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Second, squared, for skiers at Cook County

Photos by Chris Ellerbroek

by Tom Coombe

Ely’s Nordic Wolves are regrouping after a busy flurry of action, but both the boys and girls teams seem well-positioned heading into the home stretch of the regular season.

Both teams were second, behind only perennial section and state powerhouse Duluth East, at Tuesday’s Cook County Invitational.

The meet closed out a hectic stretch for the Wolves, who are now off until a Jan. 28 home event at Hidden Valley.

“We just finished an action packed segment of our season with five meets in two weeks and now we get a 10-day break until our next meet,” said head coach Todd Hohenstein. “It’s our bye week and we get a chance to recover and shift our training.”

Almost as soon as it started, the season is winding down for the Wolves, with the home meet and a Feb. 2 event in Duluth the final tune-ups before section competition next month.

Both events will have a pursuit format that’s also used at sections.

“The length of the meet will change as we move into the pursuit format,” said Hohenstein. “Instead of just one 5K race, most skiers will now do two 5K races.  In addition, two skiers will make up a relay team for a shorter event.  One group of skiers needs to adapt to a longer distance and another needs to transition to a shorter distance but faster.”

Even without standout Zoe Devine, the Ely girls held their own on Tuesday, with junior Ava Skustad the top individual finisher from Ely. She was seventh in a six-kilometer freestyle race in 20:26.7.

Duluth East, led by individual winner Rowan Bixler (18:24.8) claimed five of the top-six spots in the race.

Ely had four others in the top-15, with Claire Blauch taking 11th in 21:00.4 and Phoebe Helms one spot and five seconds back.

Next were Anna Dunn (14th, 21:50.4) and Kelly Thompson (15th, 22:18.6).

The rest of the Ely lineup included Syndey Durkin (18th, 22:50.9), Anna Larson (28th, 24:26.8), Juliet Stouffer (35th, 26:26.7) and Morgan McClelland (36th, 28:05.1).

Sophomore Eli Olson paced the Ely boys, taking fifth overall in 18:36.3.

Two other sophomores made the top-10, with Silas Solum in seventh (18:47.1) and Dylan Durkin taking ninth (19:02.7).

Rounding out the roster were Milo McClelland (20th, 20:24.9) and Tory Hughley (22nd, 20:39), also sophomores.

In the team standings, Ely was comfortably ahead of the rest of the field and trailing only Duluth East.

“Duluth East continues to show why they are one of the best programs in the state as they dominate the top places in finishes,” said Hohenstein. “But we know that the top two teams qualify for the state meet out of each section and so both the boys and girls have a very good chance of earning those spots. A lot is going to depend on how we transition to the pursuit format and the sprint team we create.  The experience on the girls team will help that process.  I have been very pleased with our senior leadership and know it will be part of a successful progression for our team.”

In junior varsity action, several Ely skiers who previously competed in junior high races moved up and did well.

Eighth-grader Aksel Skustad was the runner-up (20:02.2) in the boys JV event, with Oliver Hohenstein (fourth), Caleb Larson (fifth,) and Nathan Hoffmeister (ninth) all making the top-10.

“We did move some younger boys up from junior high to junior varsity at the Cook County meet in hopes to give the already young boys team some depth,” said Hohenstein. “I was overly cautious with moving skiers up as I wanted them to feel success skiing in a group of mostly older skiers but also be challenged by the competition.  Based on their finish times and places, it’s obvious they were ready for the move and will have a shot at filling out our varsity squad once we get closer to sections.”

In the JV girls event, Ely’s Elsa Ellerbroek led the Wolves and took 13th, with teammates Aila Harding and Alison Poppler 18th and 22nd, respectively.

The Wolves also had the runners-up in both the junior high boys and girls races.

Brooks Brenny finished a 3.1K freestyle event in 10:21.7, just three seconds shy of first place. George Sponholz took fourth (10:48) and Tyde Brecke finished sixth (11:18.6).

Other Ely competitors were Blake Houde (10th), Mason Molden (11th) and Oren Solum (22nd).

Molly Brophy was the second-place finisher in the girls freestyle race with a time of 11:19.9.

She was followed by June Nelson (seventh), Mattie Lindsey (eighth), Selam Houle (12th), Lucy Dunn (18th), and Bela Moskowitz  (22nd).

• The Wolves took part in a series of races last Saturday in Duluth at the annual Marshall Sprints.

Among the varsity boys, Eli Olson made the “B” final and took fifth.

Zoe Devine reached the “A” final in the girls event and wound up fourth.

The junior high boys race at Marshall belonged to Ely, with Aksel Skustad winning the 3K contest in 8:19.0, edging out Oliver Hohenstein by just over a second. Larson finished third, Sponholz was fifth and Brenny took seventh.

Brophy (fourth), Nelson (10th) and Lindsey (12th) were Ely’s top junior high girls racers.

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