Home meet held, skiers tune up for sections
by Tom Coombe
It took a virtual village to make it possible for Ely’s Nordic Wolves to compete at home.
With section competition looming Feb. 7 at Giants Ridge, last weekend’s Ely Invitational marked not only the lone chance for the Wolves to host a meet, but to also take part in the format that will be used in the postseason.
It was a success on all fronts, with nearly 300 skiers coming to town and Ely’s trails accommodating quite well - particularly given the winter snow conditions.
“We had a great day at Hidden Valley on Saturday,” said Ely Head Coach Todd Hohenstein. “The trails were fantastic considering the low snow year, all because of the hard work from the grooming crew and Hidden Valley. Skiers have become very sensitive to any amount of snowfall and the couple of dustings that we received last week really helped. We had a crew of volunteers that helped shovel snow on thin areas of the trail. Many people from the community stepped up to help out in any way they could to make the meet a success. Mother Nature really made us work for this one and in the end it was a great event.”
The Wolves also had a good day against their opposition, which included all of their Section 7 foes except Mora.
While perennial powerhouse Duluth East showed off their prowess and won the team titles in both the boys and girls divisions, Ely wound second in the boys meet and fourth among the girls.
Junior Dylan Durkin (sixth) and freshman Oliver Hohenstein (ninth) both bagged top-10 finishes among the boys while senior Claire Blauch took 11th overall to pace the Ely girls.
As they will at the section meet, skiers competed in a five-kilometer freestyle race to open the day and closed it out with classic pursuit skiing in the afternoon.
Both Durkin and Oliver Hohenstein were in the top-10 in both races while Eli Olson was seventh in the freestyle and Milo McClelland was 10th in the classic.
“The boys also had a solid performance on the day,” said Todd Hohenstein. “The interesting thing is that you can see how each race may be different for each skier. An athlete may be a very strong skate skier and do very well in the morning race, but they aren’t as strong in the classic and could then slip back a few spots. Our goal is to train a well balanced skier.”
After placing eighth in the freestyle race, Durkin climbed two spots to finish sixth overall with a combined time of 31:18, about two minutes off the pace set by winner James Kyes of Duluth East.
Oliver Hohenstein was sixth in the classic and ninth overall at 31:55, while McClelland (11th, 32:19) and Olson (12th, 32:48) both were in the top-quarter of a 48-skier field.
Others finishing for the Wolves were Caleb Larson (17th, 34:33), George Sponholz (22nd, 34:59), Tory Hughley (27th, 35:44) and Leo Stalmer (41st, 39;24).
Sprint relay racing is part of the section meet and Ely may have found its combination in Aksel Skustad and Silas Solum, who teamed up to win the boys relay.
“Our team is deep enough that we can have top level skiers in both the pursuit and relay events,” said Todd Hohenstein. “We understand just how important those relay points are in the section meet format and we want to compete for the top spot. Both Aksel and Silas both have dynamic and explosive skiing styles that make them great sprinters.”
The Ely girls were led by two seniors - Blauch and Ava Skustad.
Skustad was 13th after the morning freestyle race and maintained her spot in the afternoon, while Blauch jumped five spots from 16th to take 11th overall in 35:51
“For the girls, Ava and Claire put together a great day of racing,” said Todd Hohenstein. “Again, we try to help our skiers measure their success by their effort and focus during the races, those are things they can control. It’s even better when the places match the perceived effort.”
Led by standout Lyda Kraker, who won in 32:21, Duluth East had seven of the top-10 finshers en route to the team title.
Behind Blauch and Skustad, Ely junior Rena Johnston followed in 28th place (39:45) while Anna Larson (31st, 40:33), Aila Harding (32nd, 40:53) and Elsa Ellerbroek (35th, 43:00) followed.
“Our younger varsity skiers also did very well,” said Todd Hohenstein. “Some of them were skiing their first pursuit race of their high school career. There is always learning going on during the entire event. Skiers need to learn what to eat in between races, and how best to recover for the second race of the day. ”
In the sprint relays, Ely formed a combination made up of Molly Brophy and June Nelson, who teamed up to place fifth in the finals.
In junior varsity action, Ely’s Wyatt Devine topped the field, with teammates Brooks Brenny (third), Mason Molden (fifth) and Tyde Brecke (seventh) all landing spots in the top-10.
Allison Poppler took ninth in the JV girls competition.
The junior high boys race featured three Wolves in the top-10 with Eli Littler fourth, followed by Blake Houde (ninth) and Oren Solum.
Ivy Ohlhauser of Ely placed third in the junior high girls event, followed by teammates Addison Kannas (fourth), Brynn Larson (fifth), Selam Houle (eighth) and Maddie Johnson (ninth).