Ely girls start on home court
With 20 wins, Wolves will be seeded third or fourth in top-heavy 7A
by Tom Coombe
Ely’s high school girls basketball team won’t sneak up on anybody this time.
Winners of 20 regular season games and currently ranked third in Section 7A, the Timberwolves aren’t likely to surprise anyone as they did last March, when they pulled a playoff upset and reached the final four of the section for the first time in 23 years.
Final seeding will be determined Sunday, but it appears that the Wolves will be seeded either third or fourth in the section and they’ll begin their postseason quest - at home - on Wednesday.
The Wolves will host a still-to-be determined opponent - Nashwauk-Keewatin and Hill City/Northland are among the potential foes - at 6 p.m. at the high school gymnasium.
A berth in Saturday’s 7A quarterfinals in Hibbing will be at stake and no matter the foe, the Wolves will be heavily favored to advance.
It was in last season’s quarterfinal round that Ely, seeded sixth, pulled off the surprise of the tournament and rallied to beat South Ridge.
The Wolves and South Ridge met in Friday’s regular season finale, in a contest completed after the Echo’s deadline, to likely determine the third seed for the playoffs.
Defending 7A champion and state powerhouse Mt. Iron-Buhl and Cromwell, last year’s section runner-up, are locked in as the top two seeds in the tournament.
While the Wolves join the rest of 7A in looking up at MIB, which has had a stranglehold on the section for more than a decade, they won’t take a backseat to anyone else in 7A.
Ely has built on last year’s success and added a key weapon with the transfer of junior Hannah Penke, one of the team’s top scorers.
Third-year head coach Max Gantt has also developed depth during the course of the season, and the Wolves have defeated several of 7A’s top teams and a notable Class AA foe in Mesabi East.
It wasn’t much of a contest Tuesday at the high school gymnasium as Ely shook off a slow start, built a double-digit lead by halftime and rolled past Cherry 71-42.
Four Wolves scored in double figures with Penke netting 16 points with seven rebounds.
Junior guard Grace LaTourell was next with 15 points and seven rebounds, while senior Madeline Kallberg and ninth-grader Zoe Mackenzie netted 10 points each.
Sarah Visser, a junior, led the defense with nine steals to go with six points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Senior Madeline Perry also had nine points for the Wolves.
After a close game earlier this season at Cook, the Wolves took it to North Woods in the Feb. 16 home rematch, cruising 66-41.
Again, the Wolves had outstanding balance with four players scoring in double figures.
Perry shot 57 percent from the floor on the way to a team-high 16 points, while LaTourell scored 15.
Penke and sophomore Clare Thomas had double-doubles with matching 12-point, 11-rebound evenings.
Visser snared 11 rebounds and had five assists and five steals to go with four points.