Wolves go down in five

South Ridge rallies in 7A semifinal clash

by Tom Coombe
First a set and then a point away from their first ever berth in the Section 7A finals, the Ely Timberwolves couldn’t quite close out South Ridge on Wednesday night.
It proved costly as the Panthers staved off elimination in the third set and match point in the fifth and rallied for a 21-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, 16-14 win in a 7A high school volleyball semifinal clash at Hibbing.
The Wolves, who finished 21-7, led 22-20 in the third set before South Ridge rallied with five straight points to stay alive.
In the fourth, South Ridge broke a 21-all deadlock with a four-point run and its most impressive Houdini act came in the decisive fifth set.
After a Raven Sainio ace put Ely ahead 14-13, the Panthers scored the next three points to secure both the victory and a Saturday afternoon championship game tilt with Northeast Range.
Those two teams will meet at 4 p.m., back in Hibbing, for a spot in this week’s state tournament in St. Paul.
Ely, meanwhile, fell in the 7A semifinals for the third time in as many seasons, with a Covid-related break in 2020, and was left to ponder what might have been.
“It has been an incredible season,” said head coach Megan Wognum. “I am so proud of the hard work and effort these girls put into volleyball both during the season and in the off season. They should all be very proud of themselves.”
The top seed in the north and owner of a regular season victory over South Ridge, the Wolves ran into difficulties late in the contest after seizing momentum early on.
South Ridge overcame a stellar night from Ely junior Rachel Coughlin, who carried the Wolves at times en route to 25 kills and 24 digs.
Coughlin also was part of an impressive Ely defensive effort, especially in the first two sets, and finished with eight blocks.
Along with fellow junior Madeline Kallberg, who had 11 kills, Coughlin sparked an 8-3 Ely run that gave the Wolves a one-set advantage.
Ely also was aided early on by South Ridge’s inaccuracy, as the Panthers sent numerous hits out of bound and a couple of serves into the net.
The second set played out like the first.
Neither team led by more than three points and there were nine ties before the Wolves eked out a two-point win.
A set-winning kill by Kallberg appeared to put the Wolves in the driver’s seat, and the third appeared to be going Ely’s way.
After falling behind 15-12, the Wolves tied it on a Rachel Coughlin kill, and a South Ridge net violation put the Wolves on top 22-20 and led to a Panthers timeout.
For the first time of the night but not the last, South Ridge rallied when it needed it most, with hitters Shea Snickers and Kaitala Klemetsen, both sophomores, gaining strength as the game progressed.
The Wolves trailed 10-6 in the fourth but went on a big run to go up 16-13, with Coughlin finding holes in the Panther defense.
A Kellen Thomas kill gave the Wolves a three-point edge but South Ridge responded by rattling off five straight points.
The game was tied at 21 when South Ridge took over and sent the game to the fifth.
The finale included a whopping eight ties, but South Ridge dug deep after falling behind 14-13 and taking time out.
Thomas finished with four kills, six blocks and 11 digs in her last game in an Ely uniform, while senior setter Katrina Seliskar delivered 50 set assists and 11 digs.
Sainio finished with six kills, eight digs and four blocks and junior Kate Coughlin added five kills, 16 digs and a pair of ace serves.
In addition to her 11 kills, Kallberg added 12 digs and six blocks.
The game marked the end for five Ely seniors - Thomas, Seliskar, Sainio, Annikka Mattson and Charly Flom.
“We lose five amazing seniors and it will be impossible to replace the qualities and skill they bring to the floor,“ said Wognum, who completed her first season as head coach. “We have quite a bit of skill and passion coming up in our program and I am excited to see where that takes us next year.”
• The Wolves reached the final four with an Oct. 29 home quarterfinal sweep of Nashwauk-Keewatin.
Thomas had 14 kills in a 25-19, 25-16, 25-15 rout of the Spartans.
Kate Coughlin had seven kills, while both Sainio and Rachel Coughlin contributed six each as the Wolves shook off some early hitters.
Seliskar contributed 38 set assists, and three digs, Flom added two kills and Mattson delivered four ace serves.
“We started a little slow in the first set but we were able to get it back on track once we got going,“ said Wognum.