Vekich a generational talent for GRG

Greenway senior Claire Vekich has been named the All-Iron Range Girls’ Hockey Player of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

COLERAINE — Claire Vekich’s résumé tells the whole story.

It consists of being a four-time All-Iron Range Player of the Year and All-State volleyball player to now being selected for the second consecutive season as the All-Iron Range Girls Hockey Player of the Year by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review and the Mesabi Tribune.

Vekich, a senior forward on the Grand Rapids/Greenway (GRG) girls hockey team who is headed to Division I Bemidji State University on a hockey scholarship next season, scored 32 goals and added 30 assists for 62 points this season as she also was named to the Minnesota Class AA All-State Team as a forward. She also was a finalist for the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award.

Also a standout in fastpitch softball who showed her athletic versatility by earning a letter in tennis during the pandemic-stricken fall sports season, Vekich will graduate this fall having earned 18 athletic letters at Greenway High School.

“I thought the season went way better than I expected,” said Vekich. “I was expecting it to be a little bit more of a building year this year for us as it was last year with so many young players we have, but this year with the younger girls being a year older, I think they really stepped up.

“I definitely stepped up my game – I had like 20 more points than I had last year or close to that. That was good for me. We also made it to the section finals which was a big accomplishment for us because in recent years we have lost early in the tournament. So for us to make it to a section final was a really big accomplishment.”

Vekich said she wasn’t expecting all the postseason attention she has received such as for the Ms. Hockey Award finalist and being named All-State.

“I am very honored to be in that position and it was just super cool to be standing up beside those other great female hockey players and be recognized as one of them,” Vekich said.

Brad Hyduke, GRG head coach, said Vekich is well-deserved of the award.

“Claire is the first Lightning player to be a top five finalist for Ms. Hockey so that is quite an honor in Minnesota where it is such a deep class,” said Hyduke. “Hockey is king in Minnesota, particularly those kids going on to play college – both boys and girls. The scouts out there see Claire’s talent and what she brings to the table and it is a great way to cap off a career guiding her team to the section final against a very good Andover team.”

Hyduke said Vekich served as a leader on a very young Lightning team this season. He said the team was littered with sophomores and freshmen this season and senior leadership was needed.

“We had other people who were really important like Amber Elich and Kaisa Reed that helped with leadership, but no one more than Claire by the way she carries herself on and off the ice, and in the classroom,” the coach explained. “The thing that sets her apart – besides being so kind to her teammates – is just that intensity and compete level that most girls don’t see up close. So, what she brought to the table I thought was a real good lesson for what it means to show up every day, what it means to take every game and every practice seriously, and I am hoping that is something that is ingrained in that group of hockey players that is behind her who are hoping to have success themselves.”

Vekich is the second leading goal scorer in GRG program history and reached the 200-point plateau for her career.

Vekich said she is proud of her versatility as an athlete, as her 18 athletic letters show on her Raiders letter jacket.

“It is awesome. You work so hard for things when you are younger just so you can be where I am right now as a senior looking back,” said Vekich. “I don’t regret anything – I have always worked hard in every single sport and everyone always say you need to work hard so you don’t look back and regret not working hard. That has always been my main goal, to always work hard and I feel I have accomplished that. When you work hard, good things happen.”

Vekich committed to playing hockey at BSU in the summer before her sophomore year and during that time her volleyball skills grew to the point where she was being looked at by such volleyball powers as the University of Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State University.

“I have definitely grown a love for volleyball that is so close to hockey, but I have always loved hockey and my goal was to play college hockey and that’s what I want to do now.”

Following is the full All-Iron Range Girls Hockey Team of the Year:

First Team: Claire Vekich, forward, GRG; Mercury Bischoff, forward, GRG; Julia Gherardi, forward, Hibbing-Chisholm; Maddie Rewertz, defenseman, Hibbing-Chisholm, Courtney Anderson, defenseman, Hibbing-Chisholm; Kenzie Cole, goaltender, GRG.

Second Team: Kylie Baranzelli, forward, Eveleth-Gilbert; Kalle Reed, forward, GRG; Natalie Bergman, forward, Eveleth-Gilbert; Kaisa Reed, defenseman, GRG; Jazzy Bischoff, defenseman, GRG; Rachel Woods, goaltender, Eveleth-Gilbert.

Honorable Mention: Claire Rewertz, Hibbing-Chisholm; Dorothy Kearney, Hibbing-Chisholm; Aune Boben, Hibbing-Chisholm.

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