Posted On: 02/28/18 9:45 AM
Last season the Verndale Pirates had a very successful season, going 21-7 overall and making it to the Section 5A semifinals before losing by 4 to the eventual Section Champion, the Nevis Tigers.
They lost a lot of production from that team to graduation, and as a result, this season has not produced the results they have come to expect, as they currently have a 10-14 record with one regular season game left to play on Friday against Pine River-Backus.
However, they have been playing good basketball lately, coming out victorious in their last three games with wins against section opponents Walker-Hackensack-Akeley and Sebeka, and a victory against Wadena-Deer Creek, a conference foe that is a Class AA team and had previously been on top of the Park Region Conference.
The Pirates have relied heavily on a pair of seniors, Owen Korfe, who we profiled a couple weeks ago, and 6’1” wing Luke Weniger.
For the season, Weniger is averaging 16.5 PPG, 7.13 REB, 2.26 AST, and 1.13 STL through 24 games.
Weniger was a key component of last year’s team and has been looked to for leadership this season. “Luke is our only player who had significant varsity experience coming into the season” says head coach Greg Johnson. He also adds that “I expect Luke to be our leader on and off the court.”
When watching Weniger play it is evident that his biggest asset to the team is his versatility. On offense, he has the ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and drive to the hoop, as well as post up smaller defenders. On defense, he can guard all five positions against most teams in their conference due to his combination of athleticism and physicality.
Coach Johnson agrees, saying that “Luke’s number one strength is his ability to score the basketball in a variety of ways.” The Verndale roster does not have a ton of size, and as a result Luke has had to contribute heavily on the glass as well. “He has also been very valuable to us as a rebounder” says Johnson.
When asked to describe his strengths as a player, Weniger says “I believe that some of my strengths are being able to see the whole court to find my open teammates and also my ability to drive to the hoop.” While he is capable of providing scoring for the Pirates, the senior leader is only focused on one thing, and that is winning. “Personally, I just go on the court and do everything that I can to help our team win.”
In a win last Friday against Sebeka, Weniger posted 32 points, which pushed him over the 1,000-point plateau for his high school career.
As for his plans after his distinguished high school career is over, Weniger says that he has not been in contact with any college programs but plans to pursue a career in law enforcement wherever he lands.
The youth and inexperience coming into the season for Verndale has provided the Pirates with many ups and downs during the regular season, but they are currently playing their best basketball of the season. “I believe that at the end of the season that we will be a scary team that could win our section” says Weniger.
With the leadership of their senior tandem of Owen Korfe and Luke Weniger, Verndale could prove to be a tough out next week as the Section 5A playoffs commence.
***Photo Credit: Wadena Pioneer Journal***