At home for the playoffs

Ely’s red-hot volleyball team hosts 7A matchup Wednesday

by Tom Coombe
The Ely Timberwolves hope the best is yet to come.
A school-record 23 victories could be just an appetizer for the high school volleyball team, with the main course to be served in the upcoming Section 7A playoffs.
After advancing to the final four in 7A a year ago, the Wolves will look to replicate that or even top it as the postseason begins Wednesday with an opening round game - in the friendly confines of Ely’s high school gymnasium.
Seeded second in the north half of 7A, Ely (23-3) will take on either seventh-seeded Nashwauk-Keewatin or number-10 Northeast Range at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Those two teams meet in a Monday play-in round encounter.
A victory for the Wolves would give them another home matchup - this one a Friday night quarterfinal with third-seeded Cherry (17-5) looming as a possible opponent.
It’s already been a banner year for the Wolves, with an Oct. 10 sweep at N-K giving them 22 wins, topping the school record of 21 set by last year’s team.
The senior-dominated Wolves added to that total with a dominant Parents’ Night performance Tuesday, blowing out Silver Bay in three games.
Overall, the Wolves have won 62 of 71 games and haven’t been tested in a dominant home stretch, and they seem to be firing on all cylinders at the right time.
“Things are coming together nicely at this point in the season,” said Ely Head Coach Andrea Thomas. “The girls have been playing really well the last few weeks and we are looking forward to the play-offs.”
If the Wolves are to capture the program’s first-ever 7A title and advance to the state tournament, two monster obstacles loom.
Carlton is the defending 7A champion, the top seed out of the south and unbeaten against 7A teams this fall.
The Bulldogs knocked Ely out in a section semifinal contest last season and have been ranked as high as fourth in Minnesota in Class A.
Greenway is also part of a power-packed section after moving down from Class AA.
The Raiders are 22-4 including a two-set win over the Wolves in a September tournament match, and also haven’t lost against Class A competition.
Even reaching the final four could be daunting, with Cherry owning a three-game win over the Wolves in the Greenway Tourney. Ely swept the Tigers when the teams met in a full match in early-September.
While roadblocks are on the horizon, Thomas said her team is clicking.
“I feel like we have found our rhythm on the court,” she said. “The girls know what they are responsible for defensively and are able to adjust if we are out of system offensively.
The four survivors from Friday’s quarterfinals advance to the semifinal round of the 7A playoffs, set for Oct. 30 at Hibbing. The 7A title game is Nov. 2, at Duluth.
Wolves 3, Silver Bay 0
Ely had its first home match in nearly two months, returning to the home gymnasium and hammering Silver Bay 25-15, 25-10, 25-22.
Senior Brielle Kallberg led the Wolves’ hit parade, delivering 11 kills to go with a pair of ace serves.
Middle hitter Jenna Merhar, also a senior, added eight kills and three blocks while seniors Erika Mttson and Winter Sainio combined for 10 more kills.
Directing traffic was another senior - McCartney Kaercher. The setter had a match-high 28 assists as well as seven digs.
Wolves 3, Nash.-Kee. 0
There was never any doubt about the Oct. 10 matchup at Nashwauk, as the Wolves rattled off 13 straight points in the opening game on the way to a 25-9, 25-15, 25-15 sweep.
Kaercher again had 28 assists, while junior McKenna Coughlin and Mattson led the way at the net.
Both had nine kills, while Merhar and Kallberg netted five apiece.