For Wolves, full speed ahead

Ely boys hope experience, fast style will offset lack of size

by Tom Coombe
The Ely Timberwolves won’t outmuscle many opponents this winter, but they just might run a team or two right out of the gymnasium.
Ely’s high school boys basketball team doesn’t figure to slow down much at all during a 2020-21 campaign that begins with two home games this weekend.
While graduation took starters Dylan Fenske and Eric Omerza from a team that reached the Section 7A semifinals last winter, senior starters Will Davies, Emmett Faltesek and Brock LaTourell all return.
Add junior Harry Simons and sophomore Joey Bianco to the mix, and the Wolves boast a mix of speed, athleticism and three-point shooting ability that may offset their lack of height.
“We’ll be rather small in the starting lineup so hopefully we’ll get after some people,” said Tom McDonald, who has led the Wolves’ program as head coach since 1990. “We have experience, and I think it’s good experience. All five of those guys saw a lot of time last year.”
Ely went 23-6 last winter, and balance was one of several reasons why, with the Wolves overwhelming foes with an arsenal of scoring weapons.
Davies, Faltesek and LaTourell are all capable of putting up big numbers for the Wolves, with both Davies and LaTourell posing consistent three-point shooting threats and Faltesek entering his senior campaign on the heels of a state-qualifying season in cross country.
All three averaged between nine and 10 points per game a year ago, with Faltesek adding quickness that should bolster Ely’s defense.
Both Bianco and Simons came off the bench a year ago and add to an already athletic starting five.
The starters will have to make up for a lack of size, as the Wolves won’t boast much of an inside presence and will be challenged by taller foes.
Depth may also be an issue, with junior Mason Davis and senior Riley Bishop looking to be the first two Wolves off the bench.
“A concern right now is depth,” said McDonald. “Those bench guys didn’t see much time at all. I think those five starters need to be on the floor as much as possible and staying out of foul trouble is going to be important.”
Senior Caleb Janeksela is another potential contributor off the bench for the Wolves, who jumped quickly into the swing of things when practice began Jan. 4, after a several-week pause initiated by Gov. Tim Walz.
“The kids are really working hard and playing well in practice,” said McDonald. “And it’s after a long layoff. It’s been 10 months since they’ve played. I thought they would be rustier than they’re showing right now. Offensively and defensively they’ve remembered a lot. I know these guys were playing a lot on the playground when the weather was warm, but they really haven’t done anything for a couple of months.”
The Wolves will look to be giant-killers in a Section 7A that may be dominated by last year’s finalists - Nashwauk-Keewatin and Northwoods. Their 7A title game was cancelled just hours before tipoff because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think in the section there are two at the top, Nashwauk and North Woods in that order,” said McDonald. “And I think at the next level Deer River has a big, good athletic team, and after that there’s a bunch in the mix to be competitive and I hope we fit in there.”
The Wolves figure to be tested right out of the chute, with Mt. Iron-Buhl and Bigfork (see schedule) part of a season-opening weekend homestand that comes less than two weeks after practice began.
“It does feel rushed, kind of like we are making up for lost time,”said McDonald. “We’re working hard and getting into shape.”