Once again, section belongs to Wolves

by Tom Coombe

They don’t have the section’s best runner.<BR><BR>Their primary rival had a pair of top-five individual finishers.<BR><BR>But on a rainy, muddy day in Cloquet, it was clear that the Ely Timberwolves have something - tremendous overall depth -that none of their area opponents can match.<BR><BR>With five of the top-16 overall runners, Ely cruised Thursday to its second consecutive Section 7A championship and earned a berth in this weekend’s state meet.<BR><BR>Sophomore Casey Sovil placed seventh and earned an individual state bid, and four of her teammates were close behind as Ely had a section-best 53 points during the 7A event at Cloquet.<BR><BR>That eased a season’s worth of pressure for the Wolves, who entered Thursday’s race with a number-four state ranking and on the heels of a regular season in which they regularly beat section foes.<BR><BR>“I think this year was a little bit more stressful,” said Ely Head Coach Jayne Dusich. “Last year we just went out and ran well. This year we thought about it a little more.”<BR><BR>But Dusich was still wary about the section meet, and those fears seemed to be legitimate once Hermantown placed two runners in the top five.<BR><BR>A sea of red followed, however, as the Wolves dominated the next phase of the race.<BR><BR>Sovil gained her second consecutive section top-10, taking seventh and completing the 4,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 37 seconds.<BR><BR>Senior Jenna Klein was the next Elyite to finish, running a 15:47 for 12th overall.<BR><BR>Right behind was sophomore Carolyn Freeman, who placed 13th in 15:57.<BR><BR>Ely wasn’t about to be denied its section title, as Jen Zupancich and Taryn Cunningham followed their teammates.<BR><BR>Zupancich took 14th in 15:58, and Cunningham had one of her best outings of the season with a 16th-place run of 16:01.<BR><BR>“Hermantown had two runners ahead of ours already, but Casey and Jenna and Carolyn and Jen ran really well and they beat the next Hermantown girl,” said Dusich. “Then a Hermantown girl was 15th and Taryn came right in after that and beat their fourth runner.”<BR><BR>That was more than enough to lift the Wolves, who finished 18 places ahead of second-place Hermantown (71), which grabbed the second and final 7A team slot at the state meet, set for Saturday at Northfield.<BR><BR>International Falls (105), Mesabi East (135) and Esko (159) rounded out the top-five in a meet that included 14 full teams and runners from more than 20 7A schools.<BR><BR>The Ely girls entered the race with a clear strategy.<BR><BR>“I think we planned it a little better,” said Dusich. “We went out there to beat certain girls, the ones from Hermantown and International Falls. And our girls did a good job of taking care of that. I think we beat all the Falls’ girls.”<BR><BR>Also finishing for the Wolves at sections were Mary Anderson (47th, 17:08) and Amelia Donars (50th, 17:13).<BR><BR>The overall section winner was Cromwell’s Samantha Smith, who took first in 15:00.<BR><BR>The regular season results served notice that the Wolves would be a strong contender for a second straight section team title, but the seeds for the championship may have been planted during the summer, according to Sovil.<BR><BR>“We had lost four seniors so I thought it would be difficult to make up for that loss,” said Sovil. “But we met as a team two or three days a week during the summer to work out, and Jayne motivated us this year and made us work hard.”<BR><BR>And there’s still some room for improvement when the Wolves compete this week.<BR><BR>“The weather (at Cloquet) was miserable and kind of threw off our times,” said Sovil. “Our places were up there but we didn’t have our best times.”<BR><BR>