High school sports season arrives as practices resume
by Tom Coombe
After a disjointed, delayed and ultimately interrupted 2020 season, high school fall sports are back and it’s largely a “return to normal” this week all across Minnesota.
Monday, practices begin for high school fall sports teams in Ely and elsewhere in the state.
The workouts begin in preparation for contests at the end of the month as high school volleyball, football, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming begin.
It’s a more familiar routine this year after a 2020 season that was marred by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While cross country and swimming seasons began and finished on time, both sports were conducted amid a series of Covid-related protocols that included attendance restrictions indoors for swimming events.
The volleyball and football seasons both started in late-September after first being postponed by state officials, and both seasons were called off before their conclusion after Gov. Tim Walz put all youth sports on a several-week pause in November.
No restrictions are in place this fall and all seasons are now set to proceed as normal.
Ely’s volleyball team enters the 2021 campaign with high hopes after an unbeaten season last fall.
First-year head coach Megan Wognum welcomes back several starters from that team including two All-Arrowhead Conference honorees; senior Kellen Thomas and junior Rachel Coughlin. The Wolves figure to be a section contender as volleyball moves to a four-class system this year.
About 40 players in grades 7-12 are expected for the first workouts as Ely preps for an Aug. 31 home meeting with Northeast Range.
There’s also a new head coach on the gridiron, as Louie Gerzin takes over the Ely football program following the resignation of former head coach Cory Lassi.
Gerzin, a standout running back on Ely football teams that went to the State 9-Man tournament in 2012 and 2013, will welcome about 20 players in grades 9-12, including returning all-conference players Eddie Prijatel and Jason Kerntz.
The Wolves open with two consecutive home games but they figure to be daunting challenges. Carlton-Wrenshall is the opening night opponent on Friday, Sept. 3 at Ely School Stadium, while perennial powerhouse Mt. Iron-Buhl comes to town for a Sept. 10 date.
Ely fields both boys and girls cross country teams, and the Timberwolves begin preparations for the 2021 campaign this week under the tutelage of Jayne Dusich, the Bemidji State University Athletic Hall of Famer who has led the program since its inception in the mid-1990s.
More than 20 athletes are out for the Ely boys team, which took fourth in the section last year. Junior Jake Cochran and senior Jon Halaka are two of the team’s leading runners.
On the girls’ side, Zoe Devine placed seventh in Section 7A last fall and fellow junior Phoebe Helms was 20th.
The Wolves open the season at the Sept. 1 Virginia Invitational and the docket includes a home meet at the Ely golf course on Oct. 5.
Those who participate in girls swimming require additional dedication - and time - given a cooperative agreement hosted by Northeast Range.
Cheri DeBeltz coaches the Northeast Range/Ely program, which has been dominated largely by Ely swimmers the last few seasons. Among those returning is Lily Tedrick of Ely, who was an All-Section 7A honoree last fall.
The Nighthawks begin workouts Monday in preparation for the season-opening Virginia Relays on Aug. 26.