Ely skiers state bound: Boys second as a team; boys relay wins title, girls second
by Tom Coombe
Ely’s Nordic Wolves found a variety of ways to qualify for state competition.
Fueled by a fourth-place finish from junior Dylan Durkin and a sixth from Oliver Hohenstein, the Ely boys took second at Wednesday’s Section 7 meet and punched their ticket to state as a team.
Meanwhile, the Ely boys’ relay combination of Aksel Skustad and Silas Solum won the section title and advanced to state on their own, as did the Wolves’ girls relay unit of Claire Blauch and Ava Skustad, who took second.
It made for a big day for the Wolves, who had to dodge raindrops at times at Giants Ridge during an unusual section meet - one conducted with far less snow than usual and amid temperatures that topped the freezing mark.
The weather should cool and make for more typical conditions at the state meet, also at Giants Ridge, on Feb. 14-15.
But despite the unusual circumstances for the section meet, the Wolves made the best of it and the most of it as they battled their section foes.
“I’ve never dealt with anything like that during a ski race,” said Ely Head Coach Todd Hohenstein. “It did rain during the sprint race, and we kind of managed and we actually did make a change in our wax for the afternoon race because of it and I think that made some of the difference.”
So too did some lineup adjustments and some energy that built through the day, starting with solid performances in the morning classic races.
“The boys did well there and it just compounded,” said Hohenstein. “Silas and Aksel had phenomenal races (in the relay) and were kind of skiing off of that energy. That momentum continued to build, and it was definitely a situation where we were peaking at the right time and being able to be on the natural snow we had here, even if it was thin and not close to what we usually have, I think that helped.”
Among the boys, Durkin climbed from sixth place after the classic race, jumping two places to finish fourth overall with a combined time of 27:57, about a minute off the pace set by section titlist James Kyes, a senior from Duluth East.
The Greyhounds won the team championship and swept the top-three places individually but Durkin was next and freshman Oliver Hohenstein also jumped two spots after the classic and wound up sixth (28:06).
Milo McClelland also cracked the top-10 and placed ninth overall in 28:52, with Ely’s Eli Olson (11th, 28:56) and Caleb Larson (15th, 30:15) also making the top-third of the field and earning their spots at state.
Aksel Skustad and Solum, meanwhile, downed a talented Duluth East combination and claimed the section championship in the relay with a time of 14:48, some 14 seconds better than the runner-up combination.
The Wolves tinkered with their lineup in the girls event, placing Blauch and Ava Skustad in the relay together.
They responded with a second-place finish and their own spot in the state meet.
“We had the conversation (with Skustad and Blauch) a couple of weeks ago, and said it’s a longshot that both of you can make it (to state) as individuals,” said Hohenstein. “And the relationship that those two have, if one was going to go to state they wanted it to be the both of them, and they wanted to go in the relay.”
The Ely seniors won their semifinal heat and captured second in the finals with ease, finishing in 16:45 and only behind a tandem from Duluth East. The third-place relay was nearly a minute behind.
By taking second, Blauch and Skustad also won the right to take part in the state meet next week.
Proctor-Hermantown’s Della Bettendorf won the girls section title in 30:23, and the Wolves’ highest individual racer was Anna Dunn, who wound up 15th in 35:54 and five spots away from a state bid.
Ely’s Anna Larson took 19th (36:58) while fellow junior Rena Johnston was 21st in 37:25.
The Wolves’ Elsa Ellerbroek (38:48) and Aila Harding (38:56) were 26th and 27th, respectively.
Duluth East captured the team championship and Proctor-Hermantown took second.
Ely wound up fifth among 10 girls teams.