No school, no sports for Wolves
by Tom Coombe
There were more than enough hints and the proverbial handwriting had been on the wall for at least a couple of weeks.
Yet that didn’t make things any easier for high school athletes in Ely, or elsewhere in Minnesota.
When Gov. Tim Walz announced last week that students wouldn’t return to school this spring, he also ended any hope that high school spring sports would take place this year.
Within minutes of Walz’s announcement, the Minnesota State High School League made it official, cancelling seasons that had been put on hold since mid-March.
The ramifications in Ely were far reaching.
Senior Luke Olson wouldn’t get the opportunity to defend his State Class A title in the 800 meter run, while classmates Raif Olson, Eric Omerza and Brielle Kallberg lost their opportunity to punch return tickets to state.
A boys track relay also had its hopes blown up, while the high school baseball team, which came within a game of the state tournament in 2019 and had several key players returning, was left to ponder what might have been.
The season also ended before it began for the Timberwolves’ softball team, which had high hopes of a run deep into the Section 7A playoffs, as well as those who would form a combined golf team with Northeast Range.
Also left in limbo were members of Ely’s speech team, which had its season cut short just prior to subsection and section competition.
The announcement didn’t come entirely as a surprise to the Wolves or their coaches.
School hadn’t been in session since March 17, and the MSHSL sent strong signals that activities wouldn’t resume unless students returned to their respective campuses.
Walz first closed schools through May 4, but had strongly suggested for weeks that the coronavirus pandemic made it highly unlikely that schools would divert from the recently enacted distance learning protocol and go back to school.
The official announcement, however, didn’t make it any less disappointing.
In a message to his team, Ely boys track coach Will Helms said “It seems impossible that Luke would finish the year as state champion and be denied an opportunity to defend his title this June. You have every right to grieve the loss of your season, but you should feel proud of the mark you’ve left on the Ely program.”
Reached Thursday afternoon, Helms expanded on the ramifications of the unprecedented announcement.
“It was pretty tough,” he said. “It really hurt. We had a good team coming back, 10 seniors coming back and six of them had state meet experience. It’s really disappointing. It’s so rough for our seniors.”
It was a particularly devastating blow for Olson, who won a state title in the 800 in his first year as a track athlete.
Bound for NCAA Division I South Dakota, Olson had his eyes on a repeat.
“Luke was 100 percent ready to defend that title,” said Helms. “Last year he won it with a 1:55 and was shooting for 1:52 this year. He had trained mighty hard going back to March 1. He had two goals going in, one was to get to the ‘Elite’ meet and compete against the Class AA bigger-school guys and the second one was to defend that title. It’s a real shame as he was absolutely ready.”
The Ely boys were loaded heading into the 2020 campaign, with state hurdles qualifer Raif Olson and triple jumper Omerza back as well.
Add relay participants Nate Nettifee, Dylan Fenske, Emmett Faltesek and Jasper Johnston, and the Wolves had an assortment of talent that put them in contention for a Section 7A team title.
The Ely girls team was also poised for improvement and was led by Kallberg, who advanced to state last year in the triple jump.
Longtime coach Jayne Dusich said she was “sure” that Kallberg would have qualified again and voiced disappointment with the developments.
“I feel for every athlete for not having that sense of accomplishment of participating and competing in track this year whether it was running, jumping or throwing,” said Dusich.
The shutdown also had an impact on Ely’s other sports.
Seniors Dalton Schreffler, Nils DeRemee, Bryce Longwell and Tjae Banks formed the heart of an Ely baseball team that was looking to dethrone South Ridge in Section 7A. The two teams met in the finals last year.
In softball, seniors Erika Mattson and Jenna Merhar were two key players back for the Wolves.
Ely does not field its own high school golf team but a handful of athletes may have participated on a joint team with Northeast Range.