Uncharted territory: New York Mills boys experience the highs and lows of high school hoops

After a 28-2 record with a 6A runner-up finish last year, The New York Mills boys basketball team has just one win as of Monday. How the Eagles are navigating new challenges and uncharted territory.

1 Hunter Holtti.JPG
New York Mills' Hunter Holtti goes up for the tough shot over while being smothered by a Wolverine defender in in the Eagles' 60-49 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena on Jan. 27, 2023.
Nick Leonardelli / Wadena Pioneer Journal

NEW YORK MILLS – Legendary NBA head coach Pat Riley once said, “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again."

The New York Mills boys basketball 2022-23 season has had a season filled with “choices.”

The Eagles’ 2021-22 campaign was one of the best in program history. This year has been a complete 180. It’s forced a group of committed players to navigate new challenges and unforeseen expectations.

As of Monday, Feb. 6, New York Mills is 1-17 overall, 1-9 in the Park Region Conference and 0-4 in Section 6A play. At this time last season, New York Mills was 17-1 with sights set on its first state tournament appearance since 2006.

So, what changed? Despite the Eagles having their first losing season since 2017-18, it’s a year that presented opportunities for players to step onto the varsity basketball scene for the first time.


New York Mills head coach Mike Baune spoke about the obstacles his team would have to overcome.

1 Mike Baune.JPG
New York Mills' head coach Mike Baune awaits his next move in the Eagles' 60-49 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena on Jan. 27, 2023.
Nick Leonardelli / Wadena Pioneer Journal

“It comes down to experience,” Baune said in an interview before the season in December. “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.”

Unfortunately, time is finite at the high school level. The Eagles only have so many chances to learn the ropes before it’s too late. That’s been one of the biggest hurdles for Baune’s guys so far.

“They are adjusting to varsity-level basketball,” Baune said following a 60-49 loss against Wadena-Deer Creek on Jan. 27. “It took some time, and there were some ugly games, but outside of maybe a couple practices, we have grinded for a long time. We stay late at practices. I’ve been really impressed about our focus at practice and really proud about how hard these guys work.”

What’s missing from last year to this year are the intangibles Baune can’t teach, at least not overnight.

“One of the biggest challenges I would say is basketball IQ stuff, which is something you can’t fake or teach in a week or two,” Baune said. “It has taken us about a half a season to really figure out how to adjust to the speed and physicality of the varsity game and build that IQ offensively and defensively. Now, we are starting to transition here into some good, quality varsity basketball.”

Baune has had to make adjustments of his own. Some of the little things he never worried about a year ago were suddenly on his radar.

1 Finn Roder.JPG
New York Mills Finn Roder brings the ball up in the Eagles' 60-49 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena on Jan. 27, 2023.
Nick Leonardelli / Wadena Pioneer Journal

“It’s having to teach every little single scenario which varies from group to group,” he said. “If you have a bunch of guys who have been playing varsity for a long time or basketball for their life, you don’t have to do that as much. With a team like this who haven’t played a long time and at the varsity level, it's about taking a step back to teach every little detail.”


In going from a 28-win team to a one-win team, Baune has embraced the dramatic change.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m an elementary teacher, so I love teaching from Step A and building from there, and that’s what we have done. It’s tough right away, and you have to keep grinding through it. Now that we are on Step D-E, we are trying to work our way down to a quality team. That’s what it is. Teaching the little things is different but I enjoy it.”

The 2022-23 season hasn’t been all negative. The biggest positive of the season so far was the Eagles’ 66-46 trouncing of Sebeka on Jan. 24, 2023. The win ended New York Mills’ 14-game losing streak and was an enormous boost to team morale.

1 Braxton Ehnert.JPG
New York Mills' Braxton Ehnert attempts to shoot over a couple of Wolverine defenders in the Eagles' 60-49 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena on Jan. 27, 2023.
Nick Leonardelli / Wadena Pioneer Journal

“Getting that 20-point win with the kids playing so hard and seeing some shots go down was great,” Baune said. “It just gets their confidence going. The next two practices after that, the kids had some more swagger. Then, against Wadena, we were ready to battle and go punch for punch with them. It’s all about building that confidence.”

So what's next for the New York Mills boys basketball team?

In a season full of lessons learned, the Eagles are taking a game-by-game approach. It's all about celebrating the little wins, which they hope will evolve into big ones.

Baune doesn’t see any quit in his team just yet. A successful rest of the season for the Eagles would be to beat some of the top teams in the Park Region Conference and hopefully see playoffs run through New York Mills.

“I like the spot we are in,” Baune said. “We have (seven) games left. Outside of the top two teams, Wadena and Henning, it’s kind of a jumble of teams. We are a few wins down from being in the middle tier. That's our goal for the remainder of the season to knock off the Menahgas, the Bertha-Hewitts, and the Verndales of the world. Hopefully, we can get a home playoff game and have a chance to win that game.”

What To Read Next
Get Local