Wolves reach 7A semis for first time

Storybook Ely volleyball season ends with program-record 21 wins

ALL SMILES for Ely’s high school vollyeball team after an Oct. 25 playoff win at Cherry, a victory that sent the Wolves into the Section 7A semfinals for the first time in program history. Pictured are (front, l-r) Lida Dodge, McCartney Kaercher, Erika Mattson, Rachel Coughlin, Lauren Porthan; (back. l-r) assistant coach Megan Wognum, Holly Dirks, Kenzie Peterson, Apolonia Homer, Jenna Merhar, Brielle Kallberg, Winter Sainio, McKenna Coughlin, head coach Andrea Thomas.

by Tom Coombe -

A history-making playoff run ended Wednesday night at Hibbing.
The Ely Timberwolves reached the Section 7A high school volleyball semifinals for the first time ever, but ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the top-seeded Carlton Bulldogs.
Carlton, which hasn’t lost to a Class A team all season and hasn’t lost at all in a month-in-a-half, made quick work of the underdog Wolves in a 25-12, 25-16, 25-18 sweep.
The Bulldogs tipped with precision early on, came on strong at the net as the match progressed and made the Wolves earn every point they got.
“Carlton played a great match,” said Ely Head Coach Andrea Thomas. “They cover the floor, are constantly communicating, and see the floor well. They found our holes and put the ball there.
Ely, which upset Cherry five days earlier to reach the final four, finished 21-6 and set a program record for wins.
But a run that included 11 wins in the Wolves’ previous contests ended in barely an hour at Hibbing’s Lincoln Gymnasium.
Carlton jumped out to a 7-2 lead before the Wolves knew what hit them as the Bulldogs found holes on the floor with their tips.
The winners also stepped up to defend against Ely’s hitting attack.
Junior Brielle Kallberg was able to break through at times with intermittent kills, but Ely couldn’t put together a run and the Bullldogs won by double digits.
In the middle game, Carlton mixed its tips with some potent hits, particularly by Alaina Bennett, Taylor Nelson and Abigail Bennett.
Ava Grondahl was effective in the middle and Carlton grabbed a vice-like grip on the match.
The third game was Ely’s best, as Kallberg and McKenna Coughlin keyed an early Wolves spurt.
But Ely never led by more than two points and the game was punctuated by several long rallies.
The Wolves trimmed a nine-point gap to five at 23-18, but Carlton responded with two quick points to close out the match.
“We had a tough time with serve receive the first two sets which really limited our offense,” said Thomas. “I think this is the fewest kills we’ve had all season. We had a little spark in set three, but couldn’t keep the momentum.”
Kallberg had 11 kills, 10 digs and three blocks for the Wolves, while fellow junior Erika Mattson had nine digs.
Coughlin had three kills for the Wolves, and setters McCartney Kaercher and Lida Dodge recorded six assists each.
Bennett powered Carlton with 14 kills, and teammates Nelson (12) an Abigail Mickle (10) reached double digits as well.
Setter Brynne Mickle was everywhere on the floor, winding up with 43 set assists.
Carlton, which did not have a senior, faces Deer River at 4 p.m. Saturday, at Hibbing, with the 7A title and a berth in this week’s state tournament at stake.
The defeat ended a banner year for the Wolves, who will lose seniors Dodge and Kenzie Peterson to graduation.
It was another season of notable progress for the Wolves, who won 19 matches in 2017 but fell victim to an early-round playoff upset.
“It’s tough to end this way, but these girls had a great season and a lot to be proud of,” said Thomas. “I’d also like to say thanks to the community for all of their support this season.”
Ely reached the semifinals with perhaps its best performance of the season.
The Wolves shook off a first-game slump and a seven-point deficit in the second game, clawing back to beat Cherry 23-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-19.
The teams had split two regular season matches, but everything was on the line in the deciding Oct. 26 playoff encounter at Cherry.
Ely coughed up a 13-6 lead in the opening game and got out to an early edge in the second before Cherry assumed control.
That’s when the Wolves caught fire and the Tigers could never extinguish Ely’s flame.
Kallberg powered her way to 17 kills, while Ely rattled off 10 straight points with Rachel Coughlin on serve to take the lead in game two.
The third and fourth games were all-Ely, with Jenna Merhar fueling a Wolves surge in tthe third with both kills and blocks.
Mattson had eight kills to go with 14 digs and five ace serves. Merhar finished with six kills, while both McKenna Coughlin and Peterson had key hits at the net.
Dodge dished out 14 set assists
Kaelynn Kudis paced the Tigers with 17 kills, teammate Katie Peterson notched 11 and Aliisa Mayry wound up with four blocks and 24 set assists.