By Derek Brightwell
Nikki Boltja could leave the University of Louisville as the school’s most decorated lacrosse player. As a junior, she was named a third-team All-American and a first team All-Region. She is a highly efficient scorer and electric on the field. So it may be a surprise to find that she is every bit as quiet off of the field as she is explosive on it.
Boltja started playing lacrosse in the seventh grade, which in Ohio is the youngest you can start playing it. In high school she was a standout at not only lacrosse but also cross-country and track. Her choice of lacrosse over those two came down to one simple fact.
“It’s more fun than running cross-country,” she said laughing.“ I just like lacrosse more than running.”
For Boltja, lacrosse is a family tradition. Her father, Tom Boltja, played lacrosse as well as her two sisters. That family support was vital for her starting out.
“It was really important. I could always play with my sisters or practice with my dad and he knew enough to teach me how to play. I played with my sisters in high school, so I always had someone to catch and throw with and learn how to play at home, away from practice.”
In her final year with the Cardinals, Boltja doesn’t feel the pressure that comes with being an All-American.
“I don’t think I expect anything different from myself,” she says with a smile.
An explosive offensive threat, tallying 22 goals and five assists in the team’s first five games, Boltja recognizes that offense alone doesn’t win championships.
“I mean, you get more attention if you score goals, but the caused turnovers and ground balls are what win us games,” Boltja said. “Anyone can score a goal.”
It is that kind of selfless mentality that strikes you when you talk with her. Her low-key mentality is perfectly embodied with her story of why she chose to play for the Cardinals.
“I didn’t know a lot about it,” she said, looking out over the Lacrosse Stadium. “But it’s close to where I live, so that kind of made the decision. But I’m glad I came here.”
She joins a program that’s still in its early years, but already is gaining national attention. Only seven years into its existence, the University of Louisville has already had two players named All-Americans, with Boltja being the second. Currently, the team ranks just outside of the Top 20.
“It’s important that we’re competing with those teams,” Boltja said of the team’s growth into a nationally recognized program. “We need to be one of those top teams if we want to go far in the tournament.”
The growth can be attributed to head coach Kellie Young, who has been at U of L for all seven years the program has existed.
“She’s constantly pushing all of us to get better so we never settle,” remarked Boltja of her only collegiate coach. “She always looks for areas we can improve and always gives feedback. So it’s good to have somebody constantly telling you how you can get better.”
Boltja and the Cardinals currently rank 8th nationally in points and are looking to continue their strong performance.