Slow start led to 10-16 finish for Menahga boys
Losing some close games early in the season cost the Menahga boys basketball team late in the season. The Braves opened the season by going 4-8 in their first 12 games. Of those eight losses, four were by three points or less. Winning those games...
Losing some close games early in the season cost the Menahga boys basketball team late in the season.
The Braves opened the season by going 4-8 in their first 12 games. Of those eight losses, four were by three points or less.
Winning those games would have helped at the end of the season as the Braves finished with a 9-15 record in the regular season and the No. 8 seed in the North for the Section 5A playoffs. After eliminating No. 9 Laporte, Menahga drew No. 1 Pine River-Backus in the next round and saw the season end with a 66-49 loss.
“We really had some tough losses early on in the year,” said Menahga head coach Jeremy Nordick. “I feel like that cost us at the end of the year when section seeding came out. We easily could have ended up at 16-8 or better. Having to go to the No. 1 seed in the section tourney and try to win is a very tall order and we just couldn’t overcome.”
Menahga opened the season with wins over Frazee (52-33) and Park Rapids (48-44) before dropping Park Region Conference games to Bertha-Hewitt (45-37) and New York Mills (67-65). After a 64-49 loss to Staples-Motley, the Braves lost close conference games to Pillager (70-67) and Sebeka (55-54).
After falling to Pine River-Backus (56-50), the Braves lost to Badger-Greenbush-Middle River 72-64 before defeating Griggs County Central 68-66 at the Northern Cass Holiday Tournament.
The Braves followed a conference win over Henning (62-46) with conference losses to Wadena-Deer Creek (52-50) and Verndale (50-41).
Menahga split the next 12 games, beginning with conference wins over Bertha-Hewitt (64-53) and New York Mills (49-48). Losses to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (78-66), Parkers Prairie (93-72) and Pillager (70-58 in a conference game) followed before the Braves avenged a conference loss to Sebeka with a 62-44 win.
After dropping an 80-59 decision to Browerville/Eagle Valley, the Braves posted conference wins over Henning (53-47) and Wadena-Deer Creek (49-40) before ending the regular season with a 65-36 conference loss to Verndale and a 46-36 loss to Nevis.
Pillager won the conference title with a 13-1 record while Verndale finished at 12-2. New York Mills was 7-7 while Menahga took fourth place at 6-8. W-DC, Henning and Sebeka all finished at 5-9 while B-H went 3-11.
Menahga defeated No. 9 Laporte 76-31 to open the section playoffs before being eliminated by Pine River-Backus.
“I thought we gradually improved as a team throughout the season. We just struggled to get the ball to drop in key moments,” said Nordick. “I am very proud of these guys. They could have packed it in and been done when times were tough, but they all had great attitudes and continued to work to get better.”
For the season, the Braves averaged 52.2 points a game while allowing 57.0 points a night. Menahga shot 36.4 percent from the field and 63.4 percent at the free-throw line and averaged 14.2 turnovers a game.
Leading the Braves this season were the 12 letterwinners: seniors Aaron Hrdlicka, Aaron Rudquist, Charles Haataja, Darien Mickelson and Chance Jokela; and juniors Kirby Hrdlicka, Luke Wurdock, Damon Howard, Alan Pietila, Canton Matson and Charlie Steidler-Thompson.
Aaron Hrdlicka earned all-conference and team MVP honors after leading the Braves by averaging 13.6 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. In 26 games, Hrdlicka compiled 353 points, 238 rebounds, 60 steals, 38 assists and 25 blocked shots.
Rudquist also earned all-conference honors after finishing second on the team by averaging 13.0 points a game. In 24 games, Rudquist scored 313 points and had 95 rebounds, a team-leading 55 assists, 40 steals and 17 blocks.
Kirby Hrdlicka was third in scoring at 7.0 points a night and second in rebounding at 5.9 per game. Hrdlicka played in 24 games and had 168 points, 141 rebounds and 36 steals.
Wurdock played in all 26 games and tallied 158 points (6.1 per game), 72 rebounds, a team-leading 63 steals and 49 assists.
Mickelson had 125 points (6.0 per game), 45 assists and 30 steals in 21 games while Haataja had 140 points (5.6 per game), 114 rebounds, a team-high 35 blocked shots, 32 assists and 29 steals in 25 games.
Howard contributed 114 points and 55 rebounds in 26 games, Pietila had 25 points and 18 rebounds in 20 games, Matson had 24 points and 33 rebounds in 24 games, and Steidler-Thompson had 11 points in 11 games.
Wurdock was named Defensive MVP while Howard and Pietila shared Most Improve Player.
Also seeing some varsity time were Jokela, junior Zach Berttunen, and sophomores Owen Anderson, Anthony Wurdock and Grant Tolkkinen.
“We’re going to miss our seniors. Each of them brought something to the table as far as talent or team-first personality,” said Nordick. “We are excited about the guys we’ve got coming back next year. We return six lettermen and all of them had some varsity experience. They are a blue-collar group that will strive to get better in the offseason. The expectations for next season are to compete for a conference championship. We need to see that commitment in the weight room and on the floor. We need to become better athletes and our knowledge of the game needs to improve. The more we play, the better we will get this summer.”