Boys boast returning talent

by Tom Coombe
With the core of a 20-win team returning, the Ely Timberwolves have high hopes for the new season.
The high school boys basketball team opens the 2016-17 campaign Saturday at Two Harbors, the first step in an effort to take the next step in Section 7A.
Ely’s season was cut short early last winter in a 42-41 playoff heartbreaker, but the Wolves return several key players from a team that went 20-7.
“We hope to be competitive with everyone on our schedule and we also hope that we are playing our best basketball in March,” said Tom McDonald, who has been head coach at Ely since 1990.
McDonald will guide an athletic Wolves team that boasts experience, quickness and an ability to rack up points in a hurry.
Junior Carter Gaulke is Ely’s top returning scorer and a potent three-point shooting threat.
The third-year starter averaged 16 point and five assists per game last winter, and joins senior Evan Omerza in giving the Wolves one of the better backcourts in 7A.
Omerza scored just under eight points per game as a junior, but also averaged a team-best eight assists per night and proved to be a tenacious defender.
The Wolves also have one of the area’s top athletes in senior Josh Heiman, who scored 13 points per game last season and used his leaping abilities - he is a state-caliber triple jumper - to secure rebounds against taller foes.
Size figures to be a concern for the Wolves, who will have to match up against bigger opponents in some key games.
Ely’s top inside player from a year ago - Michael Lah - has graduated.
“We also need someone to fill the role of Michael Lah,” said McDonald. “He was our most important player on the floor last season and the glue of our team. I am not sure where our rebounding will come from but we will really miss that from Michael.”
Among those who figure to contribute inside for the Wolves are seniors Braxton Casey and Izaak Nosbisch, who both logged many minutes as juniors, as well as 6-3 junior Blaise Lah.
Three-point shooting is always part of Ely’s arsenal, and Gaulke will be joined by sophomore Pat Vanderbeek, who averaged eight points per game last season, as long-range threats.
Another three-point shooter, junior Adam McDonald, is out for up to 12 weeks with a wrist injury, which puts a significant crimp into the Wolves’ depth.
Others in the mix for playing time this winter include senior Zach Dean, sophomores Jasiah Wigdahl, Trevor Mattson and John Cook and foreign exchange student Felipe Reis.
“We will need to stay healthy and I think we need to be best on the defensive end of the floor,” said Tom McDonald.
The Wolves have a busy slate - and one with several high-powered foes.
Ely takes on 7A titleist Mt. Iron-Buhl and runner-up Northwoods, while recent 7A powerhouse Fond du Lac was added to the docket this winter. The Wolves also host Class AAA Hibbing and have two dates with Chisholm, including one on Feb. 11 at Target Center.

Ely Wolves Boys Basketball
2016-17 Schedule

Dec. 3: at Two Harbors, 1:30 p.m.
Dec. 9: at Int. Falls
Dec. 10: Hill City, 1 p.m.
Dec. 16: Northwoods
Dec. 17: Lake of the Woods, 2:45
Dec. 20: at Silver Bay, 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 3: at Northeast Range
Jan. 6: Hibbing
Jan. 10: at Greenway
Jan. 13: at Nash.-Kee.
Jan. 14: Cook County, 2:45 p.m.
Jan. 17: Bigfork
Jan. 20: at Mt. Iron-Buhl
Jan. 21: at Dul. Marshall, 4 p.m.
Jan. 24: Fond du Lac
Jan. 27: at Littlefork-Big Falls
Jan. 31: at Northwoods
Feb. 3: at Eveleth-GIlbert
Feb. 6: at Cherry
Feb. 10: Mesabi East
Feb. 11: vs. Chisholm (at Target
Center), 4:45 p.m.
Feb. 14: Lakeview Christian, at
Feb. 17: Chisholm
Feb. 21: Mt. Iron-Buhl
Feb. 24: South Ridge
Mar. 3: Northeast Range

Home games in bold
Game time 7:15 pm unless noted