Adamczak, Lakso among area’s best-ever athletes

John Gilbert

Bob Lakso when he played for the Fort Wayne Komets in the early 1990s.

You can stir up a lot of heated arguments if you challenge folks to name the best all-around athlete to ever come out of our Northeastern Minnesota area in the last 20 years, or 50 years, or ever. So let’s play that game, but qualify it as the last 50 years.
I will hit you with a couple of nominations here, one that is arguable, and the other that is not.

The arguable one is a challenge: to name a male athlete more well-rounded than Bob Lakso, the former UMD hockey standout from Aurora-Hoyt Lakes who then played on the first UMD league-champion Bulldog teams of the 1980s.

The one who is beyond argument is my nomination as the greatest female athlete in Minnesota state history, and she is none other than Annie Adamczak, from Moose Lake, who went on to star in volleyball at Nebraska and still runs an acclaimed volleyball academy in the Twin Cities.

Their stories are far different, because Lakso’s immense skill was mostly obscured once he left high school because of his and his UMD team’s hockey exploits, while Adamczak has become blatantly overlooked by more recent observers understandably impressed by the basketball exploits of a player like Lindsay Whelan – but there is no doubt that nobody will ever do again what Annie Adamczak achieved in high school.

If you think you know of a high school girl who could match or surpass Annie’s level, you could check to see that she is inducted into the Duluth-Area athletic hall of fame, and well-deserved, even if you just went by high school exploits.

Left, Annie Adamczak in 1985 when she was a member of the University of Nebraska Volleyball program, where she was NCAA Division 1 All-American.

When she was a senior at Moose Lake, her towering leaps, and straight-down kill-shots, led the volleyball team to the state title with a perfect 24-0 record. Winter rolled around, and a potent and balanced Lakers team won the state title with a perfect 26-0 record, led by Adamczak. In the springtime, when the ice finally went out, Annie windmilled Moose Lake to a 22-0 record and another state championship.

Hard as it is to comprehend playing and starring on three straight state titles in one year, imagine going undefeated in all three sports!

For good measure, her teams also won undefeated state titles in volleyball and softball in her junior year, but went “only” 24-2 in basketball. If you haven’t been keeping score, that’s 10 state tournaments – four in basketball three in volleyball and three in softball – with five state titles, two runners-up trophies and one each for third and fourth place.

“In basketball, I’d bring the ball up if we were facing a press, or trap, and then I’d go underneath for rebounds,” she said. “But we had a great team. We averaged 72 points a game, but all five starters averaged in double figures. I averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds, but recruiting was different then, so people didn’t know where Moose Lake was, and an 18-point average didn’t get me any scholarship offers. In softball, I pitched every game, and I hit .500 or .600, I don’t really remember, except that we got a Dairy Queen for every home run we hit,  and I had a Dairy Queen about every game.”

In high school, Kay Konerva was the big name, a 35-point scorer from Lester Prairie.
“We drew Lester Prairie, and we won by 15,” Adamczak recalled. “I won Miss Basketball, but she got a Division 1 scholarship.”

Adamczak said she thought of volleyball as more of a recreational sport, but scholarship offers poured in from big-time programs in Texas, Hawaii, Nebraska and elsewhere. She chose Nebraska, and appreciated the chance to learn the game’s refinements there.

Head Coach Annie Adamczak-Glavan

After two seasons of volleyball at Nebraska, she used to get hooked up on pickup basketball games with men and women coaches and players and she was asked to come out and give basketball a try.

“I said OK, and that was on December 22 my junior year,” she recalled. “I joined the team December 26, and I started two days later.”

She was ninth in line, and the last girl in the 12-member Adamczak brood in Moose Lake, and she grew up battling for survival , if not superiority, in sibling rivalries as they spilled out into the yard and playgrounds.

When she was 9 or 10, she threw harder than any boys in her age-group. When she was 12, she played on an area bar-sponsored slow-pitch softball team that reached the state tournament.

Annie, who played shortstop, had what she admits was “a cannon” of an arm, and she threw so hard, opponents complained that she was a guy, and her mom had to bring her birth certificate so she could play.

“I was a freak,” Adamczak laughed, as we reminisced by telephone, during the pandemic shutdown. “We’d go to a parade, and I’d knock people down to get the candy.”

Some Up North sports fans who have forgotten Annie Adamczak can be reacquainted if they’ve watched the multi-sport achievements of Claire Vekich, a hockey star on the Greenway of Coleraine girls hockey team, who has accepted a scholarship to play Division 1 hockey at Bemidji State.

“She’s a beast,” said Annie. “I haven’t gotten to see her play much, but she destroys the ball in volleyball – hits it straight down. She’s also great in softball, but hockey is her favorite.”

Lakso, who combined speed and finesse with all the tools, scored 7-6—13 as a freshman in 37 games, and 12-11–23 in 28 games as a sophomore. But when UMD rose up to win its first WCHA title in the 1982-83 season, Lakso came alive with 18-25—43 on the team the ultimately lost that 4-overtime crusher to Bowling Green in Lake Placid in the NCAA final.

And in 1983-84, when UMD duplicated its WCHA title and added the WCHA playoff title before ultimately losing a 3-overtime killer to RPI in the NCAA semifinals at Detroit, Lakso earned All-America honors by scoring 32-34—66 in 43 games, meaning he scored 50-59—109 in his final two seasons.

But for his overall athletic skill, you have to go back to Aurora-Hoyt Lakes, where later assistant hockey coach Jim Knapp was the head coach and marveled at Lakso, who was the son of former track and basketball star Jim Lakso.

“He was such a great wide receiver in football that a lot of people thought he would be a big-time football star,” Knapp recalled this week, from his new home on Rainy Lake, near International Falls.

“But his most amazing thing was in track. He was our top performer in the 100, 200, 400, relays, high jump – everything,” said Knapp. “When we had a track meet, we’d figure out our opponent’s strongest events, then put Bobby in there in those, and we’d win.”

Knapp left his position at A-HL to replace Mike Sertich, who had resigned as a UMD assistant to Gus Hendrickson during some athletic department upheavals in Bulldog Country.

Hendrickson was dismissed after that season, and when Sertich was installed as interim head coach, he brought in Knapp as assistant.

“Bobby wanted to run track as well as play hockey at UMD,” Knapp recalled, “but Ellie Rynda was coaching and she said if he couldn’t be involved in the winter training sessions, he couldn’t be on the team.”

Otherwise, UMD track might have attained previously unheard of fame, and everyone would recall Bob Lakso’s amazingly versatile athletic skills.

In hockey, he was on teams that included star teammates such as Tom Kurvers, Brett Hull, Norm Maciver, Bill Watson, Tom Herzig, Jimmy Johnson, Guy Gosselin, Rick Kosti, Skeeter Moore, and his high school teammate Matt Christensen, so it was easy to get swallowed up in the great balance. But none of his teammates would challenge Lakso to a round of track-event competition.

Just like Annie Adamczak, who might be the single most important example of why knowledgeable observers no longer accused an athlete of “throwing like a girl.”