Grand Rapids Herald-Review
COLERAINE — When most people watch Greenway High School junior Claire Vekich play volleyball, many of them notice just the outlandish number of kills she records each match.
Many don’t notice that Vekich plays the whole rotation and in fact is outstanding defensively in the back row for the Raiders. In addition to being an unstoppable force at the net, she also is adept with her serving. She led Greenway to the state tournament for the first time in many years last fall where the Raiders claimed the consolation championship.
As for postseason awards, she was named to the All-State Tournament Team and also was selected for the prestigious Minnesota All-State First Team.
It is for her accomplishments on the court that Vekich has been named the 2019 All-Iron Range Volleyball Player of the Year for the second year in a row by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, the Hibbing Daily Tribune and the Mesabi Daily News.
“It is a great honor and it makes me so happy,” Vekich said about the award. “I want to thank everybody for their help; it’s awesome.”
Vekich feels she was a much improved player this season as a junior than she was last year as a sophomore. She said her percentage of hitting and service errors dropped drastically. For the season, she recorded 546 kills at the net for Greenway while also producing 118 blocks, 254 digs and 74 ace serves. She will enter next season with more than 1,600 kills in a career that started when she was in the seventh grade.
“I got a lot more confident this year and I was wanting the ball more,” Vekich said. “I think the offense was more revolved around me where last we had other key hitters.
“This year I think I improved a lot in all aspects – my hitting, my passing, my serving. I just got a lot more confident and strong. Most people just praise me for my hitting but the people in the know in volleyball can also see that an athletic person can play back row and can also serve and pass which are all important parts of the game. So to have all of that is cool.”
Vekich said she is honored to be selected for the First Team All State team, which usually is reserved for players from the metro area.
“It is such a great honor to be part of the All-State team because all of the other girls are all from the metro area in big schools,” Vekich said.
Greenway head coach Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson said Vekich is a tremendous player in all aspects of the game of volleyball.
“Back row, serve receive, defense, she plays multiple positions on defense and is strong in every one of the positions,” Tomberlin-Anderson said. “She has a serve that is hard to stop; she is such a solid all-around player. And, you don’t often get a chance to have such a fierce competitor like Claire. You get females that are highly-competitive and hate to lose, but then there’s Claire. She brings it to another level and I feel that that level that she is at, she really motivates as a player and a leader to try to bring up that competitive level to everyone.
“The players around her I think get better by her motivation, leadership and her wanting to win.”
If Vekich ends a match in Greenway’s favor with a kill, one can’t help but notice the snarl she gives at the other team.
“It is just my competitiveness; people probably think I am so mean but I love to win and compete and it is just instinct,” Vekich said. “When we get to that match point I am so pumped that I can’t contain anything.”
Vekich said the Greenway communities supported the Raiders at the state tournament, and she said the state experience was unforgettable.
“I wasn’t even alive the last time our volleyball team went (to state) and it was just cool to be able to do that,” Vekich said.
With another year of volleyball left for Greenway, Vekich – who has already signed a national letter of intent to play Division I hockey at Bemidji State University – said she feels the Raiders have a “super good” chance of advancing to the state tournament once again next year. If she continues playing like she has in past years, Vekich could finish her career with more than 2,000 kills.
“Next year we are going to go and try to take the whole thing,” she smiled. “I love being a three-sport athlete and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I focus a lot on hockey but to be able to excel in volleyball and softball is just so awesome too. It is a different set of girls and a whole different atmosphere.”
Following is the entire 2019 All-Iron Range Area Volleyball Team of the Year:
Claire Vekich, junior middle hitter, Greenway; Mikhara Anderson, senior outside hitter, Greenway; Bri Miller, sophomore middle hitter, Greenway; Kaisa Reed, junior right side hitter; Hailee Orhn, senior libero, Grand Rapids; Claire Walsh, junior outside hitter, Grand Rapids; Olexa O’Hern, senior outside hitter, Deer River; Katie Klennert, senior middle hitter, Hill City; Brielle Kallberg, senior middle hitter, Ely; Erika Mattson, senior outside hitter, Ely; McKenna Coughlin, junior outside hitter, Ely; Emma Westby, senior outside hitter, Eveleth-Gilbert; Payton Dosan, senior outside hitter, Eveleth-Gilbert; Steph Zimmer, junior libero, Mesabi East; Lindsey Baribeau, sophomore middle hitter, Mesabi East; Morgan Dircks, senior middle hitter, Mt. Iron-Buhl; Coley Olson, senior outside hitter, North Woods; Hannah Reichensperger, sophomore middle hitter, Northeast Range; Kaylee Iverson, senior middle hitter, Virginia; Lexiss Trygg, junior middle hitter, Virginia; Alli Anderson, senior setter, Virginia; Kaelynn Kudis, senior middle hitter, Cherry; Katie Peterson, senior middle hitter, Cherry; Bella Scaia, sophomore outside hitter, Hibbing; and Abby Thompson, junior middle hitter, Chisholm.