Next step a big one for Wolves

Talented volleyball team out to make another run in Section 7A

by Tom Coombe
Last fall, the Ely Timberwolves were a point away from the section finals.
In 2020, they went unbeaten only to see the postseason wiped out by a pandemic.
There were trips to the final four in Section 7A the two years before that.
Could this be the year Ely’s volleyball program makes its biggest leap forward yet?
That question will be answered over the next two months of so, with the high school volleyball season set to begin and with Ely again near the top of anybody’s list of contenders in 7A.
Ely, which finished 21-7 a year ago and lost a five-set heartbreaker to eventual champion South Ridge in the 7A semifinals, opens the 2022 campaign Tuesday in Babbitt, against local rival Northeast Range.
The Wolves will be heavily favored in that contest, as they will be in most regular season affairs this year.
Second-year head coach Megan Wognum brings back a talented arsenal, one that figures to get a significant boost from an incoming transfer.
The Wolves also should only be better by the offseason work completed by many of their key varsity returnees.
“We have had five girls committed to Minnesota North playing since last November,and the rest of the team, both JV and varsity, playing this summer in the Mesabi summer league,” said Wognum “The varsity girls have also played in a couple of captains’ tournaments this summer. They have really put a ton of time in.”
For a Class A school, Ely is blessed with remarkable depth, even through graduation took several contributors from last year’s team.
One of the key players back is senior Rachel Coughlin, a two-time All-Arrowhead Conference selection and one of the top hitters in the section.
Coughlin led the Wolves in kills (250), digs (266) and blocks (72) a year ago and also was selected to play in a regional all-star game. She’s one of seven seniors on the team.
In the middle, Coughlin will lead a group of hitters that also includes senior Natasha Fulkrod and sophomore Lilli Rechichi.
On the outside, senior Kate Coughlin and sophomore Clare Thomas return, and Ely is certain to get a boost from incoming junior Hannah Penke, who moved here from the state of Washington.
Wognum also has a host of setters to choose from, including senior Madeline Kallberg, junior Sarah Visser and junior Aubree Gerlovich.
“We changed our offense and that gives us more options for hitting and blocking,” said Wognum.
Seniors Audrey Thomas and Madeline Perry are also part of the talented mix while senior Courtney Eilrich steps in as the team’s libero.
“I think we have a really deep bench this year,” said Wognum. “There are seven seniors, which is nice too. We’re looking really good and hopefully this will be the season that we can progress past the section semifinals.”
The Wolves opened practice Aug. 15 and last weekend joined several other teams from around the region at a scrimmage hosted by Hibbing.
Ely also scrimmaged Thursday at Silver Bay in a final tune-up before Tuesday’s opener in Babbitt.
Turnout for the program is again strong, with 45 girls in grades 7-12 playing volleyball.
That allows for Ely to field not only varsity and junior varsity teams, but a pair of junior high teams as well.
The docket includes seven home dates, starting with a Sept. 6 contest with Littlefork-Big Falls.
At some point during September, the Wolves will be able to utilize the new gymnasium in the school’s new addition for junior high games.