The Hellstrom era: Canadian sisters leave their mark on KSU soccer


Kent State’s Jenna Hellstrom gets tangled up with Toledo’s Gabby Epelman while chasing after the ball during a game Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The Flashes won 3-0.

Cole Oswald Reporter

While Jenna Hellstrom was busy becoming one of the greatest players in Kent State soccer history from 2013 to 2016, her younger sister Karly was attempting to create her own path without following in her sister’s footsteps.

A torn ACL made Karly change her mind. On Saturday, Karly graduated from KSU with a pile of awards in her own right.

Jenna was a Second-Team All–American her senior year, Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year and All-MAC First Team both her junior and senior year, and the MAC All-Tournament Team her senior year. She is Kent State’s all-time leader in goals with 37, assists with 33 and points with 107. 

Karly, who joined the Flashes a year after Jenna graduated, made the All-MAC First Team and MAC All-Tournament Team this season and also was United Soccer Coaches All-Region and Academic All-District. She led the MAC in assists this year and finished tied for fifth all-time in assists with 18 for KSU.

But neither sister focused on individual accomplishments. 

“It sounds kind of stupid, but I honestly never even knew if I was close to a record until it was announced,” Jenna said. “I put pressure on myself but not for the individual awards. I wanted to do it for the team. Obviously, my number one was winning that ring.”

“I couldn’t have done that without my teammates. The coaches had to deal with me wanting to do extra all of the time, and they had to take so much time out of their day to help me get better every single practice and every single year.” 

Kent State won the Mid-American Conference championship in 2016 during Jenna’s senior season. 

“I came here to win a ring to make history for this program and that’s exactly what we did,” Jenna said. “What better year to do that than your last year?” 

The Flashes also won the MAC regular-season championship during Karly’s freshman season. 

“I think that feeling of winning a regular-season championship and knowing that we have the potential to host the tournament is probably a memory that I will never forget,” Karly said. “There’s no words to describe the feeling of winning a championship.”

Coach Rob Marinaro said the sisters’ impact off the field was just as important as their accomplishments on it. 

“Both of them are very high-level athletes and their commitment is just at the highest level you could probably find,” Marinaro said. “They were always great examples of what it takes in order to be successful. They really showed a lot of the players the commitment it takes to be a high-level Division I soccer player.” 

Marinaro first saw Jenna when she was playing for the under-17 team at the National Training Center in Canada. 

“We quickly got her in for a visit,” Marinaro said. “Getting her in was really big for the program at the time.” 

“They invited me for a visit, and I just loved the school,” Jenna said. “It wasn’t too big, but it wasn’t too small.”

“The fact that two of the three coaches were Canadian it was like I was leaving home, but there was some part of home there with me.”

Karly wanted to make her own story in college soccer without following her sister. 

“I was actually originally committed to another school,” Karly said. “But then I ended up tearing my ACL, and it got me thinking about where I actually wanted to be and if I really thought I was going to fit in.”

“I ended up decommitting and contacted the Kent coaches. They were very welcoming to me coming to Kent even though I was coming off an ACL tear. They had a lot of hope that I was going to be the player I used to be. I think that feeling is why I ended up here.”

Marinaro knew Karly was considering a different path but had remained interested in her. 

“Some things happened, and she was interested in being a little closer to home,” Marinaro said. “I think ultimately she respected the experience that Jenna had at Kent State, and she knew this was a great choice for her.”  

Karly has no regrets about attending Kent State. 

“I’m so thankful that I ended up at Kent State — everything about the program, everything about the coaches, everything about the athletic department, everything about my team,” Karly said. 

Neither sister thought attending school nine hours away from home in another country was difficult.

“It wasn’t a hard adjustment at all,” Jenna said. “The one hard part was moving away from your parents and your friends that you’ve grown up with your whole life, but it was super easy to get close with the girls on the team. We came to school a month earlier than everyone else does, so you get so close to the team so fast. By the time everyone gets there, you’ve developed good relationships already.” 

Karly already had experience being away from her parents. 

“Through high school, I lived in Toronto for a couple of summers, and I was kind of accustomed to being away from home,” Karly said. 

The Hellstroms’ parents made the move easier for their daughters too. 

“They got to the majority of my home games,” Karly said. “I think that made the adjustment and coming from Canada a lot easier. I was away from home, but I was still close enough that they could come visit me.” 

The girls’ father, Peter, was happy with their decision to attend Kent State. 

“Kent State has been unbelievable to the Hellstrom family,” Peter said. “At the end of the day, being far away is just a distance with phones and Facetime and the ability to go watch them like we did — minus the COVID issues.” 

Karly was able to travel as usual during the pandemic. 

“I was considered essential travel so I’ve been able to come and go as often as I wanted to,” Karly said. “It’s been harder for my parents because they weren’t able to come at first because of COVID. It hasn’t been terrible, but definitely not as easy as it was my first couple of years.” 

Last fall’s season was postponed until spring, and even then the Hellstroms couldn’t cross the border to watch Karly in person because of COVID-19 rules. 

“We had to rely on webcast,” Peter said. “This year with the border finally opening, it was great to come see her for senior weekend. It was tough because you were in a routine for almost seven and half years watching Jenna and then Karly.”

“I’m going to miss visiting Kent State to watch soccer games. I love the town, I love the university. It’s going to be a little bittersweet when Karly graduates and we drive away.” 

Jenna played two years of professional soccer in Sweden, then a year for the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Now she is back in Sweden playing for KIF Örebro DFF. 

“At first, Sweden was a really hard adjustment,” Jenna said. “I was 21 or 22 at the time and I signed for a very experienced club. It was pro now. So it’s a job, we show up, we practice. The girls are nice, but I don’t see them until the next practice because they all have their own lives. 

“Now I absolutely love it. I came back to Sweden because this is the league I succeeded the most.”

Jenna has also spent time with the Canadian Women’s National Team and was on the roster for Canada’s World Cup team in 2019.

“I was consistent a year leading up to the World Cup, and that was my first big international term experience,” Jenna said. “So that was amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any time, but for experience it was great and now I’m just hungry for my next big tournament.”

“My time will come eventually again. I love playing for Canada, I love the team, the girls, the coaching — so it’s about me staying patient.”

Karly said that her playing days are over. She is returning home to Canada to further her education. 

“Next semester I am going to be working at a medical clinic back home, and I have applied to grad school,” Karly said. “I’ve applied for med school and physiotherapy. I’m hoping that next September I will be in grad school somewhere in Canada.” 

“My dream career was always to play soccer at a professional level, and it’s hard coming to a realization that you are done. It was really hard to process not wanting to play soccer anymore, and I’m still kind of going through that process. I think I’ve come to the realization that I want to be either an emergency room doctor or an orthopedic surgeon.” 

But Karly is not ready to be completely finished with soccer.

“I’m definitely coaching,” Karly said. “I already have a team I coached last summer, and they have asked me to come back. I’m definitely not ready to be done with the game yet, and I don’t think I ever will be. I think I will always find a way to be somewhat involved in soccer.” 

The Hellstrom family’s pride goes beyond what the girls accomplished on the field. 

“There’s a few memories,” Peter said. “The two best memories were when Jenna walked across the stage for graduation and when Karly walks across the stage on Saturday for graduation.” 

Marinaro said he was proud that both sisters left the program with championship rings, but he was prouder of who they were off the field. 

“They’re just genuinely good, kind people,” Marinaro said. “I think they made the most of themselves as a student-athlete, but just to see them grow as people that are going to go on and do some really special things in their life after Kent State is something that I’m really proud of. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next step in their lives brings them.” 

Cole Oswald is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]