State champ! Zoe Devine’s win highlights Ely’s sports successes
Tiny Ely is once again on the statewide sports map, thanks to an extraordinarily talented and undeniably dedicated high school senior.
Ely is now home to Minnesota’s girls Nordic skiing state champion, after Zoe Devine’s dramatic and show-stopping win last Thursday afternoon at Giants Ridge.
Trailing while coming into view of the crowd near the finish line, Devine made a hard charge on a short downhill stretch, gathered momentum and passed Duluth East’s Lydia Kraker at the finish line.
It was a photo finish, with Devine squeaking out the win, and the state title, by a mere tenth of a second.
The narrow win and the excitement of the last 50 yards may have made victory even sweeter for Devine, who capped a brilliant high school career with a crowning achievement.
It was Devine’s fifth straight trip to the state meet, and she moved to the top after winning all-state recognition last season and placing sixth overall.
She captured the section title the week before, setting the stage for a grand finale at state.
Devine, who will head east after graduation and continue her skiing exploits at the collegiate level, is Ely’s second state skiing champion in six years.
It was in 2017 when Erin Bianco took home the state title, and the community’s prowess in developing state champions isn’t limited to skiing.
Luke Olson, who is now on the track team at NCAA Division I South Dakota (see related story in sports section), won a state track championship in 2019.
We don’t know who if anyone is keeping track, but we’d bet one would be hard-pressed to find another Minnesota community of Ely’s size that has developed three state individual champions in the span of six years.
It’s clear also that Ely’s athletic talent isn’t limited to a small group of individual achievers.
Just last week, Devine was joined at the state ski meet by her teammates of the Ely girls squad, which finished second in Section 7 and wound up eighth in the single-class state meet. That’s right, there are no enrollment divisions in skiing and Ely matched up favorably in a field that included behemoths such as Stillwater, Eden Prairie, Duluth East, Forest Lake and Elk River/Zimmerman.
Ely’s Dylan Durkin made it to state in boys Nordic skiing and every year the Wolves seem to be represented by individuals and at least one of its teams at Giants Ridge.
Earlier this school year, Ely’s volleyball team captured the attention and heart of the community with a historic run that included an unbeaten regular season, the school’s first-ever section title and trip to state, and a sixth-place state finish at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The school also sent its girls cross country team on to state while Caid Chittum advanced individually. Like the Nordic ski program, the cross country teams now have an almost annual ticket punched to state for one or more of its members.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Ely’s football team had a stretch of seasons that included a pair of state semifinal berths, while the boys basketball team played for a trip to state in 2018 and reached the final four of the section two years later.
Last winter, the girls basketball team turned a few heads with a surprise appearance in the section semifinals and this year’s edition has racked up 20 wins in advance of perhaps another playoff run.
Despite the lack of a track, Ely’s track program produced a state champion in Olson and has sent several boys and girls to state over the course of the last decade - including Ande Visser’s appearance in the discus in 2022.
It seems as if Ely is synonymous with baseball, hosting major tournaments on a near annual basis and producing high quality teams for decades, with the high school team reaching the 7A final last spring and advancing to state four times between 2012 and 2017.
Stack it all up and it’s obvious that Ely’s success in athletics is disproportionate to its size.
Zoe Devine’s recent victory provided the exclamation point.
Congrats Zoe, and to all of Ely’s teams for their efforts this year, and best of luck to our basketball teams as March Madness begins.