Ely returns top skiers for 2021

Ely’s Jasper Johnston poles off the starting line during last February’s state Nordic meet at Giants Ridge. Johnston went on to finish fourth in the state meet.

ELY — Paula Anderson expects to see some good things from her Ely Nordic skiing team this season.

Needless to say the athletes are talented, but extra time on the snow this year will certainly help them develop.

“They will have more days on snow than they’ve ever had,’’ Anderson said. “I’ve seen them really make progress.’’

That comes from the season starting later due to Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 safety protocols and having it stretch into March. While practices started Jan. 18, the skiers were able to train on their own quite a bit in December.

“That’s going to make a big difference in the future,’’ said Anderson, who is in her 23rd year coaching.

With all that preseason training in December, “they’ve come into January pretty fit.’’

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The Timberwolves will be hosting the season-opening Ely Timberwolf Classic at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Hidden Valley Ski Area in Ely.

Ely comes into the season opener with a boys’ team that is the defending Section 7A champions and a girls’ squad that was the 2020 section runner-up. The boys went on to finish fourth at state, while the girls came home ninth.

Both the boys and the girls lost some key skiers. Nate Nettifee, Raif Olson and Ethan Bremner graduated from the boys’ team, while Brooke Pasmick, Kalyssa Eilrich and Ana Bercher graduated from the girls’ team. Junior Cora Olson (an alternate on last year’s team) won’t be with the Timberwolves after enrolling in another district.

Both teams have plenty of talent returning.

Senior Jasper Johnston won the boys’ section title last year and came in fourth at the state meet. Sophomore Zoe Devine paced the girls’ team in 2020 with a runner-up finish at sections and by skiing to 12th at state.

Johnston isn’t letting up, Anderson said, and worked really hard training on his own last summer. “He’s in shape. He’s right on track.’’

Johnston won the sprint qualifier in Houghton, Mich., recently at the junior national races there and went on to take fourth in the 15K skate race the next day. “He gets faster as the year goes on too.’’ Johnston — who has signed to go to Michigan Tech on scholarship — will be at more regional races on Thursday and won’t be able to attend the season opener in Ely.

Anderson added his goal is to win the section again and do well at state, Johnston is currently ranked in the top five statewide right now.

Teamwise, the boys “would love to win the section if we could.’’

Devine and Helms will be leading the Ely girls again, the coach told the Mesabi Tribune.

“Those two have both really put in the work,’’ said Anderson, who also has a couple freshmen that are up and comers.

The overall goals for the girls squad is getting “back to state for sure.’’

Devine would like to be in the top 15 again at state, while Helms would like to be in the top half of the field, the coach said. “I’m sure she (senior Julie Schwinghamer) would love to have that as a goal as well.’’

Others expected to contribute to the boys’ team are juniors Gabriel Pointer, Jon Hakala and Micah Larson.

On the girls’ side, junior Gracie Pointer and sophomores Sydney Durkin and Cedar Ohlhauser are also expected to contribute.

As far as the favorites to win the section, Anderson sees Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and Duluth East on the boys’ side and Mesabi East and Duluth East on the girls’ side.

While the Timberwolves lack depth due to lower than normal numbers, they have plenty of strengths.

Boys bring experience and work ethic to the table, Anderson stated. “Most of them have been working very hard all fall and throughout November and December, mostly on their own.’’

The girls have enthusiasm and a positive outlook. “They are a positive bunch who are a fairly young group overall and are looking to make their mark. They aren’t afraid of hard work.’’

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