Wolves advance in 7A playoffs

No home upset this year as volleyball team downs Mesabi East

by Tom Coombe -

The Ely Timberwolves weren’t about to let history repeat itself.
Victims of a first-round playoff upset last year on their home floor, the Wolves stumbled Wednesday in the second game of their Section 7A volleyball matchup with Mesabi East.
But the lapse was only temporary as the Wolves, with the help of their youngest player, regained their footing in the third game and went on to beat Mesabi East 25-15, 22-25, 25-19, 25-16.
Junior hitter Brielle Kallberg delivered 17 kills, while eighth-grader Rachel Coughlin helped spark Ely to the lead in the the pivotal third game.
Ely won its 20th match of the season, believed to be a program record, and moved on to a Friday night quarterfinal at Cherry.
The Wolves were in a similar spot last year but lost to Hill City in their opening playoff matchup.
This time around, Ely was ablaze in the opener, with a monster kill by Kallberg fueling an early run.
“We came out really strong in set one,” said Ely Head Coach Andrea Thomas. “The girls were playing aggressively and Brielle was crushing the ball.”
Mesabi East (12-15) wasn’t going down without a fight and the Giants responded in the second game.
They capitalized on some Ely serving errors and had their best success defending against the Wolves’ potent offense.
Mesabi East led 19-14 before the Wolves came charging back to tie it, but the Giants responded with a run of their own to even things up.
“We had a hard time getting our offense going,” said Thomas. “Mesabi East was blocking us and our defense was not able to pick up the balls off of the block.”
That’s where Coughlin stepped in.
The middle-schooler showed upperclass poise and was cool on serve as the Wolves opened up a lead that held up.
“Rachel Coughlin had a nice serving streak right away that got us out to a nice lead,” said Thomas. “However, we let them creep back on and off throughout this set.”
Ely built a big lead in the fourth and the Giants never really recovered.
While Kallberg powered her way to 17 kills, eight digs and three ace serves, the Wolves also showed their depth.
Juniors Jenna Merhar and Erika Mattson combined for 14 kills, while Mattson led the defense with 17 digs.
Sophomore McKenna Coughlin contributed five kills, while setters McCartney Kaercher and Lida Dodge were on.
Kaercher, a junior, recorded 21 set assists and Dodge finished with 19.
Mia Matrfield paced the sixth-seeded Giants with 11 kills and four ace serves, while teammates Meghan Walker and Lindsey Baribeau added eight and seven kills, respectively.
Emily Undeland finished wiht 12 set assists.
The win set up a showdown with Cherry, seeded second in the north half of 7A.
Ely downed the Tigers (18-6) in a Sept. 6 home encounter, while Cherry exacted some revenge in a win two weeks later at the Virginia Tournament.
The rubber match came in the quarterfinals, at Cherry, with a berth in the 7A semifinals on the line.
The winner of the Ely-Cherry clash will likely meet Carlton (25-2) at 5;15 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal affair at Hibbing.
The 7A title will be decided on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Hibbing.