Wolves reload, start strong

Fenske scores 31 as Ely boys debut with dominant home win

by Tom Coombe
It may be too early to say how the Ely Timberwolves will stack up this winter in Section 7A, but Tuesday’s season-opener offered more than a few reasons for optimism.
The Wolves, despite an overall lack of height, a key injury-related absence, and several new faces in the lineup, ran away from visiting Two Harbors in the second half of a 76-41 high school boys basketball victory.
Senior Dylan Fenske had 31 points and 11 rebounds and classmate Evan Omerza dished out a game-high 11 assists as the Wolves warmed up after a slow start.
Fenske and Omerza are the only returning starters for an Ely team that, entering the 2019-20 season, is a question mark in 7A.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald, who began his 30th season at the helm. “Basically we have two returners and a whole bunch of young kids that didn’t play a lot. We struggled early and missed a lot of shots, but I thought we were a lot better in the second half. Our defense was better and we finished.”
Graduation took Patrick Vanderbeek, a three-point shooting sensation who finished as the third-leading scorer in school history, from the Ely lineup.
The Wolves knocked down just two triples, both by junior Will Davies, against the Class AA Agates, and scored in transition, on drives to the hoop and the offensive glass.
Ely had made its mark from beyond the three-point stripe in recent seasons, but Tuesday’s game may have signaled a different look for this winter.
“I think we have some kids who can shoot it, but I’m not sure how consistent we will be.”
Fenske, a six-foot forward, figures to pick up much of the scoring load and he stepped up in the opener.
Davies, fellow junior Brock LaTourell and Omerza all had nine points against Two Harbors, while sophomore Harry Simons came off the bench to add eight points.
“The balance we saw (against Two Harbors) is I think what we’ll get throughout the year,” said McDonald.
LaTourell added six steals for the Wolves and Ely figures to get a boost from 6-2 senior Bryce Longwell, who hauled down 12 rebounds and is the team’s tallest starter.
Freshman Joey Bianco saw time as a reserve for the Wolves and he is one of several players who honed up last season as part of an Ely junior varsity that finished unbeaten.
At least early in the season, the Wolves will be at less than full strength as they await the return of injured junior Emmett Faltesek.
A likely starter, Faltesek went down with an ankle injury and is expected to be out an additional two-to-four weeks.
“I think when Emmett comes back we will have more depth,” said McDonald.
McDonald said his team will have to make up for its lack of height inside by “getting after people defensively, because we’re not very big.”
Ely won 17 games last winter and nearly pulled off a 7A quarterfinal upset, falling to eventual runner-up Lakeview Christian Academy on a buzzer beater after leading for much of the game.
The Wolves join a host of teams chasing defending 7A champion and two-time state runner-up North Woods, which started its season this week with a 95-45 win over Bigfork
McDonald expects the Grizzlies and Nashwauk-Keewatin to contend for the 7A title
“North Woods is the favorite until somebody knocks them off, but I think Nashwauk has what they need to beat them,” said McDonald. “I hope we’re competitive with just about everybody we play.”
Ely met International Falls Friday night and travels to Hill City today and a Dec. 13 showdown with North Woods, at Cook, looms on the horizon.
The Wolves’ 26-game docket includes the annual holiday tournament, slated for Dec. 27-28. Isle, Bigfork and Cook County will join Ely in that event.