Football: New York Mills reloads with hopes of repeating as Section 6A champions
The new York Mills football team was one of the final four teams left standing in Class A last year. Now, with a competitive schedule and a reloaded roster, the Eagles are excited to defend their crown in Section 6A.
NEW YORK MILLS – The New York Mills football team made it all the way to U.S. Bank Stadium last fall as the champions of Section 6A, and they’re looking to do it again.
The Eagles finished the 2021 season 10-2 after losing in the Class A state semifinals to the eventual champion Mayer-Lutheran 41-6. Head coach Matt Radniecki believes they have the tools to reload after an impactful senior class departure.
“The key to reloading for this team is to look at where we were last year and try to pick up where we left off,” Radniecki said. “We were playing good football, and we had a lot of momentum. Our last game wasn’t what we wanted it to be. At the same time, a lot of teams would’ve wanted to be where we ended up. We had a lot of good practices and a lot of confidence building for younger kids who are seniors and juniors now.”
New York Mills made it to state in football and baseball while coming up a game short in basketball.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Radniecki said. “We’ve had good baseball and basketball programs too. Our wrestling teams have been in the section semifinals. When you’re in a small, Class A school, the kids always play multiple sports. The success carries over from each sport.”
The Eagles have been at or near the top of Section 6A across multiple sports for many years. Radniecki coaches a confident team who plays with a chip on its shoulder.
“We’ve had some good athletes. We can’t kid ourselves,” Radniecki said. “We’ve been fortunate to be blessed with some really good players over the past few years in football and other sports. This year, we have 13 seniors. A lot of them have been in those runs in all of the sports. That’s where confidence and mentality comes from. We talk about goals, and I’m not a big win-loss goal guy. I like getting to October and playing our best football. But these guys believe they’re going to win when they step on the football field, baseball field, wrestling mat and basketball court. It’s not a cocky thing. It’s a winning mentality.”
One of the senior leaders for this fall is Monte Briard, who’s been itching to get back on the football field since last October. He said playing in the state semifinal “makes you want to get back even more.”
“I can’t wait for the Friday night lights. It’s what I look forward to all year long,” Briard said. “We want to make our last year the best year here. We’re all really close with each other. We have a pretty good team bond with this group.”
The Eagles were the third seed in the Section 6A playoffs after a 7-1 regular season. Their only regular-season loss came against Section 8A’s Polk County West. New York Mills put up almost 30 points per game while allowing just 10.
“We need to trust each other and have people step up,” senior Jon Rinerson said. “We need the second-string guys to be able to step in and do their job. Everyone needs to be ready when they’re called upon.”
After making it out of a top-loaded section, Briard knows the Eagles will have a target on their back, especially against rival opponents such as Pine River-Backus and Wadena-Deer Creek. New York Mills also takes on the defending Section 8A champs, Mahnomen-Waubun, in the last game of the regular season.
“I think we’re ready for it,” Briard said on living up to expectations. “I think last year we had a lot of good role models to look up to. A lot of us got a lot of playing time. We’re ready to come back and do our thing this year.”
“Wadena has become our rivalry,” Radniecki said. “We look forward to that game. We had a good game with them last year in Mills, and we’ll have a good game with them this year in Wadena. As far as the section, Pine River-Backus is a good team. We beat them twice last year. They’re going to be one of the favorites with the returning guys, and we get them at home this year. We got some good games on our schedule. That competition makes us better. Adding Mahnomen-Waubun at the end, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to do that before playoffs, but it could be a good measuring stick.”
It’s a special time to be an Eagle in New York Mills. Playing in front of a small town passionate about its high school sports teams keeps kids excited to come back.
“It’s not just the winning, but everything that goes along with it,” Radniecki said. “It’s fun and the atmosphere. It’s the people downtown when they see you at the store saying, 'good luck' when you’re 6-0 instead of 0-6. It’s that mentality that develops in smaller communities like New York Mills no matter what the sport is.”