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home : lt sports : sports August 19, 2017

3/24/2017 7:27:00 AM
Minocqua's Kevin Bolger helps Utah take NCAA ski title
Contributed photograph

Minocqua native Kevin Bolger, center, stands on the podium after taking first at the U.S. Nationals for the sprint classic on Jan.  8 at Soldier Hollow in Utah.
Contributed photograph

Minocqua native Kevin Bolger, center, stands on the podium after taking first at the U.S. Nationals for the sprint classic on Jan. 8 at Soldier Hollow in Utah.
University of Utah

The Utah Utes ski team celebrates after winning the NCAA national championship title on March 11. Bolger is holding the trophy in the center, front row.
University of Utah

The Utah Utes ski team celebrates after winning the NCAA national championship title on March 11. Bolger is holding the trophy in the center, front row.

Ben Gauger
Sports writer

Even though winter is coming to a close, Kevin Bolger still finds time to ski. Granted, living in Utah helps, but it's a sport he's found great success in and passion for.

Just in the past few months, Bolger has racked up some stellar results, culminating in the NCAA team ski title in March, as well as an individual title at the U.S. Nationals in January.

The fact that skiing was part of Bolger's everyday lifestyle was evident as he'd just gotten off the slopes when contacted by The Lakeland Times.

Bolger began skiing at a relatively young age - in third grade. But it was only after seeing one of his older siblings take up the sport that he got involved.

My brother (Conor) actually started skiing in the family, so I kind of got into it because he did," Bolger said. "I liked it so I kept doing it all the way through grade school, high school and I'm still doing it now. I still really enjoy doing it."

But Bolger's favorite thing about the sport might not be something you'd expect.

"I think my favorite thing about it is also the worst thing about it, which is how painful it is and how much time you really have to put into it," he said. "I think that's what kind of keeps me going is knowing that I can't just sit around to be hopefully the best there is. I have to work for it and that's kind of what drives me every day to get out the door."

NCAA National championship

As part of the University of Utah Utes, Bolger was part of the team that won this year's NCAA National Championship title on March 11 - held in Franconia and Jackson, New Hampshire - the school's first title since 2003 and their 10th title overall, now a NCAA record for co-ed teams.

While Bolger, one of the senior captains of team, wished his individual result had been better, he was still overjoyed by winning the team title.

"It was a good week. I wish my name would've been a little higher up on the place list for my individual results, but when it comes down to it, winning the title for the team, the school, the alumni, that's just as important and will be remembered for a lot longer," he said. "So to be able to etch my name in that, going out my senior year, is actually a dream come true. I've been working for it for four years with countless other teammates, so it's special to be able to share that and finish off this way."

But coming into the championship, nobody had expected the Utes to pull off the win.

"Not really. I don't think anyone really did expect us to win. We knew we had a strong team, but we weren't quite sure what the end outcome would be," Bolger said. "We were just taking it day by day and alpine was skiing well. We skied well then alpine had a rough day and we knew we had to have a good day. I knew as a captain we were all capable of doing it. At the end of the day, it all worked out."

The Utes found themselves behind Denver - which has nine championships to its name - by 34 1/2 points on the final day. Utah was in second place, ahead of Colorado University.

But Bolger said it was a free-for-all for who would take the title on the final day. And he was confident his team could come out on top.

"It was anyone's day. That was kind of the cool thing about it. We took advantage of it," he said. "We've come back from behind at meets this season, so at our team meeting the night before, I just told everyone that we've done this before, it's nothing different."

The team title was the best Bolger had been a part of during his years at Utah, but individually he'd fared better.

"Individually, last year I had a seventh place All-American, was my best," he said. "I definitely was hoping to get on the podium this year, but just a few hiccups in my season and it didn't happen. I'm upset about it, but that's life. It goes on and winning the overall title is just as important to me."

The Utes snuck ahead in the end, finishing with 541.5 total points between the men's and women's teams, ahead of Colorado, who took second with 525. Denver fell all the way to third place, finishing with 524 points.

Utah's ski team has an interesting dynamic in which most of the athletes aren't American. Many are from Sweden, Norway and Canada on the men's side. The women's team has skiers from Germany, Italy and Switzerland as well.

Those that are from America are mostly from Utah - where skiing is prevalent in people's lives.

Bolger isn't from there. Being from a small town in northern Wisconsin, Bolger said skiing with athletes from those places in the world didn't scare him. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

"It's one of those motivators as well, knowing I do come from a small town in Wisconsin that isn't necessarily known for big cross country skiers," he said.

"Even just the U.S., the U.S. team is still developing, I think. So for me, to be able to compete with these foreigners who kind of grow up with cross country skiing as a lifestyle, to compete with them is really cool and I think it helps the development of my skiing as well."

But being from Minocqua and being able to win championships, Bolger said it will help those back home wanting to ski see that those things are possible.

"Skiing for Lakeland, I didn't know how far I was going to go. But I think with the support of the Lakeland ski team and of course my family, my parents, it's definitely special," he said. "It is cool when I'm able to come back and ski in Minocqua, at Minocqua Winter Park and see these younger kids who have heard rumors and kind of talk about me, it's cool to see that."

U.S. Nationals

In addition to being on the NCAA national champion team, Bolger won an individual event Jan. 8, held in Soldier Hollow in Utah, a cross-country ski resort about an hour southeast of Salt Lake City.

He took first at the U.S. Nationals for the sprint classic, beating out Mortiz Madlener, from the University of Denver, by less than two seconds. Bolger's time was 3:41.7, while Madlener's came at 3:43.6.

But the event wasn't just for college skiers. Athletes from Canadian schools as well as the Canadian National Team competed.

"There's a lot of good skiers who go to race at U.S. nationals obviously and those races are used to qualify for World Cup teams and world championship starts," Bolger said. "So a lot of the guys that were there were gunning to win and their training was based around that week. So for me to come in and throw down one of my best days in a sprint was awesome. I was fired up. It wasn't supposed to be my best day. I know that if I put the time in and really focus, I think I have the talent to keep going."

Another perk for the title - Bolger was the only American in the final race.

"Going into the final, I had already won the U.S. title. But I told myself, I wasn't going to let that hold me back from going as hard as I could and actually win the finals," he said.

Bolger said his long term goals don't involve stopping now that his senior year at Utah is coming to a close.

"I want to keep it going. Since I've come to Utah, I've been climbing that ladder. My results have gotten better and my name has gone high on the results. I think I can keep it going," he said.

And what's on Bolger's mind is about as far as you can go in any sport - the Olympics.

"(I'll) definitely try and make an Olympic push for this next Winter Olympics (in PyeongChang, South Korea, 2018) and if I'm still enjoying it to keep going. Right now, I'm having so much fun with it," he said. "So it's easy to do, to keep wanting and going with it and get better, faster and stronger."

Ben Gauger may be reached via email at bgauger@lakelandtimes.com.

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