Lene Mari Bolkesjø Hovda – Tennis Student-Athlete and Norwegian National Champion

By Mathias Bunæs
Tennis player Lene Mari Bolkesjø Hovda from Asker, Norway is currently in her last year at Saint Mary's College of California. Lene Mari has been an integral part of the "Gaels'" women's tennis team since she started in January 2020. This spring she is set to graduate with her bachelor's degree and will then use her final year of eligibility to pursue a master's degree at a university yet to be decided. We were lucky to get a chance to ask Lene Mari some questions about her National Championship victory this summer and life as a student-athlete on a tennis scholarship in the US.

First of all: How does it feel to be the reigning Norwegian champion in both singles and doubles, and how would you describe the experience?
It feels fantastic to be the reigning Norwegian champion. It’s something that I’ve worked towards for a long time and talked about since I was 13 years old. I did not participate last year due to an injury, so it felt great to be back this year, and it’s always an extra bonus to compete with friends and family in the stands. I thought I did a great job staying focused and being in the right state of mind in every match. Once I made it to the semifinal and final there were interviews before and after each match and the matches were streamed live on Norwegian television which was really exciting.

What is life like as a tennis player on a tennis scholarship at Saint Mary’s, and how has the college lifestyle helped you succeed and take your tennis to the next level?
Life at Saint Mary’s is hectic, but very enjoyable and fun. I was able to quickly adjust and find a good balance between school and tennis, thanks to the great support system we have as athletes. They really make sure we have everything we need to succeed in tennis without sacrificing our grades. All I need to focus on is what happens at the tennis court or in the classroom, and everything from plane tickets to tennis shoes is provided to us. At Saint Mary’s we have mandatory team practice 3-4 hours every day with the option of private lessons in the morning if we wish. I always look forward to practicing because I’m with my best friends, and we have a very competitive and healthy training environment.

What is it like to be part of a college team and how would you compare it to life as a tennis player back in Norway?
Being part of a team is something very special. In Norway, tennis is an individual sport where people are mostly focused on themselves. At college, on the other hand, you do not only represent yourself, but the entire university, and everyone is rooting for you and wishing you success. I’m lucky to be part of a team with seven other motivated girls who always give it their best at practice and strive to make each other better every day. Winning by yourself is great but winning as a team in college is something very unique.

What are the most important attributes you have gained as a student-athlete in the US?
I’ve grown a lot as a person after I started here. I’ve become tougher mentally and more mature. You always face new challenges and quickly get “comfortable being uncomfortable”.

Have you faced any challenges during your time in the US that have made you grow as a person or athlete?
As a tennis player, you’re used to traveling and practicing a lot by yourself, and you do things your own way. This completely changed when I moved to Saint Mary’s in 2020. At college, tennis is all of a sudden a team sport, and this was a bit strange and unusual in the beginning, but in hindsight it has really made me grow as a person. Being part of a team of seven girls who are genuinely rooting for you and wish you the best is a special feeling that you rarely get to experience elsewhere.

You’re getting towards the end of your third year at Saint Mary’s. What are your ambitions going forward as a college athlete?
My plan is to continue my college career and start grad school next fall. I have a few more years of college tennis left to play, and my goal is to keep developing and gain the highest ranking possible.

What advice would you give to young tennis players who are considering taking the US college route?
I definitely recommend all young tennis players to go to college in the US. It’s a unique experience that you will not be able to experience later in life. Here in the US, they look at sports in a completely different way. The great thing about college in the US is that there are hundreds of different schools so you will definitely find something for you, whether you prioritize tennis, academics, or a bit of both. I would encourage everyone to aim high when looking for a school. Contact coaches at all your dream schools even though it feels unrealistic. You may be surprised by how many schools are interested in having you as a part of their team.

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