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Boys Basketball: New Menahga head coach enters season with high expectations

Cory Kapphahn is counting on the Braves to improve, peak at the end of the season.

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Ryan Tolkkinen (1) is the only returning senior letterwinner for the Menahga boys basketball team for the 2022-23 season.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise
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New head coach Cory Kapphahn will be relying on the four returning letterwinners to lead the Menahga boys basketball team to a successful season.

A year ago, a senior-dominated starting lineup led the Braves to a 7-7 record to share fourth place in the Park Region Conference standings and a 13-12 overall mark. Graduating from that team were Nick Wurdock, Connor Korvela, Alex Aho and Christian Johnson. Wurdock and Korvela received all-conference honors while Johnson 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), in 3-pointers with 29 and in blocked shots with 19 while grabbing 131 rebounds. Aho grabbed a team high 222 rebounds and blocked 45 shots while averaging 9.5 points a night. Johnson scored 137 points (6.5 per game) with 21 3-pointers while contributing 55 rebounds, 32 steals and 25 assists.

Providing the leadership for the Braves this season are senior Ryan Tolkkinen (forward) and juniors Knaylor Howard (guard), Bodie Berttunen (forward) and Brayden Aho (guard).

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. 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. Brayden Aho chipped in 36 points, 20 rebounds and 14 steals.

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Also back after seeing some varsity time last season are senior forward Isaiah Usher, junior guard Blaise Anderson and sophomore forward Carder Jettmann. Senior center Brock Berttunen returns after missing last season with an injury while senior forward Quincy Jantz, junior guard Wesley Hodge and sophomore guard Jonas Lusti will round out the varsity roster.

“A couple of long-term goals that I have for the program include building an elementary basketball program that has not existed for a while, which is well underway,” said Kapphahn, who served as an assistant coach at Wadena-Deer Creek for six years. “Another is to build a program of student-athletes that is competitive year after year in the conference and a loaded section.”

A year ago, 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 at 7-7. In the Section 8AA tournament, Menahga received the No. 12 seed and was eliminated with a 71-39 loss to No. 5 Warroad in the first round. Perham defeated Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 54-40 in the section title game.

“I have really high expectations for my guys this year. Even though we lost four starters to graduation, we bring back some really athletic players. We have a lot to work on, but we want to try to take advantage of our athleticism,” said Kapphahn, who will be assisted by Wade Skoog. “I see our squad matching up well with teams in our conference and section. One big thing that we lack that other teams don't is experience in those big games. Our conference usually has one or maybe two teams that are truly expected to win it, but this year there are a handful, with Henning probably as the favorite. The section as everyone knows is absolutely loaded with great basketball teams. I think that those top four or five teams are just on another level, but numbers 6 through 16 could all beat anybody on any given night. With the lack of working together over the summer and very few practices before games begin, we've talked about the second half of the season being more important than the first half. We know that it is going to take some time and want to focus on the positives until we start clicking together as a team.”

REMAINING SCHEDULE

Dec. 6 – at Nevis, 7:15 p.m. Dec. 8 – at Henning, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 – vs. Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 – at New York Mills, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 – vs. Red Lake, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 – at Browerville-Eagle Valley, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 5 – vs. Verndale, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 – vs. Crookston, 2:30 p.m. Jan. 10 – at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 – at Sebeka, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 – at Aitkin, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 – vs. Park Rapids, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 – vs. Pillager, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 – vs. Henning, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 – at Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 – at Barnesville, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 – vs. New York Mills, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3 – vs. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 – at Verndale, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 – vs. Sebeka, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 – vs. Lake Park-Audubon, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 – vs. Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 – at Pillager, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 – at Frazee, 7:30 p.m.

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