat.”
The Braves will once again rely on shooting and defense next season as they attempt to replace the four seniors and move up in the conference and section rankings.
“The program will miss the seniors. They played well together. They enjoyed others' success more than their own. They leave a legacy of hard work and camaraderie to the younger players,” said Wurdock. “We have players returning with varsity experience. Ryan Tolkkinen is a hybrid player, with size and shooting ability. Bodie Berttunen can score from outside and has some size to defend stronger players. We have some guards who will need to have a good summer getting comfortable with the offense and improve their jump shot. I think our team defense will be the key, using our speed, team rebounding and running transition. Despite losing four senior starters, with work this summer, we could hold our own next year.”