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High school sports season starts with practices this week

by Tom Coombe

While summer remains in the air, attention is soon turning to the fall - at least for high school athletes.

In many ways, summer vacation ends Monday for athletes in Ely and around the state as it marks the official start of fall sports practices.

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.

The seasons are starting in Ely with plenty of anticipation and high hopes.

That’s particularly so for the Timberwolves’ volleyball team, which is coming off a historic 2022 season that included the program’s first-ever Section 7A title and trip to the state tournament.

Ely had a perfect regular season, dominated the 7A tournament and wound up sixth in the Class A state event at St. Paul, finishing 30-2.

The Wolves broke through and won the section crown after trips to the semifinals in the previous three completed seasons, along with an unbeaten 2020 campaign that was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Megan Wognum  returns for her third year as head coach and welcomes back several key contributors from the 2022 season, including seniors Hannah Penke and Sarah Visser, and juniors Audrey Thomas and Lilli Rechichi.

More than 40 players in grades 7-12 are expected for the first workouts as Ely preps for an Aug. 28 home opener against Northeast Range.

Because the gymnasium floor is being replaced at the high school, Ely’s varsity and junior varsity home games will be played at Vermilion Community College - at least through September.

Ely’s football team also starts practice Monday and the Wolves begin the third year of a cooperative agreement with Northeast Range.

As a result of the cooperative, the Wolves are classified as an 11-man team, and the Wolves have a full 11-man schedule in 2023.

Ely, led by third-year head coach Louie Gerzin, went 1-8 a year ago while playing a 9-man schedule during the regular season, with a loss to Braham in the Section 7A playoffs.

Deegan Richards is among the returning seniors for the Wolves, who are seeing a boost in turnout with nearly 30 players in grades 9-12.

The football team hosts International Falls in an Aug. 31 season-opener at Ely School Stadium, slated for 7 p.m.

Ely fields both boys and girls cross country teams, and the Timberwolves begin preparations for the 2023 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.

Both Ely teams should be in the running in Section 7A and both teams return state meet participants.

The Ely girls qualified as a team in 2022 after taking second in Section 7A, and ninth-grader Molly Brophy placed 54th in a field of about 165 runners.

Other Ely returnees who ran at state last year are Elsa Ellerbroek, Claire Blauch, Anna Dunn and Kiarstin Eaton.

The Ely boys are led by a 2022 state meet participant -  junior and three-sport standout Caid Chittum.

Ely’s cross country season begins with an Aug. 30 meet at Virginia.

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.

Senior Rosemary Schlosser, juniors Anna Larson and Aili Krekelberg and sophomores Cylvia DeBeltz, Sabrah Hart and Alyssa Ice are some of the returning varsity swimmers for the Nighthawks, who go to work Monday in the pool at Babbitt.

The swimming season debut is Thursday, Aug. 24, date of the Rock Ridge Relays.

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