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Boys basketball: New York Mills searching for identity with inexperienced group

The New York Mills boys basketball team looks to reload after one of the best seasons in program history. Following the departure of a huge senior class, new Eagles look to leave their mark on a cornerstone Section 6A program.

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The New York Mills boys basketball team practices at New York Mills Secondary on Nov. 28, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus
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NEW YORK MILLS – There will be a lot of fresh faces representing the New York Mills boys basketball team after one of the best seasons in program history last year.

“It’s a special time of year for all the kids involved in basketball,” head coach Mike Baune said. “Everyone is fresh, everyone is hopeful and everyone is excited. It’s good to get back into the swing of things. The start of the season is always choppy, with Thanksgiving break and the long holiday break around Christmas. We’re all just glad to be back in the gym.”

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The New York Mills boys basketball team practices at New York Mills Secondary on Nov. 28, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

The Eagles came up six points short of winning their second section title in program history last March. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa knocked off New York Mills 71-65 in the Section 6A title game, ending a historic run led by a large group of seniors.

New York Mills finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 28-2, including a perfect mark of 14-0 in the Park Region Conference. The Eagled roped off winning streaks of 16 and 12 and were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

For Baune, this year is about establishing a new identity with players looking to seize opportunities.

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“It comes down to experience,” Baune said. “Truthfully, we pretty much have no boys that have big varsity minutes. Experience is something you can’t fake. You can’t teach it at a practice. It just happens over time. The best we can do is teach the things we can teach and gain more of that experience as the season goes on. Hopefully, things start going our way.”

The first few weeks of practice have been about going back to the basics.

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The New York Mills boys basketball team practices at New York Mills Secondary on Nov. 28, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

“Those seniors, God bless them because they played varsity basketball for a very long time. They came in with a ton of fundamentals and a level of skill that we don’t have right now,” Baune said. “We’re starting from scratch offensively, defensively and schematically. We’re working in those regular fundamentals into their game as well, which makes for some really intense practices. We have to make sure we get it right sooner than later.”

Inexperience isn’t necessarily a lack of talent. Baune is excited for new players to leave their mark on a prominent program in Section 6A, and it starts on defense.

“Our identity is going to shift toward being a defensive team for now,” Baune said. “We do have some athletes. Senior Brayden Ehnert is a solid defender for us. He’s our de facto leader on that end. We also have two really good juniors in Teagan Lausten and Sam Kopveiler. I’m looking to lean on them for heavy minutes with some production on offense and defense.”

BBE finished as the Class A state runner-up a year ago and will look to win their fifth section title in program history. Standing in their way is a myriad of contenders hoping to hand another banner.

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New York Mills head basketball coach Mike Baune walks through a drill at a practice on Nov. 28, 2022 at New York Mills Secondary.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

“Henning is always there every year in our conference and section,” Baune said. “Even though they lose guys, they always seem to replace them. They’ve done a good job of getting a feeder program going and stacking athletes on athletes every year. (Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa) is going to be really tough with some really high-quality players, along with Wheaton-Herman-Norcross. They brought back everybody and are going to be incredible. Conference-wise, Wadena-Deer Creek has some talented players who have played for a long time.”

The first step for the Eagles is playing smart. Limiting mistakes defensively will go a long way toward keeping them in close games.

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“Our defensive IQ needs to get better,” Baune said. “We have guys in the wrong places and in the wrong rotations. We need to keep hammering our shell defense and get a lot of reps in. They need to get better at the communication aspect, and also their awareness and IQ of how to play off of each other.”

While another 28-2 season might be far-fetched, the Eagles aren’t ready to count themselves out of any Section 6A or Park Region conference game just yet.

“Our motto, going forward, is ‘Surprise,’” Baune said. “We’re going to surprise teams. Yes, we lost quality players and great individuals, but we have a bunch of quality players looking to step up here. We just want to show teams that we are capable and show them that Mills basketball didn’t fall off a cliff. We’re not dead. We’re here to stay, and we can be competitive.”

NEW YORK MILLS BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Dec. 8 at Battle Lake, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 10 at Mahnomen-Waubun, time TBD

Dec. 13 vs Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 16 vs Menagha, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 17 vs Hancock, 3:30 p.m.

Dec. 19-20 Sebeka Tournament

Dec. 28-29 at Pelican Rapids Christmas Tournament

Jan. 5 vs Pillage, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 10 at Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13 vs Henning, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 19 vs Verndale, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 23 vs Verndale, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 24 vs Sebeka, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 27 at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 vs Frazee, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 at Menahga, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 7 at Pillager, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 10 at Henning, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 13 at NCE-UH, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 16 vs Bertha-Hewitt, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 17 vs Barnesville, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 21 at Verndale, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 24 at Parkers Prairie, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 28 at Rothsay, 7:30 p.m.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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