Welcome back, Jasper

by Tom Coombe
Jasper Johnston didn’t miss a beat.
The Ely senior was absent from the Nordic Wolves’ first two meets of the season because of some regional CXC level events, but he was back in the lineup for event number three: the Jan. 28 Ely Skiathlon at Hidden Valley.
To no one’s surprise, Johnston won the 7.2-kilometer freestyle/classic skiathlon, completing the course in 20:15 to take first with ease.
Johnston’s finish wasn’t enough to secure a team win as the Wolves were second in the three-team event and two points shy of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.
The Wolves claimed the team title in the girls event, with Zoe Devine claiming the top spot in 25:31.
Brutally cold weather - including overnight temperates of 27-below - prompted a one-hour delay in the event but by start time at noon the temperate was above zero and the sun was shining at Hidden Valley.
It made for a good day for both Ely teams.


Ivancich wins state coaching award

The Ely Timberwolves never set foot on the baseball field during a high school baseball season waylayed by COVID-19, but the efforts of their longtime head coach did not go unnoticed.
Frank Ivancich, who has led the program since 2002 and guided the Wolves to four state tournament berth and six section finals appearances in the last decade, was named State Class A Coach of the Year by the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association.
The recognition came earlier this month, was announced during a virtual state coaches’ clinic and caught Ivancich, 56, off guard.
“I was on the virtual clinic, and they were saying that they decided to give some awards out and that they were honoring four coaches for coach of the year,” Ivancich said Wednesday. “I was cooking breakfast and all of a sudden I heard my name. I was as shocked as anyone.”
The MHSBCA opted to continue with its yearly awards and Ivancich was a natural fit for the state honor.


Balanced attack, perfect start

by Tom Coombe
Opposing teams are finding out quickly that they can’t focus their defensive attention on just one or two Ely Timberwolves.
Indeed, the Wolves’ entire lineup is capable of scoring in bunches.
That’s one big reason why the high school boys basketball team is off to an impressive 2-0 start.
All five starters scored in double figures as the Wolves dominated the second half en route to a Jan. 15, season-opening, 75-58 triumph over Mt. Iron-Buhl.
The same held true Saturday, as sophomore Joey Bianco poured in 26 points and four other starters reached double-digits in a 95-50 blowout of Bigfork.
While Nashwauk-Keewatin, North Woods and even Mt. Iron-Buhl commanded much of the preseason attention in Section 7A, the Wolves showed in the season’s opening weekend that they’ll be a force to contend with.


Skaters come up short in debut

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s high school hockey team returned to the ice Jan. 16 but fell 5-1 to Burnett County (Wis.) in a COVID-delayed season-opener.
The Timberwolves, who have only one senior and one junior, will be the youngest team on the ice in all of their 15 contests this winter but they were competitive for much of the contest with the Blizzard, who had already played about a dozen games and had numerous upperclassmen.
The most impressive was junior captain Dane Tollander, who had a natural hat trick and finished with four of his team’s five goals.
Senior Jimmy Zupancich had the only goal for the Wolves, a third-period tally aided by eighth-grader Jack Mathias and sophomore Jakson Hegman.
On a quiet afternoon at the Ely Arena, with attendance limited because of COVID restrictions, the visitors got on the board first.


For Wolves, full speed ahead

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.”


New coach, new look for Ely girls

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s high school girls basketball team will bear little resemblance to the squad that took the court last winter.
Graduation took a heavy toll on the Timberwolves’ roster, with multi-year starters and 1,000-point scorers Erika Mattson and Brielle Kallberg among those moving on.
The Wolves, who reached the Section 7A quarterfinals last year and lost a heartbreaker to Chisholm, will also have a new look on the sidelines.
Max Gantt is the Wolves’ new head coach. The physical education teacher and Ely graduate steps in for Darren Visser, who stepped aside after the 2019-20 campaign.
Gantt and assistant coach Tom Omerza are in a rebuilding mode in a season that’s starting late, and is abbreviated, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the first-year head coach said Wednesday, after three practices, that he likes what he has seen from what figures to be both a young and athletic team.


Kids snowmobile oval racing on Fall Lake Jan. 9

Snowmobile oval ice racing returns to the area on Jan. 9 with races being held on Fall Lake at the Ely-Winton Rod and Gun Club’s Longbranch hosting.
The Kids Championship Power Racing Organization. races for kids ages four to 14. will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9.
The event is free for spectators with 11 different classes of races starting at 10 a.m.
Registrations begin at 8 a.m. with hot laps at 9 a.m. and racing action set to begin at 10 a.m.
KCPRO East is a non- profit organization established in 1991. For more information check out


Date set for games to begin

High school athletes now have a date to look forward to.
Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Health cleared the way for youth sporting events to resume Jan. 14 and the Minnesota State High School League followed suit.
The move comes in advance of a Jan. 4 start date for youth and high school sports practices, and follows a several-week “pause” ordered in mid-November by Gov. Tim Walz.
It also includes some new restrictions, among them a requirement that all athletes indoors wear masks or face coverings, even when competing.
That directive generated significant pushback earlier this week but, at least for now, it stands as practices get set to begin.
Still unclear is whether or not spectators will be allowed at indoor events, which begin in Ely Jan. 14 with a girls basketball game between the Timberwolves and Two Harbors and a boys basketball game with Mt. Iron-Buhl the following evening.


Coughlins, Thomas honored

by Tom Coombe
An unbeaten season resulted in a conference championship for Ely’s high school volleyball team, and all-conference recognition for three Timberwolves.
Senior McKenna Coughlin, junior Kellen Thomas and sophomore Rachel Coughlin all won spots on the All-Arrowhead Conference Team, as selected by league coaches.
The recognition comes on the heels of the program’s first-ever unbeaten season, a campaign that was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the program’s first Arrowhead Conference title.
McKenna Coughlin played a key role in that success. The Wolves’ only returning starter from teams that reached the Section 7A final four the previous two years, she led in many ways and topped the Wolves in several statistical categories including kills (144), digs (85) and ace serves (35).
The senior averaged better than 10 kills per game and was one of the top hitters in all of Section 7A.


Wognum wins 7A coaching award

Ely’s Megan Wognum has been named Section 7A Assistant Coach of the Year in volleyball.
The acclaim came last week as the Minnesota State High School Volleyball Coaches Association announced award winners across the state.
Wognum, who has been assistant coach in Ely for five seasons, was part of one of the most unique and successful seasons in Timberwolves volleyball history.
The 2020 campaign started late and was interrupted before its conclusion because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Wolves went 12-0 and completed what’s believed to be the only perfect varsity season in school history.
Wognum aided head coach Andrea Thomas with the varsity and also coached Ely’s junior varsity team to an 11-1 record.


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