ELY — Sending both the boys’ and girls’ Nordic ski teams to this year’s state meet, the Ely Timberwolves are set to contend with the best of the best at Friday’s championships.
The boys’ team repeated as Section 7A champs while the girls finished second to also advance as a team. Heading into the meet, head coach Paula Anderson expected the girls team to finish high, but to qualify for state was a pleasant surprise, especially after advancing in a tiebreaker over Mesabi East.
“I just thought if the girls could qualify that would be such a huge bonus because we didn’t have many expectations,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have quite the depth other teams had since we’re so young. Our top three girls are really solid but our fourth has been changing all season.
“As we got closer to sections, Zoe Devine just started jumping. She’s never finished as high as she did until right before the end. She had a great day in the pursuit and that’s her strength and it made a big difference for us. It really just depended on the day and we had a great day. I thought we had second by one point and then we found out it was a tie and that’s just as close as it can get.”
Devine will lead the Timberwolves as just a freshman qualifying for her second state meet. Anderson says the difference between her skiing as an eighth grader compared to his year is massive.
“She obviously has a lot of natural ability qualifying as an eighth grader last year but she just has so much natural ability that pushes her forward. She has the big engine, the ability and the competitive drive to just keep pushing forward.
“Her maturity and her added strength and her technique will do wonders for her but she still has a lot of room to grow. She finished around top 60 last year and I think she’s going to climb higher this year. If she makes that top 25, all-state, that’s phenomenal.”
Ely’s next two skiers, Phoebe Helms and Brooke Pasmick will also aid the Timberwolves Friday.
“Phoebe has made a huge jump this year and she’s worked really hard and really matured into the sport. She’s just been really impressive and she’s become my second skier this year. Brooke has been to state before on this team and she’s really jumping forward this year now that she has her exercise asthma under control. That’s big for her and, going in with experience, I think she could have a really good day.”
Ely’s fourth spot is up in the air and just depends on who has the best day according to Anderson. It will come down to Cedar Ohlhauser, Kalyssa Eilrich, Julia Schwinghamer and Ana Bercher, the other four Timberwolves competing Friday.
On the boys side, the Timberwolves finished seventh at state two years ago and sixth last year. Anderson says her boys squad set a realistic goal for themselves heading into this season.
“They were very smart about it and just said they wanted to aim for the top five this year. Sixth was good last year but they were kind of disappointed and they didn’t want to set themselves up to be disappointed again. So they’ve been focused on the whole proves of being a team and doing everything right every single day out here.”
The Timberwolves are led by Jasper Johnston. Johnston finished 11th last year and has been ranked inside the top 10 this year individually. Anderson says anything is possible when it comes to state for Ely’s top skier.
“Those top 10 boys, any of them could have their day. They’ve all taken turns moving in front of each other and falling behind each other. Jasper has beaten them and they’ve beaten him. So inside the top 10 for sure for him. If he gets top five, he’ll be very happy and it’s definitely possible.
“He’s a very steady skier. He doesn’t get too high or too low when it comes to how he views himself. He’s not used to having to compete with the best racers all season because he’s been so strong in Section 7 but I think he thrives when he’s pushed a little bit. It’ll be very good for him.”
The Ely boys team will rely on their experience with Johnston (section champion), Nate Nettifee (fifth at sections), Gabriel Pointer (sixth) and Raif Olson (seventh) and Ethan Bremner (11th) all having at least one state meet under their belts. They’ll be joined by Jon Hakala and Micah Larson (16th and 20th), sophomores who are tackling their first state meet.
“Those experienced boys know that the course we’re racing can be tricky. And the cold from Thursday will make it even trickier. We have that advantage because we know it like the back of our hand. They know what it’s like to have a good day there and a bad day there. So they know how to handle it all and hopefully they can do that.”
With both the boys and girls teams advancing to state, Anderson mentioned just how important it is to compete as a team, even in an individual sport like Nordic skiing.
“For high school kids, the team part is everything. It’s all about the friendships and the relationships. The spend a lot of time together starting in the summer. They train together. A lot of our kids went to West Yellowstone to ski and it just build from there.
“Coming from a small town like ours, these kids spend all their free time together. They’re like siblings. They’ve grown up together. Some coaches have mentioned making Nordic skiing totally individual and I could never see it being that way. The team aspect is such a big deal and I think our kids perform best when they qualify as a team as opposed to as individuals.”
The support from the town of Ely has also had a big impact on the team.
“Even people who aren’t interested in cross country skiing are so supportive. From the people at the checkout at the grocery store to random people on the street. It gives the town a lot of pride. That’s always a surprise to me. It’s such a private sport where you’re racing in the woods by yourself but everyone is so excited to come out and support us. It’s really amazing.”
Looking at Friday, the switch to hold the state meet on Friday due to weather concerns worked out better for Ely in the long run.
“It should be a great day. The temps look a little more moderate. And there’s no school here on Friday so it’s better in that a lot more people can come and watch and cheer us on.”
The State Nordic Ski Meet is set to kick off Friday at 1 p.m. at Giants Ridge.