If people think Greenway senior Claire Vekich is competitive on Coleraine’s athletic venues, that’s nothing compared to boardgame nights at the Vekich house.
It’s Type-A personalities on steroids when Claire and her parents, Mike and Julie, square off.
“Board games are not fun in our house,” Julie Vekich said. “Mike and Claire are not fun to play games with. Nothing is just for fun.”
That goes for something as silly as the card game Bohnanza, where one needs to be the best bean farmer and trader in order to win.
“There’s no fair bargaining going on, they are trying to manipulate everyone and get more beans,” Julie said.
Anything goes in family activities.
“Any type of card games or any type of board games, we get angry if we lose,” Claire said. “Especially my dad and I; we are a lot alike. We both have a crazy drive to want to win.”
Genes definitely play a role in the Greenway senior’s competitive nature. Her mom was on Duluth East’s 1991 state volleyball team and her dad won two state baseball titles at Greenway along with a Tier II hockey championship.
Her aunt, Annie Adamczak, had that drive as well, winning seven state championships at Moose Lake High School in the early 1980s. As a senior, Adamczak’s volleyball, basketball and softball teams went 72-0.
“I hear about the great athlete that she once was and I’m always told how much I remind them of her,” Claire said. “It’s cool to hear those types of stories.”
Adamczak was a forerunner in girls athletics, and her winner-take-all mentality was rare in the day.
“I wouldn’t say I have that (drive) necessarily, not like Claire, my aunt or Mike,” Julie said. “But I can get pretty wound up, too. Claire probably has the same intensity as (Annie).”
Claire’s volleyball team was undefeated before a rise in COVID-19 cases — which ended up including Claire and several members of the team — caused Gov. Tim Walz to pull the plug on the fall season. And while the Grand Rapids-Greenway hockey team fell one win shy of the Class AA state tournament, the Raiders’ softball team takes a 20-0 record into Monday’s Section 7AA first-round playoff matchup against International Falls.
“That would be a crazy way to cap off my senior year,” Claire said. “Losing out on a volleyball state tournament was devastating. It would be really nice to go in softball.”
That might even allow for some begrudging respect from Adamczak at family reunions.
“Annie likes to let Claire know that she’s still No. 1,” Julie explained.
As a two-time News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year in volleyball, Vekich could have named her college had she decided to play that sport.
Instead, Vekich knew early on that she wanted to play hockey at the next level and committed to Division I Bemidji State. She was fourth in Minnesota in goals (32) and fifth in points (62) this past season.
But instead of concentrating on her chosen sport, Vekich returned to the softball team to try and guide them to its first state tournament since the Raiders' only appearance in 1994.
“I’ll hold volleyball and softball close to my heart for a long time,” Claire said. “Hockey is my favorite sport but both of those come a close second and I have grown to love them more and more each year.”
As with many multisport athletes, Vekich drew enthusiasm from each sport at different times of year.
It’s the adrenaline,” she said. “Each sport brings me a different type of excitement and rush. It’s all different groups of girls, and that’s what makes it so special.
“As much as I love hockey, if I were to just focus on it — I don’t think I would lose love for the game — but it makes me more excited each time hockey season comes around by playing other sports. I’ve heard so many stories about people getting sick of hockey playing it year round. That’s what I love about playing multiple sports is that I never get sick of any of them because it’s something new each season.”
Her softball teammates are glad the shortstop came back.
“There’s not enough words for her,” second baseman Kennedy Hanson said of the graduate with a 3.85 cumulative grade-point average. “She’s an outstanding student-athlete who never quits. She always gives 110%.”
She will need to give her all in a very competitive section, where Greenway received a No. 2 seed Saturday behind Proctor (19-1) despite going undefeated and beating the Rails 7-5 in the regular season. Esko (14-6) was seeded first in the other subsection, though the Eskomos also lost to the Raiders, 7-6, in a game they led 6-0 before Greenway hit three home runs in the seventh inning to rally and win.
Vekich walked four times against Esko and scored the team’s first run in the sixth when she forced a play at the plate and the catcher dropped the ball, a play that encapsulated Vekich’s determination. It turned out to be crucial as Greenway scored six runs the next inning to stay unbeaten.
“You have to be aggressive and try to cause chaos, and that’s what I was trying to do,” she said of her slide at home.
All in the family
Mike Vekich coached Claire in hockey and softball youth leagues for many years. He’s still doing it as a Greenway assistant softball coach.
“Sometimes he’s a pest and I get annoyed by him, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Claire said. “I wouldn’t be the athlete I was without him.”
And while Mike admits he can get a little vocal, the reason why is clear: to make them better athletes.
“My dad never let me beat him at anything and I don’t let my kids beat me at anything,” he said. “They have had to work and earn everything they’ve accomplished.”
Claire, who has two younger siblings in twin freshmen Cecelia (volleyball and softball) and Thomas (football, hockey and baseball), understands why coaches — including her father — sometimes take her to task in front of teammates.
“When my coaches get on me, they are just trying to make me better,” Claire said. “Some girls have trouble understanding that and they don’t take and use it. I take and use it to make myself better. Growing up in a competitive household is the reason why.”
Her mother says that while Claire’s always been an outspoken team leader, sometimes that competitive drive got the best of her and she wouldn’t deal with teammates’ errors in the best manner. Now a veteran, Claire’s maturity and leadership have shone through.
“When she was younger, she would bark at the kids and wasn’t always really positive,” Julie said. “But I think she’s grown up a lot and is a really positive, motivating kid.”
Teammates are appreciative of that.
“She’s just a great person on and off the field and is always there for you no matter the score,” pitcher Miranda Gernander said. “I was getting down on myself in the last inning (against Esko), but she told me, ‘You got this’ and always has your back.”