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Wolves pass opening test

Ely Echo - Staff Photo
Photos by Eric Sherman

by Tom Coombe

The Ely Timberwolves were rarely tested during a perfect regular season in 2022.

That’s already changed in 2023.

The high school volleyball team’s beefed-up regular season schedule got real Tuesday when perennial Iron Range power Greenway took the opening set in the steamy gymnasium at Vermilion Community College.

Perhaps a bit rattled, the defending section champion Wolves weathered the storm and settled in during a commanding second set, and hitters Lilli Rechichi and Hannah Penke led a balanced attack as Ely downed the Class AA Raiders in four.

Scores were 23-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-14 as the Wolves won for the second time in as many nights, and started the season with a perfect 2-0 mark.

Rechichi, a junior, had 19 kills and 18 digs for the Wolves, while Penke’s hustle play on defense helped spark the second set turnaround.

The senior finished with 16 kills, 20 digs and four ace serves.

In a back-and-forth opening set, some miscommunication and missed balls proved costly as the Class AA Raiders prevailed.

The setback served as a wake-up call of sorts, according to Ely Head Coach Megan Wognum.

“I think it shook them a little bit,” said Wognum. “The mindset changed and all of a sudden they wanted it a little bit more than when they started.  They came at us a little harder than they thought they would.”

After the first set win, Greenway shook off an early 5-1 Ely lead and pulled back to even the slate when Penke may have made the play of the night.

She chased a ball down in the corner, keeping a rally alive, and Rechichi soon delivered a key point for the Wolves.

It seemed to spark the Wolves, who not long after had a double-digit lead and were off to the races.

“She had two really good saves,” Wognum said of Penke. “Those got us going and were a huge difference.”

Penke, an all-conference performer as a junior, joined freshman Audrey Kallberg in pacing the Ely defense as well.

Both had 20 digs and Rechichi was next with 18.

“This team definitely challenged us,” said Wognum. “We had more digs than we had in the past and they gave us some good competition which was good to see. We made some adaptations as we went along.”

Ely, which took control in the third set and never seemed in jeopardy again, also showed off an array of weapons.

While Rechichi and Penke did much of the heavy lifting, junior Clare Thomas also hammered home nine kills and freshman Audrey Kallberg finished with seven.

Senior Sarah Visser did much of the distributing, coming up with a match-high 30 set assists while ninth-grader Amelia Penke added another 18.

Both also got in on the hitting, combining for five kills.

Sophomore Sadie Rechichi came off the bench to add 14 digs, with Visser notching 10 and Amelia Penke contributing another nine.

Ely also finished with 14 ace serves as a team, with Kallberg and Hannah Penke coming up with four each.

The balance should serve the Wolves well as they traverse through a more difficult September, which could include a rematch with the Raiders at their Sept. 9 tournament, and showdowns with some of the state’s best Class A teams at the Sept. 22-23 Class A Showcase at Burnsville.

After a break for the long weekend, Ely returns to action Tuesday at Littlefork-Big Falls.

“I think we have a lot of room for growth but we are definitely off to a good start,” said Wognum.

• Visiting Northeast Range offered little pushback Monday, as Ely cruised 25-6, 25-15, 25-13 in the season-opener.

Hannah Penke had 12 kills, with Lilli Rechichi (seven) and Thomas (six) next in line.

Visser contributed 19 set assists and three ace serves, while Thomas served up five aces.

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