Ivancich wins state coaching award
The Ely Timberwolves never set foot on the baseball field during a high school baseball season waylayed by COVID-19, but the efforts of their longtime head coach did not go unnoticed.
Frank Ivancich, who has led the program since 2002 and guided the Wolves to four state tournament berth and six section finals appearances in the last decade, was named State Class A Coach of the Year by the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association.
The recognition came earlier this month, was announced during a virtual state coaches’ clinic and caught Ivancich, 56, off guard.
“I was on the virtual clinic, and they were saying that they decided to give some awards out and that they were honoring four coaches for coach of the year,” Ivancich said Wednesday. “I was cooking breakfast and all of a sudden I heard my name. I was as shocked as anyone.”
The MHSBCA opted to continue with its yearly awards and Ivancich was a natural fit for the state honor.
Under his watch, Ely has developed one of the top small-school programs in the state, reaching the state tournament in Class A in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
The Wolves also finished second in Section 7A in both 2011 and 2019 and were third in the section in 2018. In the last six seasons, Ivancich’s teams have gone 113-42 with 20 wins or more in four of those campaigns.
Ivancich said he believes the award is the culmination of work put in by his players and staff.
“It’s reflective of our whole baseball program, the summer and spring program,” he said. “This is an award that basically honors all of our players, all of our coaches. I’ve always said we run a baseball program. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, not just for me as an individual but more as recognition for what we do here in the spring and summer.”
For Ivancich and nearly all of his players, the baseball season doesn’t end with the conclusion of the high school season. It continues into the summer with the American Legion and Junior Legion levels, as well as a Junior League program for those ages 13-14.
Ivancich spends most of his summer at the ballpark, not only assisting Tom Coombe with the Legion team but helping to coordinate numerous tournaments held at Veterans Memorial Field and managing the ballpark’s famous concession stand.
“Frank sets the example with his dedication, and that’s one big reason the high school baseball program is successful as it is,” said Coombe. “Whether it’s going to coaching clinics, putting in extra time with helping his players, going to junior high games on the weekend or spending hour upon hour at the ballpark all summer, he does it. There aren’t many coaches who put the time in he does and it shows up in Ely’s success. He’s very, very deserving of this award.”
One of his best coaching jobs may have in the Wolves’ last completed season, 2019, as he guided a young Ely team through the elimination round of the Section 7A tournament to come within a game of another state tournament berth - losing in the finals to South Ridge.
That Ely team went 19-7 and returned numerous seniors in 2020, only to see the season and a chance at a state berth cut down by the pandemic.
“I was really looking forward just to seeing the progress of that group of seniors,” said Ivancich. “Fortunately they got a little taste of it during the summer and being able to have a summer season and a lot of success was great. It showed we probably would have had a pretty good spring and a successful season. It was tough on those seniors, especially after what we did the year before.”
All signs point to a spring season in 2021, and Ivancich’s Wolves will be in a rebuilding mode, but he’s not selling this group short.
“It will be interesting,” said Ivancich. “We’ve only got one senior starter back, but a lot of these guys got some good experience last summer at the Junior Legion level. They kind of struggled early but they progressed throughout the summer against some really quality teams, competition we don’t play during the high school season. I think they’ll be ready.”