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Hellstrom soccer journey is taking her home Swede home

In a world that is more than just a little topsy turvy these days, there is something to be said for familiarity and comfort.

Above all else, these were the reasons that would see Sudbury soccer starlett Jenna Hellstrom signing on recently for a second stint with KIF Orebro of the Damallsvenskan Swedish women's soccer league.

In so doing, Hellstrom returns to the country she has called home for three of her four seasons of professional soccer after spending just one summer (and that, a pandemic shortened one) with the Washington Spirit of the NWSL (National Women's Soccer League) in 2020.

"I know what I am getting myself into," said Hellstrom, leaving northern Ontario over the weekend to return to training at her alma mater of Kent State in preparation for a February departure to Europe.

"When I was at Orebro (2018-2019), I developed in ways that I hadn't in a while. I was one of the wing players, on the right side - and they also put me up top. Those are the positions I excel at, so why not go to a club that respects my play and uses me the most."

Clearly, Hellstrom had high hopes when she signed on with the Spirit just over a year ago. Of course, that came just months ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak, one that substantially compacted game situations in the NWSL.

"If the season in the States had been normal, a 20-game season more than a couple of months long, then I would have had more opportunities in that league," said Hellstrom. "But we had a bubble season, similar to other pro sports, and our coach went with players that he knew, so I really didn't play that much."

With the Summer Olympics still slated to take place in Tokyo in 2021, the local talent who represented Canada at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France knew that she could ill-afford a repeat performance.

"I need to be playing, I need to be starting," said Hellstrom. "Orebro had always said that if I wanted to come back, there would be a spot there for me. It was a pretty easy decision."

Hellstrom has spent the past few months rehabbing in Sudbury, undergoing knee surgery once her shortened summer stint was completed in Washington, D.C.

"We have Zoom calls a couple of times a month with the national team, so I knew that there wasn't going to be a camp until at least February (2021)," she said. "For me, it was a bit of a breather, giving me extra time to rehab my knee."

"I've been training at home, doing a lot of individual stuff, lifting, ball work with my sister (Karly) and running on my own." Still, it's hard for Sudbury to hold a candle to a standard NCAA college when it comes to providing a proper environment to prep for another season with the pros.

Karly and the remainder of the current crop of Kent State Golden Flashes will join Jenna in Ohio this week, increasing the intensity right across the board. The family circle has played a big role in many a soccer decision for the elder sibling, as father Peter often provides a sounding board.

"My dad grew up playing sports his whole life, he has a degree in Sports Administration, a Masters, and with his job (Athletic Director at Laurentian University), he knows a lot about all of this stuff," said Jenna.

"He helps me a lot with these decisions, and I'm thankful for that."

Throw in some advice from her agency as well as words of wisdom from former national team player and current assistant coach Rhian Wilkinson, and one can see that Hellstrom was well buffered.

Not that she needed a whole lot of guidance with this particular choice, in the end.

"I feel very comfortable in Sweden, I feel very confident when I'm playing there," she said. "This was about my own gut feeling."

And in crazy times like this, it's probably best to go with your gut.

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