25-0 and on to playoffs
by Tom Coombe
For the Ely Timberwolves, it’s on to the next chapter.
The Section 7A playoffs await for the high school volleyball team, which completed a perfect regular season Tuesday night at Bigfork.
With junior Hannah Penke notching 16 kills and 16 digs, the Wolves overcame a third-set hiccup with a vengeance, pummeling the host Huskies in the fourth to win 25-12, 25-9, 27-29, 25-5.
The victory completed the first full undefeated regular season in Ely volleyball history and set the stage for the 7A tournament, which for the Wolves begins on their home court Wednesday (7 p.m.) night.
Seeding will be determined over the weekend and Ely will meet a play-in round winner, with the chance to move on to Friday’s quarterfinal round, also at home sites.
Ely lost a five-set heartbreaker in last year’s 7A semifinals, and also suffered semfinal defeats in both 2018 and 2019.
The Wolves are looking to take the next step over the course of the ensuing two weeks and earn the program’s first-ever section title and state tournament berth.
They’ll do so as the only unbeaten team in the 7A playoffs and the only Class A team statewide to go the entire fall without a defeat.
That weighed on the Wolves at Bigfork, according to head coach Megan Wognum.
“There was a lot of weight on everyone’s shoulders tonight,” said Wognum.
It looked like win number 25 would be a breeze after two dominant sets, but Bigfork rallied in a third-set marathon before Ely quickly righted the ship.
Penke dominated at the net, while senior twins Rachel and Kate Coughlin both recorded nine kills.
Sophomore Clare Thomas added seven more kills and classmate Lilli Rechichi contributed five, while junior setter Sarah Visser distributed the ball to Ely’s hitters, coming up with a match-high 29 set assists as well as nine digs.
Madeline Kallberg also had 15 assists and 10 digs and came up big at the serving line, delivering seven aces.
Courtney Eilrich, another Ely senior, wound up with nine digs.
Tuesday’s win came on the heels of a Senior Night sweep of Cook County on Monday.
Penke had another double-double, coming up with 13 kills and 10 digs in the 25-10, 25-21, 25-8 rout.
The Vikings had all sorts of trouble with Ely’s serves, as Visser led with nine aces and both Coughlins added four each.
Visser and Kallberg combined for 31 set assists, while Rachel Coughlin was one kill shy of double digits along with seven digs, four blocks and four aces.
Kate Coughlin came up with six kills and four aces, while Rechichi (five kills) and Thomas (four) added to an impressive onslaught.
“We were really together as a team,” said Wognum. “These girls have grown so much throughout the season. When they play with passion,they are unstoppable.”
Opponents have found that out as well, with the Wolves dropping only five sets the entire fall while winning well over 60.
Ely is trailed by North Woods in the north half of 7A while the top-three seeds out of the south are Floodwood, Cromwell and South Ridge.
The Wolves own wins over all of the top contenders, but had to sweat out a three-set decision against South Ridge in a September tournament match-up.
A rematch with the Panthers looms in the Nov. 2 7A semifinals at Hibbing. The 7A title match-up is on Nov. 5 at Hermantown.
“To say I’m proud is an understatement,” said Wognum. “ This team has proven to be a hard working group of ladies with so much ahead of them both in volleyball and in their future careers outside of the gym. They have talent, grit, and overall toughness to accomplish anything. Although the regular season is over, our playoff season is just beginning. We are going to gear up over the next week for our competition ahead.”
• In an Oct. 13 road match-up, Ely swept Nashwauk-Keewatin 25-13, 25-18, 25-19.
Penke had 15 kills and 15 digs, with Rachel Coughlin also notching a double with 10 kills and 13 digs.
Kallberg was next in line recording eight kills and Kate Coughlin netted seven.
Visser passed her way to 24 assists and Eilrich helped on defense with eight digs.
• The playoff home games this week are coordinated by Region 7A and no local passes will be accepted.
Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for students and available at the door.