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Hellstrom looks back on first national team appearance

Jenna Hellstrom recounts her debut with women's national team
Sudbury's Jenna Hellstrom made her debut for the Canadian Women's National Team recently. (Supplied)

Having earned her first international "cap" earlier this year, Sudbury soccer sensation Jenna Hellstrom is looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things.

First, an explanation. Within sports vernacular, the term "cap" designates an appearance, in a game, as a member of one's national sports team in international competition. 

A graduate of the Kent State Golden Flashes last summer, Hellstrom turned the trick earlier this year, taking to the field as a member of Team Canada at a tournament in Portugual.

"I remember just before my first game and everyone knew how nervous I was," said Hellstrom. "This game meant a lot to our team. I remember (Christine) Sinclair coming up to me and saying, 'you're good, kid - you can do this. We're all behind you.' That meant a lot to me. She didn't have to do that."

The road to carrying on pre-game discussions (albeit a somewhat one-sided discussion) with one of the all-time greats of Canadian female soccer is surely not travelled without encountering a few bumps along the road.

"I had been starting to get impatient, getting invited to some these (national team) camps, but not getting a chance to play on the field," said Hellstrom. "I know good things take time and people were reminding me to be patient. I'm only 23 and there are girls on that team that didn't get a cap until they were 26 or 27."

After accomplishing pretty much everything an athlete could accomplish at Kent State, the graduate of Lasalle Secondary School made her professional soccer debut in Sweden, a surprisingly big jump considering she had just left NCAA competition.

"I was struggling at first," said Hellstrom. "I was doing everything I was doing at Kent, but the level is completely different. I needed to understand that it would take time to be able to make decisions quickly, to think that quickly in that environment."

The good news, for the northern Ontario attacker, came with the realization that sliding over from the pro ranks to the national team did not seem nearly as hard. Of course, that's not the say that her first game was a complete walk in the park.

"It was a lot to take in at once, I didn't know how to feel," Hellstrom said. "I was just thinking don't mess up. When I have the ball, make simple decisions - and work hard, which is one of my biggest attributes. I think the game could have gone better, but it was my first cap. Now, it's off my shoulders."

After fighting tooth and nail to enjoy her chance to don a jersey emblazoned with the maple leaf, Hellstrom was somewhat surprised to find a support mechanism much stronger than she expected. 

"The biggest thing I noticed was just how much the girls really care for each other at that level," she said.

"They know how hard it is, mentally and physically, to get into the program. They know everything you're going through. They are such great girls, they always wanted to know how I was doing."

With this latest mountain scaled, Hellstrom is hoping to find her way into the NWSL (National Women's Soccer League). Unfortunately, with no current openings, she finds herself heading off to Michigan to train with a semi-pro team that includes a number of young athletes with their respective national youth teams.

It's been a very good year to date, but rest assured that Jenna Hellstrom would love nothing more than to cap it off with yet another cap.