ELY — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Ely boys’ track and field team doubly hard since it began last spring.
The Timberwolves had six state qualifiers from 2019 (including state champ Luke Olson in the 800 meters) that were eager to get back to the big show.
But spring sports were canceled due to the coronavirus in 2020, and those boys never got the chance. Fast forward to 2021, and the Ely athletes are looking to compete once again.
“This year will be a rebuilding year for a team hard hit by graduation,’’ said head coach Will Helms. “We lost 11 seniors (over half were state meet qualifiers) who would have competed last year.’’
“We had a large and experienced group of seniors itching to compete last year,’’ the 16-year coach said. “Luke Olson was looking forward to defending his 800 meter title; he and Eric Omerza (triple jump) were training especially hard to get ready for the season. The boys were pretty devastated when COVID shut us down last spring — there was a long mourning period for the seniors, who had very high expectations and enjoyed spending time together.’’
The seniors who graduated last spring are as follows:
• Luke Olson, 2019 State Champion in 800m
• Raif Olson, 300m State Meet 2019
• James Schwinghamer, 3x State Meet qualifier (3200m and 4x800m)
• Eric Omerza, Triple Jump State Meet 2019
• Nate Nettifee, 4x400m State Meet 2019
• Dylan Fenske, 4x800m State Meet 2019
After a year away from high school track and field, “it’s important for the kids to return to a routine, to exercise, and to look forward to competing,’’ Helms said.
“The Ely teams are already starting the season two weeks late due to a COVID outbreak, so everything at this point feels like gravy; we’re just happy to be together and training. We consider every day we are together to be a success.’’
Key returners are as follows:
• Emmett Faltesek, 12th grade 800m/4x800m/4x400m
• Gabriel Pointer, 11th grade, distance events
Expected to contribute:
• Brock LaTourell, sprints
• Jake Cochran, distance
• Jon Hakala, distance
Helms sees the team’s strength as enthusiasm and energy, while its weakness is experience.
The goals for the season are “to be able to train together, have fun, and compete hard.’’
Head coach (years coaching): Eliza Vistica (first year)
Key losses to graduation: Brielle Kallberg
Key returners: Ande Visser, Kellen Thomas, Zoe Devine, Lauren Olson, Annika Mattson, Phoebe Helms, Gracie Pointer.
What is your reaction and the team’s reaction to being able to compete again after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic: “Everyone is excited to be practicing together again, and they’re looking forward to competing and cheering each other on at meets,’’ Vistica said.