Surging Ely volleyball team wins Arrowhead again
by Tom Coombe
In a matter of four days, Ely’s high school volleyball team claimed not one but two championships.
After sweeping four straight games to win Saturday’s nine-team Mesabi East Tournament, the Timberwolves picked up another sweep at Mt. Iron-Buhl - and in the process claimed the Arrowhead Conference title.
As senior Sarah Visser topped the 1,000 set assist mark for her career, the Wolves rolled past the host Rangers 25-13, 25-20, 25-20 on Tuesday night.
The win was the Wolves’ eight straight, their 19th of the season and resulted in the program’s fourth Arrowhead championship in five seasons.
Ely, which closes the regular season with two games this week, is also closing in on the number-one seed for the upcoming Section 7A playoffs, which start with a home contest on Oct. 25.
The Wolves are sending strong signals that they’re the team to beat in the section once again, with Mesabi East tourney wins over two other leading 7A contenders - Floodwood and North Woods.
The defending 7A champions made a statement early on against MIB, with junior hitter Lilli Rechichi striking for eight of her match-high 15 kills in a dominant opening set.
Visser, who recorded 27 set assists for the night, reached the 1,000-assist milestone early in the second, resulting in a brief timeout so she could present the game ball to her parents Darren and Karla, and receive accolades from her teammates and spectators.
The Wolves needed to rally in the third set, but did more than enough to claim victory over the Rangers, who fell to 9-8,
Senior Hannah Penke had a double-double with 13 kills and 18 digs, while freshman hitter Audrey Kallberg notched six kills.
Clare Thomas finished with 10 digs to go with her five kills and backup setter Aubree Gerlovich came in to add 11 set assists.
The Wolves also had plenty of success at the serving line, delivering 11 aces, with four by Thomas and three by Visser.
• The Wolves overcame high-caliber competition to win the Mesabi East Tournament.
That included a 25-20, 25-7 thrashing of Floodwood during Saturday morning pool play action.
It was a rematch of last year’s 7A title tilt, and Ely took charger after a close opening set.
Rechichi and Thomas contributed eight kills each to the win, while Hannah Penke has six kills, 10 digs and two ace servies.
Freshman Amelia Penke came up with ine digs and Thomas (eight), Kallberg (seven) and Rechichi (six) followed.
Visser distributed the ball and led with 20 set assists.
Ely outlasted the host Giants, who just two days earlier clinched the Iron Range Conference championship, in a 25-19, 28-26 thriller.
Rechichi (11) and Hannah Penke (10) both reached double digits in kils while Kallberg finished with 11 digs.
Visser notched 27 set assists with six digs and two ace serves.
For the second time in a week, Ely swept North Woods, downing the Grizzlies by convincing 25-15 and 25-13 scores.
Rechichi led with eight kills, followed by Hannah Penke (six), Kallberg (five) and Thoms (four), and freshman Charlotte Hegman added a couple more.
Visser’s big day included another 22 set assists against North Woods, while Thomas and Rechichi paced the defense with seven digs each.
Ely’s Amelia Penke had three ace serves in the win.
The Wolves opened the tournament with a 25-3, 25-13 rout of Northeast Range, their third sweep of the local rival this sesason.
Rechichi had 14 kills in the win and Penke finished with seven, while Thomas was on fire serving - coming up with a season-high eight serves.
Kallberg added 12 digs to go with three kills, and setters Visser and Gerlovich combined for 23 assists.
• As of Wednesday, Ely and North Woods were the two top-ranked teams in the north half of 7A while South Ridge and Floodwood have the top two spots in the sout.
The Wolves are likely to host playoff games on both Oct. 25 and 27, with the 7A semifinals (Nov. 1) and finals (Nov. 4) both set for the new Rock Ridge school near Virginia.
Ely has reached at least the semifinal round of the 7A playoffs every year since 2018, except for the 2020 campaign cut short by the Covid pandemic.