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Ely well represented on Vermilion roster

You could call them the Vermilion Timberwolves, or perhaps the Ely Ironwomen.Four hometown players have given the community college basketball team a decidedly local feel.Sophomore Krystle Smrekar and three first-year players have turned in their Ely red and white for Vermilion blue and gold and will play key roles this season for the Ironwomen, who open the 2004-2005 season Friday.As the Ironwomen look to improve after a 3-19 season last year, the former Timberwolves should have a major impact on the team’s fortunes.Smrekar, a 5-6 forward, averaged six points per game last year, and she’ll be joined on the court by three of her old prep teammates.Gena Jerich, a 5-9 freshman, averaged more than 10 points and 10 rebounds per game as a high school senior and helped Ely reach the Section 7AA quarterfinals.Jill Manning was sidelined with an injury last winter but should provide Vermilion with a steady point guard.Lara Doran rounds out the Ely contingent and is a potent three-point shooting threat.Smrekar, Jerich and Manning were all scheduled to be in the starting lineup for an alumni scrimmage held over the weekend and second-year coach Ray Podominick, also an Ely grad, said that Doran will also see plenty of playing time.“They’ll contribute immensely,” said Podominick. “We’re awfully young, and as we found out last year, the Minnesota Community College Conference has some very good basketball. But we certainly hope to improve on what we did last year and the Ely girls are going to play a lot.”Zandra Carlson, a 5-8 forward from St. Francis, averaged six points per contest a year ago and joins Smrekar as the Ironwomen’s only returning sophomores.In addition to the three first-year players from Ely, Vermilion has a strong recruiting class including Kelsey Edwards, a 5-11 post player from East Central.Adding help down low is Meghan Pauley, a six-footer from Duluth Central.Other first-year players are Chris Venema (5-4, Ontonagon, Mich.), Molly Trombley (5-5, Forest Lake) and Lori Brick (5-6, Stewartville).“We’re very excited about the freshman recruiting class that’s here, and the two girls back from last year are very hard working,” said Podominick. “As long as we stay healthy, we should be able to compete. One of our goals is to finish in the top four of our conference and get to the state tournament.”The Ironwomen meet Itasca at 6 p.m. Friday in a semifinal matchup in their home tournament. In the other first-round game, Rainy River takes on Gogebic at 2 p.m.The third-place game is at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the championship game slated for a 2 p.m. start.The Ironwomen have 11 non-conference games, including tournaments at Gogebic, Minneapolis and Brainerd before the start of Northern Division play Jan. 14.• Assisting Podominick this season is Mandy Jelinek, Vermilion’s softball and volleyball coach. Jelinek played NCAA Division I basketball at Wright State (Ohio).

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