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Softball first to get on field

by Tom Coombe

The presence of artificial turf in northeastern Minnesota is a welcome sight to many spring sports teams, including Ely’s high school softball squad.

Thanks to turf, the Wolves will get three games in over the course of the next several days to open the 2023 season.

Ely played at Mesabi East Friday and will return there Monday to open its “home” season against Silver Bay.

Tuesday, the Wolves travel to Mt. Iron-Buhl, which also plays softball on its turf football field.

Fields across the region have been covered by snow until this week, and it may be awhile yet before the natural surface softball field on the Ely school grounds is dry enough for practice and games.

But the Wolves, who won 11 games last spring and return a solid nucleus, now see some light at the end of the tunnel after several weeks of indoor practice.

“We’re marking our fifth week of practice,” said head coach Cory Lassi. “And we won’t get a chance to get in a field until our first game, but we’re excited to get out there and see what we can do. It’s nice to have the first three games on turf, and mix that in with the nice weather we’re having now and hopefully we can keep things rolling into our season.”

Despite losing five starters from the 2022 team, Ely has experience at key positions and should be able to score some runs.

All-section outfielder Kate Coughlin, third baseman Rachel Coughlin and Madeline Kallberg at first are the Wolves’ three returning senior starters.

Kate Coughlin was the Wolves’ leading hitter and their most consistent power bat a year ago. She hit a team-best .500 with 29 hits overall and 31 RBI. That included seven doubles, a triple and a home run.

Both Rachel Coughlin and Kallberg provided plenty of power, as did returning sophomore Clare Thomas, who was a force at the top of Ely’s order and will play outfield and see some time behind the plate.

Ely also figures to get a big boost from junior transfer Hannah Penke, who will catch and play shortstop. She has extensive softball experience and was a key player on both the state tournament qualifying volleyball team and a girls basketball team that reached the section semifinals.

“I’m hoping we can put some runs on the board with the bats we have returning,” said Lassi.

Pitching is an integral part of softball and the Wolves should be solid in the circle with the return of freshman Zoe Mackenzie.

She’ll move into the primary pitching role this spring after sharing duties with 2022 graduate Katrina Seliskar.

“I’m excited to see Zoe go out there and build off what she did last year,” said Lassi. “She started a playoff game so she has that experience and I’m really hoping she goes out and has a good year.”

Several reserves from a year ago, Rylee Larsen, Brielle Lindland and Lily Dirks, are vying for more prominent roles this spring.

Ely also should get a boost from several eighth graders, including catcher/middle infielder Peyton Huntington, catcher/middle infielder Grace Flynn and catcher/middle infielder Amelia Penke.

“We’re looking to some eighth graders to step up and help us this year,” said Lassi, who is assisted by Megan Wognum. “We will definitely  be young and inexperienced in some parts of our lineup.”

Ely has 18 players out for the program and will field a junior varsity team in addition to the varsity unit.

Monday’s game with Silver Bay was set to be a home game but was moved, and prospects are iffy for the scheduled April 20 home date with perennial powerhouse Cherry.  Ely might not play at home until April 27, when it hosts Chisholm.

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