Jenna Hellstrom didn’t grow up in a city surrounded by top-level soccer. She didn’t attend a powerhouse NCAA female soccer program. She was released by FC Kansas City before getting a chance to play a match. But, rather than let all of that derail her soccer dreams, it fueled her to finally get her chance in the NWSL with the 2020 Washington Spirit.
Jenna grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. A member of the U-15 Canadian national team, she seemed destined for big-time college soccer in the United States. But, an injury changed those plans. “I ended up tearing my ACL during the time when recruiting was being done (grade 10-11), after playing for the Canadian U15 National Team,” Jenna explained to BGN. “A lot of schools stopped talking to me and Kent State was one that still believed in me as a player.”
“I went on an unofficial visit and absolutely loved the school. It was the perfect size. Not too big, not too small,” she said. “The coaching staff was very welcoming and the facilities were great, as well Kent had a history of recruiting other Canadians who were with the provincial program, so it was an easy decision after that.”
She rewarded Kent State’s interest following her knee injury with arguably the greatest women’s soccer career in school history. You can find her name atop countless individual records including career goals, assists, game-winning goals, multiple-goal games, multiple-assist games, shots, and more. The humble KSU legend said, “I honestly never focused on the accolades or the records. I’m very team-oriented. Half (of) the time I didn’t even know how close I was to the record until I heard my name after I scored or assisted that I had just broken it.”
“I went there to develop and win a ring. That was my main focus and it’s exactly what we did my senior year. It meant so much to be the first team in school soccer history to win a conference championship and make the first-ever NCAA appearance. I have always had a team success first focus, the records are nice but the championships are what I play for.”
KSU, located in a small Northeast Ohio town, also was a perfect fit for Jenna off the pitch. “The thing I loved most about Kent State was that it was a college town. Most of the population was the students. The downtown area was filled with local shops and restaurants that we loved going too. I definitely had the best college experience and do not regret going to a Mid-American school,” she explained.
Following those great four years at Kent State, Jenna’s professional career got off to a less than ideal start. She played in the WPSL before making the preseason roster for FC Kansas City in 2017. Unfortunately, she would be cut before getting a chance to impress in the regular season.
She made the decision to join FC Rosengard in Sweden, where she had previously trained. With Rosengard, she had the opportunity to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. She would go on to play for three more Swedish clubs. “I absolutely loved it overseas. It definitely took some time to get used to as I was pretty young when I went over. I learned a lot of lessons over there,” she said. “There’s a lot more to being a pro than going out and playing. Your everyday decisions will affect you. As you get older you really realize that sleep, recovery, eating habits, learning the game off the field is just as important as showing up every day and playing.
“Another good lesson I learned being overseas is to trust the process and that playing pro is a marathon, not a sprint. I remember (current USWNT head coach) Vlatko (Andonovski), KC’s coach, telling me I would benefit from heading overseas to gain valuable experience. He was right, both professionally and for my National Team.”
With her national team, she had the unique opportunity to be selected for the Canadian squad that took part in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. “Even though I didn’t see any match time, it was a truly amazing experience and the highest honour to play for my country, Canada. It’s important to gain experience especially at the international level and that’s exactly what my first World Cup was for,” Jenna explained. “I only had youth experience before with our U-15 National team; it was a big step for me. I’m extremely excited to see what’s next to come with Team Canada.”
Now, Jenna Hellstrom takes another big step as she finally gets her chance in the NWSL. “It’s an exciting opportunity, one I have been looking forward to since KC,” she said. That opportunity will come soon as the Challenge Cup is set to start soon in Utah. What can Spirit fans expect from their offseason arrival? “I believe I can contribute more than people think. As always, I continue to prove I belong, I come from a small hockey town in Northern Ontario and from a mid-major university, not your usual soccer hotbeds,” Hellstrom said. “My work ethic and drive to be better at each level have given me the opportunity to play professionally and represent my country. I can’t wait to play my first minutes with our team and show I can be a key contributor in our team’s drive for a championship.”