By Kate Murphy
Ludemann is a captain on her HJK team. (Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Ludemann)
After a successful four years at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Jennifer Ludemann continues her soccer career playing for HJK football club in Finland. Ludemann, a UNCW defender who holds the record for career games played (81) and second for games started (80), was a key part of the back line. After her senior season, Ludemann wasn’t ready for her soccer career to end so she set out on her journey to play overseas.
Why did Ludemann made the decision to play professionally abroad instead of the United States? I talked with her to get a closer look into what went into the process and how she’s adjusting to life overseas.
Play in the Pros: What made you want to play professional soccer and how long have you known you wanted to or were going to?
Jennifer Ludemann: I was coming up on my final season at UNC Wilmington and thinking about ending my soccer career forever after college seemed too soon. I felt like I was still improving as a player and hadn’t even reached my full potential yet so I wasn’t ready to quit. And knowing that the possibility of me being able to continue to play at a high level (and get paid to do so) was becoming more and more possible for female athletes, made me want to explore the idea.
I started discussing the idea with one of my coaches my junior year in college. I had slightly talked about it some maybe my sophomore year but my junior year is when I really became interested and saw it as a serious career choice. Honestly if you had told me I would be where I was now just a few years ago, I would’ve laughed and thought you were joking because it is such a dream to be able to play soccer for my job! I never thought this would be possible for me to do. I always assumed I’d be in grad school right now or something.
Ludemann was an essential component to the UNCW Seahawk defense. (Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Ludemann)
Play in the Pros: How did you prepare for the step up to the professional lever?
Jennifer Ludemann: Once I decided I was serious about this, I began watching most of my college game films and clipping together my own highlight video. Sounds easy but this took a lot of time to watch the film, find good clips, get the clips, organize the clips, and put it all together in a video format. Once that was done, I also made a “soccer resume” with stats, awards and accomplishments. Then one of my coaches took it from their and sent off my info to people he knew. Once I heard back from HJK, I had to begin physically preparing and that all took place spring of my senior year. I ran, lifted and played as much as possible to be sure I was in shape and technically ready to go.
Play in the Pros: Did you ever consider playing in the states? Why or why not?
Jennifer Ludemann: Yes that would’ve been awesome to be able to play in the states straight from college. But the fact is coming from a smaller school and not having amazing stats to back me up, which is hard to have as a defender, breaking into NWSL, especially when it was their first season in the league would’ve been nearly impossible. I did try to contact some coaches but it didn’t turn into anything. I also tried out for the Charlotte Eagles but that was after I was already set on Finland. I am interested in one day trying to play in the NWSL but I want to develop a bit more and I’m happy where I am now.
Play in the Pros: What made you decide to play abroad? How did you get a contract?
Jennifer Ludemann: I knew it would be nearly impossible to play in the states and I knew one of my coaches had connections abroad so it made my decision pretty easy. Plus thinking about getting to play and travel to another country, which I had never really gotten to do, it was hard to ignore. My old assistant coach from UNC Wilmington, Mika Elovaara, is from Finland and had many connections abroad so he sent my highlight video and soccer resume to people he knew. HJK, a football club in Helsinki, Finland, came back interested and the contract discussions began with the help of Mika all the way through.
Play in the Pros: What was the transition like going from college to the professional level?
Ludemann playing for HJK football club in Finland (Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Ludemann)
Jennifer Ludemann: The biggest change was their style of play, especially for my position as a center back. Overall the game and players are much more technical and they build up their attacks from the back line. In the states I feel like the center backs were responsible for defending and making good passes when possible, but here they start the attack from the back. The goalie will rarely punt the ball or send a long ball from a goal kick; whenever possible they will distribute the ball to one of the center backs and then the attack begins. It was quite a challenge for me to get used to my first season, but now I think it has become a little easier.
Play in the Pros: What’s been the best part of the experience playing professional soccer in Finland?
Ludemann and teammates celebrate a goal together. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ludeman)
Jennifer Ludemann: Other than improving as a player, I think this whole experience has simply made me a better person. I’ve been launched outside of my comfort zone and it’s made me grow up. It has also made me a better leader. I’ve been a captain both of my professional seasons here, which has been a huge honor. I’ve also made amazing new friends and I know these are friendships that will last. I’ve been amazed how quickly I’ve bonded with my coaches and teammates and how easy they made my big transition. It just proves that although the language and culture may be different in other countries, people are the same!
Ludeman has her own blog to keep in touch with friends and family and keep them up to date on her journey and experience playing professional soccer overseas in Finland. Check it out for more of her story.