COLERAINE — It’s not often that athletes like Claire Vekich arrive on the scene.
In the past six years, Greenway High School’s Vekich has shown all-around athletic prowess that has allowed her to be named Northeastern Minnesota’s top athlete in two sports and to also secure a hockey scholarship at Bemidji State University. She was named the area’s hockey player of the year as a junior and she also is a great softball player.
In volleyball, she has been the dominant force in the area now for four years, and this year she dominated once again. A First Team All-State player as a junior, Vekich undoubtedly will receive the same honor this year if the pandemic doesn’t take it away. It is for her all-around skill on the volleyball court that she has been named the All-Iron Range Volleyball Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive year by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review and the Mesabi Tribune.
Vekich said she is honored to once again receive the award. This season she finished with 252 kills in just 12 games and she had an unheard of hitting percentage of .476, committing just 27 hitting errors all season. For her career, she racked up 1,904 kills, and that number would be more than 2,000 had the pandemic not struck.
In addition, Vekich recorded 849 digs for her career and had 28 ace serves this season.
“Every year it doesn’t get old and it is definitely still a great honor,” said Vekich. “There are obviously people who look at me and think she is worthy of that award and I feel honored to have those people look at me like that.”
Greenway coach Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson said Vekich is an amazing all-around player – not just physically but mentally as well.
“Great athletes make it almost to the top but 1 percent make it all the way and Claire has all the characteristics to be that top-shelve player,” Tomberlin-Anderson said. “I don’t think she ever thinks about failure; most players when they get into a pressure situation may have thoughts of fear of failure. Claire just turns it on and she never fears that failure. She just turns it on.”
Greenway captured the state consolation championship last season and it had high hopes of reaching the state tournament once again this fall and winning the whole thing. However, the pandemic did not allow the Raiders a chance to get back to state which was disappointing for student-athletes and coaches.
“It was heart-breaking,” said Tomberlin-Anderson about the shortened season due to the pandemic. “It is disappointing that the girls did not get that shot to prove how good they are. I feel like they are one of the best – if not the best – Greenway team ever and they never got a chance to prove that.”
Vekich felt that coming off of the Raiders’ state success last season, the Raiders had a good chance to capture a state championship this season.
“After last season, we all said we were going to make it to the state championship next year,” Vekich said. “All summer we were just praying for a season and when we found out we were going to have one in the spring we were set. Then we found out that we are now getting a season but there were no fans and no state tournament. So, it was just heart-breaking for all of us.
“We thought that this was our year and I honestly think that we could have won it if we had a chance.”
Vekich took advantage of the late volleyball start to play for the Grand Rapids/Greenway girls tennis team where she played singles and compiled an 8-3 record. She said she played tennis up until the sixth grade.
“Abby Gustason and I both tried out for tennis and it was so fun,” Vekich said. “I was so happy I did it. The only thing I was sad about is that it overlapped with volleyball a little bit so I didn’t get to really be part of playoffs and practices. I had to skip a couple practices which was a bummer.”
Vekich said she is looking forward to playing hockey at Bemidji State University starting next season.
“I am so excited; Bemidji plays their first college game tonight (Friday) and I am thinking that this is going to be me next year,” Vekich explained. “I am so excited and I can’t wait for the next step.”
Tomberlin-Anderson said Vekich was a coach’s dream with her leadership qualities.
“If somebody wasn’t working hard in practice, as a coach you didn’t have to do anything because Claire would take care of it,” Tomberlin-Anderson explained. “The knowledge that she has on the court, always communicating with her players, she was just like a coach on the court.”
Following is the entire All-Iron Range Volleyball Team: Claire Vekich, Greenway; Kaisa Reed, Greenway; Lexi Hammer, Greenway; Bri Miller, Greenway; Claire Walsh, Grand Rapids; Jenny Bowman, Grand Rapids; Lexi Lindgren, Grand Rapids; Braya LaPlant, Grand Rapids; Natalie Haley, Bigfork; Lexiss Trygg, Virginia; Rian Aune, Virginia; Lindsey Baribeau, Mesabi East; Afton Roberts, Eveleth-Gilbert; Hannah Reichensperger, Northeast Range; Rachel Coughlin, Ely; McKenna Coughlin, Ely; Abby Thompson, Chisholm; Jordan Temple, Chisholm; Haley Hawkinson, Hibbing; and Bella Scaia, Hibbing.