Ely has state-bound skiers
by Tom Coombe
Months of preparation paid off for Ely’s Nordic Wolves on a sunny day at Giants Ridge.
Senior Zoe Devine won the section individual title Wednesday and helped lift the girls team to a second-place finish at the Section 7 meet and a berth in this week’s state competition.
On the boys’ side, sophomore Dylan Durkin punched his ticket to state and teammate Silas Solum was just a spot a way from qualifying.
The Ely boys, fielding one of their younger teams in recent years, finished third in the section and one slot away from state.
Devine, who was third in the section last year, will head back to Giants Ridge with the rest of the varsity girls squad as well as Durkin, for the two-day state competition, set for Feb. 15-16.
The section event, in many respects, followed regular season form, with Duluth East dominating and the Ely girls recording a solid second place.
Devine, who has gained all-state acclaim, jumped out to a big lead in the morning classic and had plenty of cushion to stave off Duluth East’s Rowan Bixler in the freestyle.
Devine won the combined 10-kilometer event in 32:39, 13 seconds in front of Bixler.
“Zoe had a great day,” said Ely Head Coach Todd Hohenstein. “She put two great races together and maintained her personal standard. The formula of physical fitness plus ski technique equals a great skier is missing a big variable. The missing piece to the equation is mental toughness. It is also the one variable that can be affected on race day.”
Four other Wolves were in the top-20, with senior Phoebe Helms cracking the top-10 and taking eighth overall (35:32). Ely’s relay combination of Kelly Thompson and Sydney Durkin made the finals and took fourth.
“Phoebe Helms put it all together as well with a top season performance,” said Hohenstein. “I think all the senior girls who skied today had a little something extra to put out there. I saw evidence of that in the pursuit and in the sprint relay with Kelly and Sydney.”
Junior Claire Blauch finished 10th overall (36:00) with junior Ava Skustad 13th (37:35) and junior Anna Dunn was 17th (38:50).
Ely was 19 points back of Duluth East in the team standings and a whopping 30 points ahead of third-place Proctor. There were 10 teams in the event.
Hohenstein said the event combined not only the physical training but the Wolves’ mental preparation for the event.
“There are a few things we can do to sharpen their edge physically, but most of that work has already been done in the first half of the season,” said Hohenstein. “The same would hold true to technique. The athletes mental state and how they cope with the excitement surrounding the big meet is the important variable.”
Youth was served all winter with the Ely boys team, which hovered in contention for a state bid but wound up third, 10 points behind Mora.
Durkin placed seventh in 31:57 to win a state slot and Solum, also a sophomore, took 10th in 32:40.
A third Ely sophomore, Eli Olson, was 18th (33:54) and eighth-grader Oliver Hohenstein made his section debut by taking 21st (34:00) with teammate Milo McClelland, a sophomore, one spot back in 22nd (34:39).
Ely also had an underclass relay group, with Aksel Skustad and Caleb Larson combining for a fourth-place finish in the final.
“On the boys side it was an impressive performance,” said Todd Hohenstein. “We had hoped to get that second place spot as a team but came up short to a very good Mora team. As I’ve said before, we are a young team and there was alot of learning going on. But I like to look at the fact that in the section most of the field is dominated by juniors and senior level athletes. Of the dozen or so sophomores that competed yesterday, Ely’s sophomores were the top four. I get excited when I think about what the future can hold for our team if they make the choice to work on getting better together.”