Wolves complete repeat
Ely comes out firing in 7A final, downs Floodwood in four
by Tom Coombe
The Ely Timberwolves weren’t about to be denied.
After a near-stumble in the Section 7A semifinals three nights earlier, the high school volleyball team left nothing to chance and was all business in Saturday’s title tilt.
The Wolves came out firing in the opening set, which set the tone as Ely clinched a second straight section championship and state tournament berth with a four-set victory over Floodwood.
A third set defeat only delayed what seemed to be the inevitable, as Ely regained control in the fourth and went on to a 25-13, 25-18, 23-25, 25-10 win over the Polar Bears.
Ely, which won its 15th straight contest and improved to 26-5, got 14 kills from junior Lilli Rechichi and capitalized on numerous mistakes and balls sent out of bounds by the Polar Bears.
The Wolves were taken to the brink in a five-set semifinal thriller with South Ridge, but never seemed in serious jeopardy against Floodwood.
“I think we were more mentally ready on Saturday night for sure,” said Ely Head Coach Megan Wognum. “We didn’t know what to expect from South Ridge because we hadn’t played them before. We had seen Floodwood and knew what to expect.”
Backed by a boisterous Ely following at the new Rock Ridge school near Virginia, Ely used its arsenal of weapons to put Floodwood on its heels early in the rematch of the 2022 7A championship game.
Freshman Charlotte Hegman’s kill ignited a Wolves run that was capped by a big hit from junior Clare Thomas, which resulted in a 14-8 Wolves lead and a Polar Bear timeout.
Ely didn’t look back, and a couple of Thomas aces helped close out a double-digit win for the Wolves.
Before the Polar Bears knew what hit them, they were under fire from kills by Rechichi and senior Hannah Penke and Ely jumped to a 7-2 lead.
Again the Wolves built a 10-point lead, which provided more than enough cushion to withstand a late Floodwood rally.
The Polar Bears often directed their attack to sophomore hitter Kenzie Kiminski, but Ely closed things out to stand a set away from victory.
Floodwood had rallied from two sets down to stun North Woods in the semifinals and the Polar Bears mounted an offensive in the third.
Ely managed to take a 23-20 lead in a tightly-contested third but Floodwood countered.
A couple of blocks by Kiminski gave her team a 26-24 win, but the Wolves weren’t rattled.
“When we ended the second set, we talked in the huddle about how they came out ready to play against North Woods,” said Wognum. “We talked about what happened before it happened, but we came back in the fourth set. I think they have a lot of confidence and believe in themselves and that goes a long way. That’s something you can’t coach.”
Needing one more set to take the title, the Wolves went out and grabbed control in the fourth.
Amelia Penke had a couple of ace serves in a run that stretched Ely’s lead to 16-7, and the Wolves could taste victory.
Almost anytime Floodwood seemed poised to rally, one of their hits went out of bounds.
Fittingly, the Wolves clinched the title on a Floodwood hit that sailed out of bounds, setting off a Wolves celebration that was capped by the awarding of both the first-place trophy and individual medals.
“They were really eager and excited to make it back to the state tournament,” said Wognum. “They were a confident group.”
Hannah Penke, Sarah Visser, Thomas and Rechichi all played prominent roles a year ago, while Wognum also worked several newcomers into the lineup including freshmen Audrey Kallberg, Hegman and Amelia Penke, and sophomore Sadie Rechichi.
While Lilli Rechichi led against Floodwood with 14 kills, Kallberg and Hannah Penke both reached double digits with 10 and Thomas recorded eight. Hegman added another three.
Ely notched 13 ace serves in all, with five by Visser and another four by Thomas, while Visser came up with 39 set assists and a team-best 18 digs.
Thomas (17), Hannah Penke (10) and Kallberg (10) all reached double figures in digs, and both Lilli Rechichi and Amelia Penke finished with eight.