Ski teams punch two state tickets

by Tom Coombe
Ely will send not one, but two high school Nordic skiing teams to state.
Fueled by junior Jasper Johnston, the Ely boys easily won Thursday’s Section 7 meet at Giants Ridge.
But the state-ranked boys will be joined at state - back at Giants Ridge Feb. 13 - by the surprising Ely girls.
By the narrowest of margins, the girls squeezed past Mesabi East to take second in the section and earn their own state bid.
Freshman Zoe Devine took second in the girls meet and classmate Phoebe Helms was 11th, but the state berth was secure in part by senior Brooke Pasmick and freshman Cedar Ohlhauser, who both climbed four spots in the afternoon classic pursuit.
While the girls’ state ticket was assured only after a tiebreaker, there seemed to be little doubt about the boys.
Ely built up a 24-point lead after the morning 5.2-kilometer freestyle race, providing plenty of cushion going into the afternoon classic pursuit.
Johnston, a two-time all-stater, breezed to his first section title.
In the freestyle, Johnston was the only skier to crack the 14-minute mark, building a 27-second lead over runner-up Sam Stertz of Grand Rapids.
Johnston added to that advantage in the classic and won in a combined time of 28:31.2, about 30 seconds faster than Stertz.
The Wolves clinched the section crown with an impressive display of depth, with four skiers in the top-seven, five in the top-11, six among the first-16 and all seven Wolves in the top-20.
Senior Nate Nettifee was fifth (30:26.3), followed by sophomore Gabriel Pointer (sixth, 30:39.8) and senior Raif Olson (seventh, 30:44.9).
Next up was 11th-place senior Ethan Bremner (31:39.1), followed by sophomore Jon Hakala (16th, 32:28.1) and sophomore Micah Larson (20th, 32:37).
All seven Wolves will be on the course for the state meet, which opens at 10 a.m..
The Ely girls will also have a full complement of skiers at state, after erasing a five-point gap to claim second place.
Devine was just over a second behind Grand Rapids’ Elsie Viren after the freestyle, but both were passed by Duluth East’s Gretchen Hagenmiller, who claimed the section individual title.
But Devine held her second position, finishing in 33:48.9.
Helms was 11th (36:20.2), while Pasmick moved up from 16th after the freestyle to take 12th (36:25.6).
Ohlhauser also jumped four spots, going from 23rd to 19th (37:32.9).
The Ely girls also showed off their depth, with senior Kalyssa
Eilrich in 22nd (38:02.4), junior Julia Schwinghamer 26th (38:45.8) and senior Ana Bercher 28th (39:14.4).
Duluth East won the girls team title.