Skiers take second at home
Photos by Chris Ellerbroek
by Tom Coombe
The Ely Nordic Wolves beat both the cold weather and many of their section foes in their only home appearance of the winter.
Most of Section 7 gathered at Hidden Valley Jan. 27, a day earlier than originally planned because of forecasts calling for below-zero temperatures and teeth-chattering wind-chill readings.
Both Ely teams finished second in their respective divisions and senior Zoe Devine was the overall winner among the varsity girls.
Conditions were still blustery and new snow provided challenges on the course at Ely’s ski area, but the meet provided an opportunity for the Wolves to not only take part in a meet that is similar in format to the postseason, but a chance as well for the Wolves to ski at home.
To little surprise, section and state powerhouse Duluth East swept to victory in the team standings.
But Ely slid into both second place in both the girls and boys divisions, and that could bode well for Wednesday, when the Section 7 meet is held at Giants Ridge.
The top two teams in both the boys and girls contests will move on to state, set also for Giants Ridge Feb. 15-16.
This marked the first time this season that skiers took part in both classic and freestyle races, and Ely’s Devine bolted out to a big lead in the morning 5.5-kilometer classic event and widened it in the freestyle, also of the same distance.
She captured first place in a combined time of 33:49.9 and topped her nearest opponent - Duluth East junior Rowan Bixler - by almost 50 seconds.
“Zoe skied very well,” said Ely Head Coach Todd Hohenstein. “She, like many of our athletes, understands when to relax and ski efficiently, conserving effort for key areas of the race course to make a move and open up gaps or close them down on other skiers.”
Duluth East skiers captured four of the top-six places in the varsity girls event and had eight in the top-13.
Ely skiers went 14 through 16, however, to secure a second-place team finish.
Senior Phoebe Helms was 14th overall in 38:07.7, with teammates Claire Blauch (15th, 38:15.8) and Ava Skustad (16th, 38:41.5) next in line.
“Phoebe Helms also had a great race,” said Hohenstein. “She is really coming on strong towards the end of the season, exactly when her team needs her and what she had hoped to be able to do working through an early season injury. Overall, the girls were very solid in their effort. Pursuit skiers and the sprint relays. If we can stay healthy going forward, I’m excited to see what the girls can do.”
Kelly Thompson and Sydney Durkin formed Ely’s top relay in the varsity girls event. They won a semifinal event and took third in the finals, behind teams from Cloquet and Duluth East. Ely’s Anna Larson and Anna Dunn won the “B” girls relay final.
In the boys varsity relay, the Wolves’ Tory Hughley and Milo McClelland teamed up and finished second to a Cloquet combination in the finals.
The Ely boys topped Mesabi East by seven points in the nine-team varsity boys meet, with Eli Olson and Dylan Durkin recording the top individual finishes.
Olson took 11th in 34:05.9, climbing seven spots after finishing 18th in the classic event.
“Eli Olson had a solid first race, but really came through in the afternoon skate race and made up a bunch of time,” said Hohenstein. “He did a great job recovering between races and focusing on the race in front of him rather than what happened in the morning race.”
Durkin was 12th after the classic and maintained that spot, finishing five seconds behind Olson in 34:10.2.
Sophomore Silas Solum 17th (35:20.6), and the Ely lineup got a boost from several younger skiers.
Eighth-graders Oliver Hohenstein (35:58.9) and Caleb Larson (36:15.9) were 19th and 21st, respectively, while eighth-grader Aksel Skustad placed 24th (37:00.6) and freshman Nathan Hoffmeister was 31st (37:53.7)
“We know we’re a young boys team and that there are teams in our section that are heavy with senior experience,[ said Todd Hohenstein “An older skier doesn’t always translate to a better skier. It will be a challenge to compete for that second place finish at sections and we’re trying to set ourselves up to be in the best possible spot to compete.”
• In junior varsity action, Ely’s Aila Harding (23:15.5) placed sixth in the girls race and Alison Poppler (26:45.7)was 14th.
• Brooks Brenny and Wyatt Devine packed a one-two punch for the Wolves and gave Ely a one-two finish in the junior high boys race. Brenny won in 11:57 and Devine took second in 12:07.
Also making the top-20 were George Sponholz (eighth), Tyde Brecke (11th), Mason Molden (14th) and Blake Houde (17th).
Ely’s Molly Brophy took fifth in the junior high girls race with Mattie Lindsay (10th), June Nelson (11th), Lucy Dunn (17th) and Brynn Larson (18th) also in the top-20.