First playoff hurdle cleared
by Tom Coombe
Ely’s high school volleyball team made quick work of its first playoff opponent.
In less than an hour, the unbeaten Timberwolves won their 26th straight contest - a Secton 7A playoff sweep over Northeast Range.
About 400 boisterous fans cheered on at the high school gymnasium as Ely cruised 25-12, 25-4, 25-9 over the Nighthawks.
The win set up a 7A quarterfinal contest on Friday against North Woods, also at home, and a victory would send the team on to its fourth consecutive 7A semifinal appearance.
Ely, which has never played in a 7A final, has the best record of any Class A team in the state.
The Wolves are seeded at the top of 7A and the visiting Nighthawks, who were eighth, didn’t pose much of a challenge this week.
Ely jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the set and led by as much as 22-1 in the second.
The big margins allowed head coach Megan Wognum to substitute freely, and numerous Wolves contributed to the victory.
Junior setter Sarah Visser distributed the ball to a wide assortment of hitters, coming up with 26 set assists and pacing the defense with double digits (12) in kills. She also had three ace serves.
Fellow junior Hannah Penke was a force as usual at the net, delivering nine kills against a Nighthawk defense that had no answers for the Ely hitting attack.
Senior Kate Coughlin notched eight kills for the winners, and her twin sister Rachel added six.
Sophomore Lilli Rechichi recorded six kills while senior Madeline Kallberg was solid all around with four kills, seven assists, six digs and a couple of ace serves.
Clare Thomas added four kills for Ely, with Natasha Fulkrod adding three ace serves, two blocks and two kills.
Audrey Thomas had a kill for the Wolves while Courtney Eilrich and Madeline Perry both had one dig.
Ely moved on to a Friday night matchup with the Grizzlies, who swept Mt. Iron-Buhl on Wednesday.
The Wolves and North Woods squared off in September at Cook, with Ely winning in four sets.
With a quarterfinal win, Ely would play at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday against either Cromwell or South Ridge in the 7A semifinals at Hibbing.
The 7A title tilt is Saturday, Nov. 5 (4 p.m.) at Hermantown with the winner moving on to the state tournament at St. Paul Nov. 10-12.