Fall sports season begins

Season-openers ahead for swimming, cross country teams

by Tom Coombe
The longest hiatus in the history of Ely High School athletics comes to an end this week.
For the first time in nearly six months, Ely teams will be back in action as the fall sports season begins.
The combined Ely and Northeast Range girls swimming team is first on the docket, hosting International Falls in a 3 p.m. dual meet Tuesday at Babbitt.
The following morning, it’s the season debut for the Timberwolves’ boys and girls cross country teams, who face of with host Virginia and Hibbing at 8 a.m., kicking off the Virginia Triple Tri.
Girls soccer is also part of the Ely lineup for the first time ever, with one Timberwolf joining the Mesabi East Area squad in a newly-formed cooperative.
The fall sports season begins amid unique circumstances - in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and after a spring season that ended last March before it truly began.
When the swimmers take to the pool Tuesday, it will be the first time an Ely team has competed in high school athletics since Mar. 11, when the boys basketball team lost to North Woods in the Section 7A semifinals.
Schools were closed the following week, first temporarily and eventually for the rest of the 2019-20 school year as distance learning also prompted the cancellation of all activities.
The Minnesota State High School League approved the return of some fall activities this year, although football and volleyball have been moved to the spring.
The remaining sports will play abbreviated seasons, with postseason opportunities still uncertain, and new COVID-related procedures and protocols are in place.
Among them are daily health screenings, limits on practice participation numbers and, for swimming, meets that will be held without spectators.
Nevertheless, fall activities resumed Aug. 17 and the teams are all on a path toward their first competitions.
Ely’s cross country teams, led by longtime coach Jayne Dusich, boast depth with roughly 45 participants between the two teams.
The Ely boys figure to be one of the better teams in Section 7A with the return of several top athletes from last fall’s state-qualifying team.
While standout Luke Olson was lost to graduation, seniors Emmett Faltesek and Jasper Johnston, and junior Gabriel Pointer lead a solid nucleus.
Faltesek was eighth in the section a year ago while both Johnston and Pointer were top-20 finishers.
On the girls’ side, previous state qualifier Zoe Devine, Phoebe Helms and Sydney Durkin lead a young but talented Ely team.
Wednesday’s meet begins a regular season schedule that will include an Oct. 2 meet at Ely.
The Northeast Range/Ely swimmers are heavy on Ely, with Timberwolves making up the bulk of the Nighthawks roster of roughly 22 swimmers.
Pool deck, lane and mask restrictions have made for a unique start of the season for the squad, led by first-year head coach Cheri DeBeltz.
Tuesday’s meet with the Broncos is the first of six home events at Babbitt.
The girls soccer season starts Tuesday on the brand-new artificial turf field at Aurora, with Mesabi East Area hosting Hibbing at 7 p.m.
In the Giants’ lineup is Ely junior Laura Holmstrom.