No home court advantage

Ely volleyball team adjusting, wins four-of-six matches on the road

by Tom Coombe
Call them the Ely Road Warriors.
Since a season-opening win over Northeast Range, the high school volleyball team has played seven straight matches away from home - including Tuesday night’s sweep at Silver Bay.
The 25-16, 25-11, 25-9rout of the Mariners was moved to the North Shore because of the temporary closure of the high school gymnasium (see related story), and it appears that the Wolves won’t be back on their home court this month.
Home matches with North Woods (Thursday) and Duluth Marshall (Sept. 24) have been moved to the gymnasium at Vermilion Community College, and the Wolves have had to adjust to the circumstances.
“Not being able to be in our own gym has made this week a little stressful,” said Ely Head Coach Andrea Thomas. “We are very thankful that VCC is allowing us to use their gym, because there is no way that our JV and varsity squads could practice safely together in the small gym space.”
Despite the difficulties, and the absence of home games, the Wolves are off to a strong start and again making a case that they’re one of the top teams in Section 7A.
Ely downed section contender Cherry in impressive fashion in a Sept. 5 road tilt, and tested unbeaten Greenway in a two-game defeat as part of the Raiders’ home tournament two days later.
The Wolves finished third at the Greenway Tournament, among nine teams, and fell in a two games-to-one encounter to Cherry for second place.
“Even though we lost (to Greenway), the girls played great volleyball,” said Thomas. “Against Cherry, we lacked focus and mental toughness in both the first and last set. Too many errors were our downfall.”
The Wolves struggled to contain Greenway standout Claire Vekich and dropped two close sets.
Scores were 25-23 and 25-20, with McKenna Coughlin leading Ely’s offense with 10 kills. Seniors Brielle Kallberg and Erika Mattson combined for another 10 while Jenna Merhar contributed six blocks and McCartney Kaercher finished with 18 set assists.
The matchup with the Tigers went back and forth with Cherry prevailing 25-13, 19-25, 15-8.
Coughlin had eight kills and 10 digs, Kallberg wound up with seven kills and Kaercher distributed the ball on her way to 18 set assists as well as nine digs.
Earlier in the day, Coughlin (10 kills), Kallberg (nine) and Mattson (eight) provided a three-way attack as the Wolves swept Mt. Iron-Buhl 25-16, 26-15.
Kaercher finished with 25 set assists and Merhar notched four kills in the win.
Kallberg, Merhar and Coughlin had five kills each in a 25-19, 25-21 sweep of Mesabi East.
“Both matches on Saturday morning were played at a slow tempo,” said Thomas. “It felt like we never really got up to speed to play the way we like, but we played well enough to win.
• Ely had little trouble against Silver Bay Tuesday, with Kallberg rattling off 12 straight points at serve in the second game.
Coughlin had a 10-point run in the third, when the Mariners failed to reach double digits.
Kallberg had seven ace serves to go with her seven kills, and Coughlin was potent at the net with a match-high 13 kills.
Mattson added six kills and Merhar was next with five, and Kaercher had four ace serves on top of 26 set assists.
• The Wolves’ most impressive win of the young season was their 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 sweep at Cherry.
Again, Ely used a diverse offense and effective defense to win the rematch of last year’s 7A quarterfinal, also won by the Wolves.
Kallberg was an all-around sensation, recording eight kills, eight blocks, seven digs and five set assists.
Coughlin continued a breakout season with 10 kills, while Mattson was next with seven kills and seven digs.
Kaercher had 20 set assists in the win.
• The Wolves will take part in a tournament at Virginia on Saturday, Sept. 21.